Get Off the Merry-Go-Round of Shame

Dear Springboard:

A few days ago, I made a mistake–that in retrospect wasn’t that big a deal–but boy, did I punish myself for it. It happened at the start of my work day and I obsessed about it all morning and into the afternoon. I couldn’t believe how careless I had been. I know better.

The point is that I went around and around in my head. This happens a lot.

I’m sick and tired of it.

Please help!

Signed,
Stressed Out and Shamed

 

Dear SOS:

We all make mistakes. The key is how we handle it. Your signoff of “Shamed” offers valuable insight.

Just last week, I had a client who shared that she had done something she was sorry about. She too felt badly, obsessed over it, and . . . the feeling lingered. She noticed she was saying to herself, “How could you be so stupid!” and “What a loser. You keep doing the same dumb things.”

Then, she thought: “Now wait a minute. It’s not that big a deal. A year from now, I won’t even remember this. A month from now? Likely not. A week? I bet I won’t give it a second thought.”

So, her next thought was: “This is upsetting but not important in a lasting way. What can I do to let go of this faster and stop the feeling lousy about it sooner?”

Her awareness was a critical first step. It gave her some objectivity and she was able to step back and see the situation in a slightly detached way.

She remembered what she learned from Brene Brown and her work on shame and vulnerability. She had watched her TED talks on shame and vulnerability (the fourth most watched ever).

Spend a few minutes with one or both of those videos.

If you find them interesting, you might want to pick up one of her books. You could start with Daring Greatly published last year.

In the meantime, here are some top-line learnings.

Shame is more powerful than guilt. Guilt says I made a mistake. Shame says I am a mistake. And, further, be sure to hide this awful fact so the flawed person I really am isn’t exposed.

Brown offers some tools to combat shame.

  • Start with awareness and see if there is a pattern to the triggers that generate shame. Without awareness, shame is driving the bus and we don’t even know it.
  • Objectively look at the messages you tell yourself. Ask whether the behavior or goals you set for yourself are realistic or even desirable. Are you expecting yourself to be a superstar in all circumstances? Whose voice it that is so demanding?
  • Practice self-compassion. Would you talk to anyone else the way you talk to yourself?
  • Reach out to someone you trust and share what is going on. Shame is like a vampire – they both suck the life out of us and neither wants to be exposed to the light.
  • Own the story. Don’t resist but instead surrender to the fact that shame is part of the human experience. With that ownership, take control so you can write the ending of your own personal script.

It is important to be aware of our Inner Critic, or Gremlin, and what it is saying.

These steps can help develop shame resilience, which is the ability to objectively look at the situation honestly, acknowledge a mistake and any hurt or disappointment. And, at the same time, really hear an internal message that I am not the mistake I just made.

The way in is a willingness to be vulnerable and, just when we least feel like it. We need to courageously shine a light on the toxicity so shame’s power will fade.

While many shy away from just the thought of vulnerability, there’s great hope in noting that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, love and connection in all its forms.

Thanks for writing.

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