I’ve just spent a year leaving and grieving a 10 year marriage that I never wanted to end when the inevitable reared it’s ugly head. Self-doubt, shame and self-criticism were rushing around inside of me and I found myself dropping into depression as a result. What’s going on with me, I asked, as I stumbled in my mindfulness practices trying to get my mind and body to connect and give me some hope of an answer. All I could do was observe the turmoil and fear and hang on for the ride: Parts of me yelling at me “ Why did you pick this guy and why didn’t you know better!” while other parts were ringing positively and loudly saying “You know why you picked this guy and it was a good decision at the time, but it’s not working anymore!” And then I had another part that said: “You’ve messed up your life and his with your bad decisions—You should have known this wouldn’t work”. When My Judge rears his ugly head like this I know I’ve hit my Shame place. I’ve learned that when I start judging myself that’s my deepest hole from my past and I have to work really hard to get myself back from falling down it again.
Shame is the “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
This is Brene Brown’s definition. People often want to believe that shame is for those who have survived an unspeakable trauma. Guess what: Shame is something we all experience! Shame is about feeling that you are personally flawed and it shows up in all categories of your life. Guilt equates to “I did something bad.” Shame equates to ” I am bad.” Guilt is often more positive in helping us create change than shame which corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and can do better. It attacks our healthy parts of ourselves.
Brene Brown, MSW, Ph.D, has done extensive research on Shame. I don’t need her to tell me that this self-criticism and self-judgment I do to myself when I feel like I’ve made a mistake or I’m in a painful place are my “shame tapes” or “gremlins”. Brene Brown says “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. She says “ if we can cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees” (p. 67 Daring Greatly) So I set about naming it when I felt it swelling up in my belly when I was sitting in meditation. And, through guided self-soothing practices and kindness practices I have learned, I was able to name that it was sitting there blocking my grief and my joy and everything!! I felt so much lighter when I noticed and named this.
In my work with women in midlife transitions, this shame is what keeps us stuck in unhealthy relationships and we often don’t even know it.
The issue is how do we stop doing this to ourselves? How can we set ourselves free to be the authentic women we want and deserve to be –even in a relationship?
Antidotes for Shame are kindness and self-compassion practices
I’d like to share that I’ve found some antidotes to this self-shaming that I do and it’s been a painful process of self-growth, but now that I’m here on the other side of my divorce, I want to share this important stuff with you! It was worth it for me. Maybe it will be for you?
1) Name your self-critic or Judge! Be curious and befriend this part of you. Stand up to her and meet her face to face with an open heart ready to learn from her why she does this for you.
2) Observe how you talk to yourself. Are you continuing to say things to yourself that you were told as a child? This is a process of self-shaming that we all need to learn to stop doing.
3) Learn how to bring kindness to yourself – To treat yourself with warm caring and compassion. To accept that you are human and you make mistakes and that’s part of being human. (Take my Mindful Self-Compassion Group in the Spring)
4) When you feel the sensations of shame or begin to notice that it’s there, name it. Begin an inquiry to learn more about this shame and how it got there. Befriend it.
5) Get support to do this important work so that you can live your life from your fullest Self! (Sign up for coaching or one of my Women’s Groups for Women in Transition)
The truth is we don’t “know better” when we make decisions. We just do the best we can do in the moment. If we live in the past and keep beating ourselves up, we stay stuck in our Shame. We can’t see that the rest of us is wise and clear and can help us move past our shame into a new more authentic life for us. It’s not easy but it’s a powerful choice.
For me, I learned Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) from studying Kristin Neff’s work in her new book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and MSC Training. And from my training in parts work called Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) where we learn how to be curious about all the different voices inside of us and what they can tell us about who we are. These tools are invaluable along with mindfulness meditation, which is the process of learning how to self-witness, to be present to yourself just as you are right now— To be your own best friend. With these tools, you too can learn how to stop shaming yourself and tap into the positive creative and wise parts of you that are maybe hidden because of the self-criticism cycle. Kristin Neff has done extensive research that shows that we are more productive and happier when we give ourselves self-compassion and kindness than when we try to push and shove ourselves into action with our self-critic.