Author: Sonja Meyrer, MAT | CPRC | Coach
What a shame!
Recently I started experimenting with the meditative practice of mindfulness. In full disclosure, I still find it hard to sit still for more than 3 minutes at a time but given that mindfulness has currently become all the rage in our culture, I feel I should give it a fair try. Beyond focusing on breathing and the physical sensations in the body, one thing I find particularly intriguing is the awareness of the emotional sensations.
Take just a moment, quiet yourself and join me for a short exercise:
Where do you typically feel joy in your body? I feel warmth in my shoulders, my heart races, my chest expands.
Where do you feel frustration? I sense a tightness in my jaw, behind my eyes, in the constricting of my abdomen.
Where do you feel guilt? It feel it in my cheeks and toward the back of my head. Sometimes my pulse races a bit.
Where do you feel shame? It’s like a hand pushing into my chest. Pressing me down toward the ground. I am almost crushed by its weight.
Of all of our human emotions, shame is often the most difficult to locate and the most devastating to feel. In his groundbreaking book “The Soul of Shame”, researcher and professor Kurt Thompson observed that shame begins with the feeling that “I am not enough--there is something inherently wrong with me”. But more profoundly, it is often accompanied by the sense that “I do not have what it takes to tolerate the feeling of it”. In other words, if I am laden with shame, I cannot even run the risk of allowing myself to feel it because it is unbearable. Instead, I will try to make it go away at all costs. And the costs are sometimes high.
It makes sense if you think about how the body does this with physical pain. If the dentist does not give you the correct dosage of Novocain and you start to feel the nauseating burn of the drill, chances are you will not be able to calm yourself down into thinking “It will be fine. I can endure this.” Mostly likely you will be catapulted from your chair by some impulse you cannot control, or you will pass out, which is an equally, non-elective reaction. (Sorry for that example but I think it explains the phenomenon well!)
Similarly, when we feel ashamed, our unconscious brain may often take control and convince us we cannot risk allowing the thoughts behind the emotion, or the emotion itself, to exist.
So how do we combat this sinister snake that often keeps us in the perpetual state of anxiety, questioning whether we truly have permission to feel anything akin to love and acceptance?
We do the most counter-intuitive thing ever: we talk about it. Shame thrives in the dark shadows of secrecy where we become convinced we are alone in our defectiveness. Exposed to the light, shame loses its ability to control us and when we share the things we find intolerable with a safe and skilled person, shame often begins to dissolve and we begin to see light and feel hope.
The dialogue might sound something like this:
“I think I have failed as a father and my kids may never love me.” Yes, that prospect must hurt – a lot. And now that you’ve confessed it, is it possible there is still hope?
“I feel like everyone else has it figured out and I am a fraud.” Sounds crippling and probably very lonely. Now let’s have a look at whether it’s true or not.
“My mistakes can never be forgiven, and my father was right, I am a failure.” Whoa, that’s a strong voice and a devastating message from a narrative started a long time ago. What if you could find a way to forgive yourself and move forward?
So, are you ready to let go of the grip of shame and live more joyous and free? CCA has several safe and skilled counselors and coaches who would love to help you! Email us for a confidential conversation at firstname.lastname@example.org