March 29, 2015
Is shaming yourself—marinating in the story about what you did or didn’t do, how you were or weren’t raised, or what you will or won’t do in the future—working for you? (Marinating is when you get so caught up in the story, AGAIN, that you actually experience the same physiological reactions you experienced when it happened the first time. Once you’re back into the story your body can’t tell the difference between fact or fiction.)
If you’ve experienced any of the following it probably resulted in a feeling of shame: somebody told you that you’d never be anybody or do anything that matters; you were led to believe that perfection is achievable; you did something that you’re so uncomfortable with you hide it from yourself, but it still affects your behavior; you did something you regret; you participated in something that others won’t let you forget. Any one of those scenarios will probably generate some degree of shame. It’s pretty inescapable.
I think all feelings serve a purpose or we wouldn’t have the capacity to experience them. Shame is no exception. It may signal a dramatic call to action, or be just a whisper that something needs to change in either our behavior or our perspective.
When it’s purposeful and helpful, when it reflects that we’ve strayed from our own moral or ethical compass, it can alert us and help us get back on track.
But how often does shame work like that for you? What’s your most consistent reaction to a feeling of shame? Most of us turn it into an action verb and heap mountains of critical thoughts and negative self-talk on ourselves, or transform it into blaming someone else.
It can be tricky. Marinating in feelings of shame can sometimes fool you into thinking you’re doing something productive. It can give you the sense that if you feel bad enough that means you’re not so bad. Right? So of course you keep doing it. And it keeps not working…you’re still sitting in the shame.
Notice when it’s happening five or ten or even twenty years after you’ve made a mistake, or someone said something horrible about you or to you. Then ask yourself: “Is this working for me?”
If it isn’t, talk about it with someone you trust, do some research on it, try Brene Brown’s books or her youtube videos on shame, or write about it and get the gunk out of your head and onto a piece of paper where it won’t be so loaded. Check out Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ for her ideas on morning pages, a 15 minute brain dump that has worked wonders for lots of people.
Or simply begin to treat yourself with the gentleness, understanding and forgiveness that you typically give to anyone you love. What would you tell a dear child who is expressing feelings of shame? “It’s a new day sweetheart. Yesterday is over. Today you can be the person you want to be, not the person you’ve been telling yourself you are. That person doesn’t really exist except in your stories.”