Overcoming shame

This blog post is part of a series on men’s mental health for Movember. In this series, different men give their perspective on male mental health. What does it mean to deal with mental health as a man?

In certain cases as with the interview below, people have had the courage to reveal their identity. This is both brave and vulnerable, congratulations to them!


This guest blog post is written by Ahmad Jooma. I asked Ahmad to contribute his story around mental health, as a man and co-host of the podcast Authentic Dating Series. The below is Ahmad’s interpretation of that, and personal story. For him, shame was linked to his ability to fully show up as a man.

Imagine the consequences of that for mental health! Mental health doesn’t have to be about a burnout or a full mental breakdown, it can also be tied to your self-confidence and your ability to be open with others.

Shame is weaved into the very fabric of society in a million different ways. Shame gets into the inner core of our being and silently suffocates our voice. Left unchecked it has the capacity to destroy your life and create misery.

The feeling of SHAME has been a huge blocker of my progress and self-expression in life, such that I feel shame, has physical qualities akin to black tar: thick and sticky with an acrid smell — something horrid that you can easily get stuck in!

Shook Man – Ahmad’s illustration of the voice in his head

Early days as a young boy

Growing up in a religious family – I had a lot to be ashamed of from a very young age because, right from the start, I felt I wasn’t very good at following all the rules prescribed for me. I was born into the perfect environment for shame to foster and take hold: plenty of rules mixed with my rebellious nature. I always felt I could do no good.

Therefore at an early age I took a decision to methodically shape my entire being & expression so I would SHOW UP  in a way to best please others by hiding all the bits about me that I perceived to be shameful. 

Life became a game of hiding all my wrongdoings from others.

It was quite a trick and a feat of magnificent talent to be able to chop and change my identity to suit whatever environment I was in.

At home, I was a good Muslim boy. I spoke little of my true feelings, questions and curiosities about life. I nodded my head in agreement when asked if I had prayed (even if I hadn’t) and I generally avoided speaking about anything that would mess up the meticulous balance of good in the household.

Outside of home – I was free as a bird. I would engage in philosophical debates about the meaning of life. As I matured and went to university I would explore my curiosities and I would engage in a world that was strictly forbidden to me from within my religious structure: dating, sex and relationships.

This double life all worked wonderfully for me until I realised it had never actually worked at all. 

By hiding my true self, I was only delaying an inevitable cluster-bang of a catastrophe later in my life.

The turning point in my life

There was one particular situation in a relationship where this double life could no longer exist. I had been dating a woman for two years. In that time, we had moved in together. She was my legit girlfriend and yet, she couldn’t fathom why I hadn’t told my family that (1). she & I lived together and (2). that she was a professional dancer. 

It was obvious to me that these two facts would be unacceptable in my family culture. Therefore, it was only natural for me to NEVER EVER mention these things – EVER! In keeping with the decisions made by my younger self, I continued to hide these facts from my family.

It didn’t occur to me that this childhood decision hid a deep shame of my true being, life choices and a constant fear of how others would react to me – creating an undercurrent of anxiety in my daily life.

It wasn’t obvious to me that living this way, in an effort to always please others, was robbing me of my own life, confidence and self-expression. Nor did it occur to me that this would wreak havoc on my relationship causing it to implode as it did the day my girlfriend at the time told me she wanted to break up.

Her frustration at my lack of honesty about my life became a question of my integrity and eventually she wondered if she really knew who I was at all.

Up until this point in my early 30s I had always espoused the importance of living in the pursuit of freedom – and it turned out I was the one who was not living very free at all.  As much as this was a painful point in my life,it did have a positive impact on who I was being because I became AWARE of a problem: I was hiding who I really was.

Deciding to change, for the better

Awareness was key to change. I could see there was a problem in my behaviour.

I became aware of my own bullshit. I became aware of how tired I was living a lie and how hiding parts of myself kept me stuck.Not evolving and maturing in life! I was still being that little boy who did not want to upset his parents. I was 30 and I was living in anxiety and fear that someone would tell me off for making choices that they didn’t like.

These moments of great frustration – that I often wish I could have avoided – provide me with the fuel I need to create change.

And this wasn’t to fight the problem. I’d tried that before by begging my ex-partner not to leave me. Despite promising that I would do better that I would be different – this got me nowhere. She left and I was left feeling more powerless and out of energy.

I realised that the only way forward was to stop fighting the problem and stop hiding. I had to ACCEPT my own misgivings, my shame and my embarrassment.

I knew that to ensure I never fell afoul of this behaviour again and slip back into childlike thinking – I had to own up and take responsibility. 

I had created all of this – because I was ashamed of who I was and how others would perceive me.  I was clinging on to my family’s validation of me through a false perception that I had created therefore I was lying and manipulating them!

Owning my truth and my emotions

I surrendered to my shame:

I spoke to my family about my breakup – I told them exactly what had happened. That my ex had left me because I was hiding the truth. 

This was a deeply embarrassing moment for me. Unveiling all these hidden truths. The young boy in me metaphorically died. (It was made worse by the fact that my family had already known that we were living together, they had figured it out… And thanks to social media – they knew about her dancing!) 

Imagine – what a fuck up! But this was also a humbling experience and created a resolve in me to not repeat the same behaviour – to mature and be a better man.

This experience taught me first-hand, the insidious power that shame holds over us and the importance that you recognise shame in your life and take the steps to break free of its strong hold. Otherwise, shame will rule your lives and you’ll point the finger and blame others for not understanding you. When in reality, you are clinging onto a feeling that does not serve your highest good.

It all starts with creating an awareness of your Shame. Then acceptance & surrendering to the feeling and the effect it has on your life. Finally, expressing shame to let it go and take responsibility for how it has impacted your life and that of others around you.

Where to find Ahmad?

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Currently working in marketing and comms in Amsterdam. Passionate about all things digital, writing, dancing, travelling and much more. Mental health blogger and advocate.

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