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Rejecting humiliation in this way can transform you from a psychological paralytic to a powerful force for positive change. Like Huck Finn wrestling with social training that said he should be ashamed at hiding a runaway slave, then rejecting his belief in slavery, you may discover that your new truth feels "righter" than society's preconceptions.

Open Up
Once your beliefs are congruent with your actions, the next step toward banishing humiliation is openness. Starting with a person who feels safe and nonjudgmental, raise the very conversational topics you've always avoided out of embarrassment. Talk, write, shout, laugh, or cry out loud about whatever humiliates you most.

If this sounds crazy, think about how Princess Diana was embraced by the public for opening up about her eating disorder, her depression, her affairs. On the other hand, public figures who lied to avoid humiliation (Pete Rose, former president Clinton) ended up being more shamed than if they'd been honest from the get-go.

Once you've confided in your safe person, begin broadening your circle. Discuss your taboo issue with friends, colleagues, even the world at large. Take this at your own pace, and treat yourself kindly if you get a response that formerly might have mired you in shame. Remember that you are acting as morally as you know how, and that you therefore have no reason to feel humiliated. Then talk to someone else about how awful it felt to be judged. The more open you are, the more others will support you.

Be Proud
Know this: If you are following your own moral rules, the very things you're ashamed of are likely the things about which you can feel most proud. Say you've battled obesity, mental illness, addiction, or abuse: Take pride in the extraordinary courage you've shown by surviving and working toward health. If others make you feel ashamed for what you are—your heritage, your sense of what is true for you—you'll find that expressing pride in those same qualities is the road to inner peace.

This works in silly situations as well as lofty ones. Remember when Rev. Jerry Falwell accused Teletubby Tinky Winky of same-sex orientation? Falwell pointed out that Tinky was purple (gay), had a triangle-shaped antenna on his head (gay), and carried a purse (gay, gay, gay). Instead of counterattacking, a number of people nominated Tinky Winky for grand marshal of the San Francisco gay pride parade, turning a potential shame fest into a jolly celebration. (Tinky Winky didn't win the vote, but you get the point.)

I got a similar gift from the potential humiliation of having a son with an extra chromosome. Sure, strangers have recoiled, doctors and associates have bluntly told me that keeping him was stupid. Long ago I stopped feeling humiliated by such nonsense. I am proud of everything about Adam, who at 15 is one of the finest people I know. I've written about him, traveled the world with him, stood with him before crowds gathered to celebrate his difference. What's sometimes hard to contain is not the humiliation but the pride and joy of taking my child out in public.

The same process can work for you. Are you ashamed about your body, your history, your loves, your longings? If you know in your heart that these things are right for you, stop trying to fix, change, expel, or squash them. Share them. Take them out in public every darn chance you get. Now say it out loud: "I'm so proud of myself." The rush of strength and expansiveness that comes from declaring this honestly is the antidote to paralysis and the beginning of many wonderful adventures. And each time you choose that instead of shame, you really should be proud.

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