this week’s been a doozy. some days you take a few steps forward and other days take you farther back than you wanted to go. I took more than a few steps backward this week when I got a visit from my old friend shame.
I’ve gotten fairly familiar with my shame-triggers (thank you, therapy) but still, they creep up on me when I least expect it and send me into what I call “the sneaky shame spiral” (an homage to my absolute favorite blog, Hyperbole and a Half, and the gal behind the blog, Allie Brosh). maybe you know the feeling. some of my shame-triggers include:
- not living up to the expectations I’ve set for myself (or expectations I perceive others have of me)
- disappointing others (hello, crazy)
- making mistakes/failing at pretty much anything (it’s the stupid perfectionist in me)
- not being able to control my emotions (hormones, amiright ladies?)
- not being able to adapt to change quickly enough (am i the only one who likes a little predictability and routine?!)
usually something happens to make me feel like I’m losing the uphill battle with one of these totally irrational and impossible aspirations in some way (really setting myself up to fail), and that’s when the sneaky shame spiral sets in. sometimes it’s slow and gradual, building up for weeks or months, and sometimes it’s instantaneous. I never recognize it in the moment, though. I know I don’t feel like myself, but it’s only when I’ve gone too far down and start coming back up that I see it for what it was. I start thinking that the world and everyone in it is against me; I feel like everything i do is wrong; like all the decisions i make are bad ones; I lose perspective altogether; I convince myself that I really am an all-around shitty person; I start playing the blame game; I get WAY into my own head and forget that sometimes I can’t trust what my brain tells me because it is unintentionally sabotaging me and my happiness (side-note: there’s research out there about how when we are experiencing shame, our brains tell us all kinds of crazy things in a biological effort to keep us safe. the vastness and power of my consciousness constantly surprises and scares me). and that’s when it simply spirals out of control and I’m drowning in the deep end of shame, splashing around, desperately searching for the ladder to pull myself back out. and let me tell ya folks, it ain’t pretty.
self-work is no stranger to me, but I realized through this bout with the sneaky shame spiral that I’ve been approaching it all wrong lately. here I’ve been thinking it’s a matter of changing myself, and to some extent that may be true, but really I think it’s more about changing the way I respond to myself and changing the way I deal with (and try to accept) the shame-triggers and the underlying shame itself.
so why the fuck am I sharing all this ugly shit? mostly as a tool to help me process the week I just had so I can learn from it, but also because I don’t think we talk about this kind of thing enough, and maybe I’m not the only one dealing with it, and maybe sharing my experiences and being honest about something I struggle with will help someone else. and beyond that, I wonder how others deal with the sneaky shame spiral? I know my personal method involves things like
- a lot of crying
- endlessly watching the office (only episodes with Michael Scott will do)
- snuggling with my kitty
- time by myself
I still feel pretty immature in my spiritual journey, but prayer helps, too. I’d like to think that some day I’ll get far enough in my self-work to shake the shame, and truly get out of my own damn way. all I know is, as long as I’m taking steps of any kind, I’m headed in the right direction and one step closer to that day.
p.s.: this poem (by David Whyte) was given to me the day the sneaky shame spiral brought me down, and I hated it; I felt like it was taunting me for not being able to forgive myself for my failures and flaws. but now that I’ve climbed my way out, I find it to be quite lovely. to me it says, take the brokenness and turn it into something beautiful. and that’s what I’ll try to do.
p.p.s.: my girl Brene Brown defines the difference between shame and guilt like this – guilt=I did something bad; shame=I am bad. it’s an important distinction.
p.p.p.s.: forgive yourself for everything (I always need that reminder) 💓