On the corrosive nature of shame

Here is my 2 cents on feeling shame during a crisis: The rest of the world may be ready to kick your butt if you mess up. But if you are undergoing tremendous shame spirals, you even lose the friend inside you who is there to help you out of the mess. If you feel worthless and ready for the self blame-game, it is a great idea to consider reading and learning about shame. Here is my story.

I am intrigued at the corrosive nature of shame. I dropped some sulphuric acid on my lab coat once, and watched it burn and smoke while making a hole. I think if I look inside my body and examine my organs, I will see big and small smoking holes where shame has made its dent.

Shame and self-love has been a popular concept for sometime in the Internet but the words did not make any sense to me. If I fail at something, what is there to love? And of course I should be ashamed and maybe add in some disgust for myself. I thought people who ‘felt’ things had a lot of time in their hands to just indulge on explaining inability with feelings. If I had a set of concrete actions and failed at it, I did not wait to understand what I was feeling and whether it was even legitimate. It was my weakness so, I did the logical thing: I took a metaphorical hammer and relentlessly hit my worth as a human being.

For me shame is about feeling small, and having the belief that no matter what I do, I am small and worthless to accomplish anything worthwhile. So, the best course of action will be to do nothing on things that shames me. Thus, I did nothing for a long time. I did little things here and there to survive and work either due to deadlines or because I was motivated enough. But soon I was back to square one with this corrosive feeling. What changed my perspectives was reading Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I learnt that the corrosive heart wrenching emotion I was undergoing was shame. Slowly I realized I was so deep in shame that I did not have the mindset to acknowledge instances rationally. If something did not work in my favor, and I found 1% chance of being responsible for it, I blamed the whole instance on myself. With years of practice and no feedback on my shame spirals, I had gotten great at ‘not favorable experience’ to shifting to labeling myself ‘worthless’ in a matter of seconds. Learning about shame, has helped me to say ‘pause’ between these two instances.

I have a long way to go in dealing with shame. What really worked for me was being my own buddy (a.k.a being empathic). Previously I chewed on myself with hate on every experience that yielded to embarrassment. Being hard on myself worked earlier and it acted as motivation to do something better. But, one day it stopped working. Then hating myself for not living up to the standards meant I was too embarrassed to even get out of the house or look people in the eye. Now, with a bit of reading and teaching myself on shame, if I bum something, I acknowledge it as really embarrassing. Rather than internalizing that feeling to the pit of my stomach, I take long walks where I talk about the event to myself-the good, the bad, which particular part turned into sticky flesh searing embarrassment (yes, you did see me walking across the street talking to the air). Because I know I am feeling shame, I am super easy on myself. I sometimes even treat myself with hot chocolate like I do when I have a bad cold and feel exhausted. Previously I punished myself, and from time to time asked myself the point of continuing to live a worthless life. I still do, and I am working on my shame, but being easy on myself gives me a few glimpses on why I did what I did, and then think of ways to help myself in the in the future. That for me is huge!

Here is an example. I battled with weight loss for over 3 years. It was all about loosing that 10 pounds. Not being able to do that when I read blogs of people losing fifty or hundred pound meant I really lacked discipline. Every time I looked at my reflection, I was relentless in screaming with anger and disappointment. Of course being hard on myself helped the first few times, but then started yielding opposite results. Every time, I felt I looked overweight, I would punish myself with not eating breakfast or lunch even when I was nauseated with hunger. However, by evening I was tired from not eating, and was ravenously hungry so I ate like a dolphin. And on went the cycle.

Now, I force myself to eat breakfast and lunch after my indulgences with the cake late at night. Learning to recognize shame, I do not try to work on it with punishments. Now when I eat a cake, instead of blaming my lack of discipline and other worthless characteristics, I think why I have eaten that cake. If I was tired and eating that cake meant everything in the world to me at 11pm, I try to understand that moment. Of course that doesn’t help with weight loss so I also come with strategies to help my cravings for the next midnight siren for chocolate cake.

My long-winded point is, screeching at myself really didn’t work. Acknowledging shame and guilt did open up rooms to analyze the situation and make future improvements. Realizing the destructive nature of shame did not make embarrassment and guilt disappear. However, when I do undergo these emotions, understanding shame has allowed me to shield myself from internalizing that feeling.

From an empathic friend

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