Until we stop ourselves or, more often, have been stopped, we hope to put certain of life’s events “behind us” and get on with our living. After we stop we see that certain of life’s issues will be with us for as long as we live. We will pass through them again and again, each time with a new story, each time with a greater understanding, until they become indistinguishable from our blessings and our wisdom. It’s the way life teaches us how to live.Rachel Naomi Remen, “Kitchen Table Wisdom”
The first element of shame resilience is recognizing shame and understanding
Women and men who are resilient to shame have this capacity. This enables them to respond to shame with awareness and understanding. When we can’t recognize shame and understand our triggers, shame blindsides us. It washes over us, and we want to slink away and hide.
In contrast, if we recognize our shame triggers, we can make mindful, thoughtful decisions about how we’re going to respond to shame—before we do something that might make things worse.
Shame has physical symptoms. These might include your mouth getting dry, time seeming to slow down, your heart racing, twitching, looking down and tunnel vision. These symptoms are different from one person to the next.
So if you learn your physical symptoms, you can recognize shame and get back on your feet faster.
I physically feel shame in/on my _____________________________________.
My shame symptoms include:I know I’m in shame when I feel _____________________________________.
If I could taste shame, it would taste like ____________________________________.
If I could smell shame, it would smell like _____________________________________.
If I could touch shame, it would feel like ____________________________________
Our unwanted identities dictate our behavior every day.
It’s worth it to figure them out and get real about them.
Often, you’ll see that the perceptions you want to have and want to avoid are totally unrealistic. To get at shame triggers, figure out how you want to be perceived around a specific identity. So for example, with regards to motherhood, one might want to be perceived as calm, knowledgeable, educated and not perceived as overwhelmed, stressed out, unable to balance career and mothering, too ambitious.
When we write these down and look at them, we understand the perceptions that make us vulnerable to shame. In the process, we learn a lot about ourselves.
To start, pick a shame category (body, work, parenthood, partnering, etc.) Then, answer the following questions.
Ideal Identities – I want to be perceived as:
Unwanted Identities – I do NOT want to be perceived as:
We all think we want to feel good, but sometimes feeling good leads to feeling bad.
Why does this happen?
- Something bad happened in the past when we were feeling good. Sometimes we know what that was (e.g. we were feeling on top of the world when a tragic accident occurred), and sometimes we don’t. We just know that we start to get nervous, feel edgy, or avoid things that would lead to feeling good. This is simple classical conditioning – learning by association. We might also call it superstitious feeling.If we continue to avoid things that might lead to feeling good (usually this tendency is unconscious), we never extinguish the conditioned response. We never get to feel good! So it is very important to not believe the feeling, but rather give yourself the chance to have a new experience. It will take many times of pushing past the nervous feeling and getting to happy before the nervous feeling finally lets go.
- Other people didn’t like it when we felt good. It may be then we were “full of ourself” or more lively it made Mother angry, or we were ignored. Maybe there was someone ill at home and we had to be quiet. And maybe we got more attention when we were down, so this was reinforced.
- We avoid happy to preserve our relationships.
When others around us are unhappy, we may not want to “rub salt in the wound” by being happy ourself. Or perhaps we started a relationship in a low state and are afraid to risk upsetting it by changing. Look for ways you are trying to protect a relationship by muting yourself.
- We live in a state of numbing and shut down, and feeling good takes us out of that.
If you’ve protected yourself from overwhelming or negative feelings by numbing, you will want to preserve that. Good feelings will shake up a habitual pattern, and there is inherent resistance against changing a safety mechanism like this. (Changing this is delicate business, so I recommend working with a therapist if you’re in this situation.)
- We don’t think we deserve to be happy, so don’t let ourself enjoy anything. So where did that idea come from? This is rotten programming worth deconstructing! The more firmly you believe it, the more you’ll need skilled help getting out from under it.
These are not easy patterns to change, yet essential to change if we’re to have a chance at a happier life. The happiness strategies may be of help, yet you may need the guidance of a skilled therapist to get past these obstacles.Jasmin Cori