December 29, 2017
On the path of mindfulness, sitting with shame can be one of the most difficult things to do. But once you are able to sit with the uncomfortable feeling and not run away from it, you are getting closer to the gold of the true self – the authentic you.
The pain of shame keeps us constantly moving away from it. Upon closer inspection, however, shame can be found running through us at any given moment so, in truth, we are always running from our Selves. That causes much of our suffering, stress, addictions and health problems.
I’ve worked with hundred of clients and the first step to a mindfulness practice is discovering this stream of negativity, which we’ve become completely unaware of because the self-hatred self talk has become the norm, not just inside our heads but to our society, often times leaving us stuck as individuals.
It can keep us stuck unless you lean toward being a sociopath or pathological liar, where you feel no shame. It is common that individuals with this tendency survived the pain of their childhoods by adopting a survival strategy of compartmentalizing it. They learned how to deal with their shame by blaming, lying or burying it completely. If they are no longer able to have empathy for themselves, they are not able to have empathy for others. Sometimes this overlying survival personality becomes so concrete they are not able to bridge back to their true selves.
So how can we use shame to our advantage?
Recently, shame has gotten a bad wrap, being labeled as “not being productive or helpful” by Brene Brown. But the Oxford American Writer’s Dictionary defines shame as “the painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior,” which is a very useful tool if awareness is brought to it.
Shame can be toxic or shame can be motivating.
Toxic shame plays out something like this. I’m on a diet and while on my diet I “cheat” by eating a cookie. I immediately feel so upset and uncomfortable (ashamed) that I begin to abuse myself by telling myself that I am a loser, that I will never lose weight, and that my peers were right when they called me "fatty" on the playground. I decide that since I’m such a loser, I’m going to eat the whole box of cookies because who cares, I’m already a failure. Maybe I’ll start tomorrow but we all know that most likely the cycle will repeat itself.
In this example, you can replace the cookie with alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, work, etc., whatever vice you use to run from yourself. Shame is a part of who we are, so to label it as bad and unproductive is keeping us from a vital part of ourselves.
Let’s use the same example and see how a healthier response to shame can play out. I eat a cookie while dieting. I stop to notice the uncomfortable feelings coming up and sit with them. I notice how my thoughts begin to attack me, shaming me. I take a deep breath and remind myself I am not my thoughts. I let them go or I tell myself that eating one cookie is not complete failure. I am human. I’ve been doing a good job and I walk away from the cookie jar and have a glass of water instead.
This might seem rudimentary but it’s actually an advanced skill. To be able to do this, one needs to have some experience of hearing one’s thoughts, not believing every thought to be true and trusting that replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts is equally valid and real. “The observer" inside would need to have been developed through meditation.
Taking it one step further, shame can be used as motivation. Let’s use the dieting example one more time. Now I’m on a diet and I think that a cookie sounds really good. I stop and imagine how I will feel after eating the cookie and decide I don’t want to feel that way. So I don’t eat the cookie. I drink a glass of water instead. I skip the whole process knowing I don’t want to feel the cycle of shame.
Once you reach this level of awareness, shame becomes a motivating tool. You realize shame has no value, so you begin to make conscious decisions to not feel shame.
But we are all human and shame will show up in buried areas. With a lot of practice, once it does, you will quickly feel it, acknowledge it and share it. Yes, share it.
I know this feels like annihilation but once you know yourself well, you will understand that you are not your feelings or thoughts and both are tools for greater consciousness. By sharing your shame, it will be gone before it takes root and has you acting out from subconscious patterning often times sabotaging the very thing you most desire. This is true freedom.
Befriend your shame, stop running from it, everyone has it, use it to motivate you to make better choices and a whole new world will open up to you. It is the world of pure liberation and once you discover it, there is nothing you can’t do or be.