“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” – Dr. Brene Brown
I’ve echoed this idea before: I think getting past your shame is a Hero’s Journey.
I found out something new about myself just trying to explore why I couldn’t stop eating chocolate. Bam! Pirates swarming the ship. There it is: shame. To be fair to the pirates, I was doing an exercise specifically designed to uncover hidden beliefs.
Shame is something you can’t even say out loud. Shame causes you to hide your secret from others, but also from yourself.
You stubbornly stick to the story of what you use to hide your shame: Isolation? Partying? Sarcasm? Jokes? Cynicism? Drinking? Eating? Buying stuff? [Insert any deflection device here]
And it works, for sure. Mine’s worked for me.
It works so well, I actually buy into “This is how I am.” “This is just what I do.”
It works so well, even I can’t see the shame.
All you see is your deflection device, and you think that is the problem.
Fascinating, aren’t we? And powerful! So powerful that we can feel or do something that we are so ashamed of, that we’ll create something new to hide our shame from ourselves. That’s how bad we think it is. [Spoiler alert: it’s not.]
So, now what? I can’t undo what I did. I can’t seem to un-feel how I feel.
I think the first step is what I did to find your well-hidden shame.
There are a lot of tools and techniques to get past the deflection. Fake it out, as it were. I use Avatar tools, but here’s another.
One way is to respond quickly to a prompt or question and notice the thought or image that flashes. You have to pay attention to the feelings that arise and be willing to let the feelings tell you where your shame really is.
When you respond quickly to prompts like these, the shame will usually come up.
I can’t ever tell anyone that I…
I won’t ever speak about…
I am most ashamed of…
I am going to make up an example. Let’s say you grew up poor. You did your best to hide this from our schoolmates and only your best friends knew what your house looked like. You affected sarcasm and disdain for any activity that cost money you didn’t have. You had a caustic remark ready for anyone you thought had more money than you or was more casual about money. You have since worked very hard to “make something of yourself” and have “enough” money. By most people’s measurement you are now rich.
However, now you can’t turn the sarcasm off – which comes off as mean and heartless, and there hasn’t yet been “enough” money no matter how much you make. You would like to be kinder and more generous, but just can’t seem to change.
When you respond to a prompt like: I can never tell anyone…
You see your dad sitting in the backyard, drinking a beer and talking with his buddy about how unfair his boss is and why he was docked pay for a mistake and why it’s not his fault… and on and on… and you feel a choke in your throat as you think, “It’s never his fault. I hate him.”
Then you realize, you are ashamed of being poor, but you’re more ashamed of your father and you just realized you’re ashamed that you hate your father.
How can you ever say that to anyone, even yourself? You think: I am bad. There is something wrong with me. A normal person does not feel this way.
The feeling of shame -> judgment of self -> abusive self-talk -> fear of anyone seeing how you feel -> stubbornly cling to response to the fear and illusion-creating behavior.
“Being stubborn gives you a false sense of a strong self.” Mona Miller
Then what? What do you do with your new information?
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” Dr. Brene Brown
Bringing your shame out into the open by sharing what you have found is the key to destroying shame and its blocking power. That is why the AA Step 5 is so powerful and life-changing for many. You say all the worst of yourself out loud and that listener just nods, listens, and hugs you when you’re done.
You don’t have to join a 12-step group. You just have to pick the right person to share your story with. Pick someone with compassion and discretion.
You don’t have to tell everyone, and you don’t have to badge your shame. Keep your privacy and boundaries intact.
When I uncovered a shame just recently, I went out in the backyard to say it out loud. It was HARD. But once I said it aloud, then I could write it down in the workbook I was using. I could feel a lot of my tightness loosening. I have since told a close friend.
I see now how much of my self and my actions I have filtered through this shame. At first I was exhausted, but today I woke up feeling better than I have in quite a while.
I listened to a really helpful podcast this weekend. Erin Olivo: Emotional Literacy talked about how to respond when you have a strong emotional response to something. Two questions stood out to me:
- Is there another way to think of this?
- Do I have the right to make all these rules?
The rules idea made me think even further – did “they” who trained me on the rules have that right? Am I really going to be kicked out of the tribe for this? The shame is coming only from me.