Change Your Relationship to Shame
Shame has been my long-term companion.
I know I’m not the only person acquainted with shame. Believing the worst in yourself… thinking others feel the same… avoiding shame (and life!) by hiding, procrastinating, or blaming others.
Hell on wheels.
With my inner tyrant by my side, I’d get anxious writing newsletters, have post-presentation shame attacks, and would second-guess myself to death.
Now, I also liked myself and did good work between the waves. But too many other times I was drained, anxious, and depressed.
Over the years, I tried fixing and eliminating shame: changing thoughts or behavior, soothing my body, meditating, therapy, connecting spiritually, fixing my faults.
It helped some, but no matter what I did, shame stayed ready to pounce.
Transformation part 1: Stop fixing “failures” and experience my body.
A few months ago, I stopped focusing the story of my failures. Instead I explored the experience of shame in my body.
It was one of the most uncomfortable emotions I’ve ever chosen sit with. And I’ve been through intense grief and anxiety.
Why did I do it? I was tired of being caught in the same old cycle: chronically feeling shame at the drop of a hat, distracting myself, or trying to fix all my failures.
I knew there was power in my body. As I became familiar with the shame sensations, I could tolerate them more without reacting. I became braver and had more options.
It became easier to make calls and speak in meetings, with less second-guessing or berating myself afterwards. I zoned out less and didn’t eat quite as often when I wasn’t hungry – or at least I had more awareness of what was going on when I did.
Still, I was often riding stormy waves with no lifeboat.
Shame still rocked me, though… until transformation part 2.
As I reread the December newsletter, Gratitude for Your Imperfect Self, I discovered a lifeboat. Here’s what I said then:
“You are whole, including your imperfection. The more love and compassion you give all of yourself, the more you’re able to balance how you relate to yourself, your world, and of course your ability to let go and rest.”
That was good, but something was missing.
And that is loving the part of myself that I want to get rid of – the part that hates, blames, and criticizes myself.
The love comes from a bigger presence.
The first time I tried this, I realized I couldn’t love my shame from my small self. That is, love didn’t come from the “good” parts of me, nor from the “bad” aspects of me that shame bullies and hates. I love you anyway!! (but I really don’t).
Instead, it comes from a bigger picture (6th of Restful Insomnia’s Seven Pathways). It’s a bigger presence you also feel part of, connected to.
You may be familiar with your bigger picture, and here’s how to try it out yourself.
Take a gentle breath…. Take another, with a slightly longer exhale. Notice if there’s part of you that’s being nasty to yourself – maybe you feel it in your body, or hear the intensity of mean words. Can you sprinkle, shower, infuse this part with love?
Imagine or channel the love from a presence larger than you. It may arise from:
Feeling connected to a beloved tree or in a forest.
The flow of waves at a beach.
Divine/ God/ Spirit/ Essence.
The give and take of life in your breath.
Someone in the past, present, or imagined who you admire and/or really loves you.
A magical parent or Mother Earth.
Healing color or light.
Let that love flow to, over, and through that hateful, shame-filled view. It doesn’t have to get rid of that part, just hold it with kindness.
Its power surprisingly lessens when it’s held in this way. Because shame arises for some reason that made sense, maybe way back when you were little or an adolescent. This misguided and mean perspective also needs love, because a little love works wonders.
It did yesterday when I woke in a mood of self-horribleness…. As I sent love to my bristly inner porcupine, the storm clouds lightened. Whew. Much different than a few months ago, when I’d spend the whole day sunk.
Hope you find the lifeboat works for you, too! As always, wishing you kindness, to yourself, others, and our little blue marble of life.