Shame pervades our society. We are shamed for something we have said or done or even for being who we are. It happens so frequently and unconsciously that we have become adept at shaming ourselves.
“Compassion is the antedote to shame”
Shame is one of the most difficult emotions to acknowledge and feel, because it impacts our sense of self and self-worth. In order to cope we often deny the feeling and project it outwards and blame or shame others, or we internalize it which can destroy us.
I have found that the compassion is the antedote to shame. It’s necessary first to allow ourselves to ‘feel’ the feeling of shame, to feel self-empathy and then to alleviate it which we can do by being kind to ourselves.
Brene Brown, author and shame researcher, writes about vulnerability and shame. In one of her youtube videos about shame she shares three things you can do to stop a shame spiral 1) talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love 2) reach out to someone you trust 3) tell your story.
This week, during a workshop, I found myself sharing with the group my true feelings about an incident in my life. As I did, I felt a knot in my stomach. I felt bad and recognized it as shame and decided to reflect on it later. At the end of the day, I brought my awareness to the sensation and as I allowed space for the feeling it became stronger and stronger until it was a dense tightness in the pit of my stomach. As I set my intention to be kind to myself, I thought of many times when I had been unable to share my true feelings and times when I’d been shamed for expressing them. To stop me crying my Dad used to say things like ‘big girls don’t cry’ and ‘if you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about’.
3 things you can do to stop a shame spiral
1) talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love
2) reach out to someone you trust
3) tell your story
– Brene Brown –
I realized that I had felt shame for expressing my true feelings. In the past I’d been shamed for doing so and now I had done it to myself. Through my personal development journey and therapy, I understand why my Dad said these things to me. He could not bear to feel his own feelings, when he heard or saw me crying. His only way to alleviate his own pain was to stop me crying and as quickly as possible. In that moment I felt compassion for myself and compassion for my Dad too.
“The only way out is through”
I wrote about this in my journal and the feeling completely dissipated. I shared it with my colleague and felt a deeper sense of peace. During the closing circle at the end of the workshop, almost as if the Universe wanted to make sure that I’d really ‘heard the message’, one of the participants told how grateful she was that I had shared my story with them. She said that, to her, it meant that I was ‘real’.
It is a continual journey, and it’s because I have learned that the way to overcome feelings is to honour, feel and transmute them that I am able to help others. For me, the only way out is through.