When you learn to notice feelings of shame, you earn a special reward – the option to do something about it.
I’ll share some personal examples of how my own shame awareness has made me look at situations completely differently.
The whole problem with the shame mechanism is that it hides from awareness, thinking its being useful, but really its being a pain in the ass.
Its like some dodgy malware on your computer that thinks you’ll benefit from a new homepage, a new search bar, and a whole bunch of advertising guff on your browser. No thanks. Now how the hell do I uninstall this shit…
Shame thinks its protecting you from feelings of imagined pain and hurt – but in the meantime you end up not living fully, being miserable, and not enjoying authentic relationships with people.
Here are some personal examples.
Meeting new people
When you meet new people, both of you normally want to build a rapport – it just feels better to have some common ground, things to agree on, and to know that you’re liked and accepted.
But sometimes it doesn’t go that way.
You might soon disagree on something, come from completely different angles, have mis-matched personas or thinking styles.
If one person talks quickly, talking as they think, and the other is more thoughtful, reserved and slower with their delivery, then a lack of rapport is going to be felt.
When this happens, I used to take it personally. I used to have this uncomfortable niggle at the back of my mind that I was “being wrong”, that I “wasn’t doing this right”, and imagining that the other person was blaming me for that annoying lack of rapport.
With shame awareness, I soon realised that the other guy is probably self-absorbed too.
Now, if I get that niggly feeling, I quickly recognise it and think “I’m ok, they’re ok, this is all perfectly fine”. Its a split-second, calming thing. It frees me up to not be so self-absorbed with self-doubt or nervousness, so I can ask questions instead and try to learn something from the situation.
The other positive effect is that I then appear calmer and relaxed, which helps the other person feel calm and relaxed too. There’s nothing worse than both people awkwardly butting in, thinking about what they’re going to say next, tripping over themselves and digging a deeper hole whilst trying to rescue the situation.
A useful analogy is fancy dress parties.
Most people worry about what they’re wearing – feeling awkward, self-conscious, and not sure whether they’ll fit in with what other people are wearing.
Then you get to the party – and quickly you realise that you needn’t have worried.
Because everyone’s worrying about themselves.
With a little attention focused on other people, you can be practically invisible at a fancy dress party, because people are more consumed with approval seeking, to feel comfortable, than giving a damn about what you’re wearing.
Really, this sums up socialising generally.
People really are far more interested in themselves than they are you. How they’re coming across, whether they’re approved of and accepted, what they’re going to do or say next.
Shame’s ironic like that – its a little secret for the vast majority of people, when sharing it cures the problem for everyone.
Because you quickly learn “Yes, I’m normal, thank goodness, now I can relax”.
Choice is always better
With shame resilience, you don’t need to follow the path of automatic thoughts and behaviours.
Thinking “that’s not me – I don’t know why I reacted like that – its not who I am”.
Awareness bridges that gap between cause-and-effect where you can do something different instead.
Such as express your feelings more honestly.
Or step away from a situation.
Or hold onto your self-worth rather than let it crumble and slide away.
Gradually, you’ll get that vicious circle of shame slowing down without you even noticing it anymore. Like a painful ulcer that just fades away until you later realise that you haven’t felt it for days.
Until you’re having far more positive thoughts, and building far more positive feelings about you are and what you deserve. Doesn’t that sound so much more useful?
Share your goals for shame resilience
Do you have a specific situation that happens, where you know that you aren’t reacting or responding as usefully as you’d like to?
Maybe you recognise that shame is taking over and screwing things up.
Or maybe you have an example of a situation that you react to differently now, having broken through some shame barriers. It would be great to hear about it!
Please write about it here and share it with others, if you have time.
You might attract some useful replies of people who have been in a similar situation, or want to share their encouragement.