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March 27, 2018

Try this: a strategy to dissolve shame

There is something predictable that happens when I feel shame. Maybe some (or all) of this sounds familiar…

I get very quiet at first. My face flushes, my palms sweat, and my shoulders hunch inward. My mind races and my heart speeds up. Sometimes I close my eyes, trying to visually shut out the experience. The first instinct is to reach for anything to make the sensation stop…

To distract, to numb. In the past, it’s been food or my phone or even taking action on something to make myself feel less helpless. Anything to not feel that shame.

In my body, shame and trauma land virtually the same way.

When shame creeps in, there is a veritable buffet of fight, flight and freeze instincts that arise. And I can’t help but scoop some of each onto my metaphorical plate.

No matter how hard I try to numb or run away, that sensation of shame remains in my body until I’ve properly processed it. As Bessel van der Kolk, a trauma specialist says, the body keeps the score.

Shame can feel so utterly personal. Yet my (perhaps, our?) response to shame so often is to detach.

What I propose instead is connection.

Compassionately, tenderly, come home to your experience. Note what is happening in your body, in your mind, in your heart, in your energy. When you are intimately connected with present-moment experience, you can then move from your wise intuition, rather than fear.

In our society, shame is often met with more shame.

“Don’t take it personally!” they cry, as though it is our response (and not the shame itself) that is out of place. But what if we refused to let shame rob us of our connection to what is often deeply personal? What if we chose compassion and connection in those moments?

If we did, we could stay close to that intuitive, loving energy, following (and trusting) its guidance, instead of numbing out or following shame away from our hearts’ calling?

Here’s the kernel of truth in all of this: it’s personal.

My business is me. My activist work is my community. My child is of me. My whole life comes from my heart. None of it isn’t personal.

This makes it all the more vulnerable.

But it also makes it all the more necessary not to let shame win, not to shut down, not to numb out. So I choose to stay with what is in the moment and meet it, as I would meet anything else, with tremendous love.

Try this with me: the next time that shame creeps in – in front of the mirror, in front of your boss, in front of your kids, or in that pesky negative self-talk – hold your own hand. (I hold my left thumb with my right hand.) Feel that connection.

This is the heart of self-care: that willingness to be compassionately present with yourself even when things suck.

I wish this for all of us.

With care,
Christy

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