Dealing With A Shame Storm
Avoiding and resisting my feelings is a habit for me.
I’m so well-practiced in putting on a facade (even for myself) and acting like everything is wonderful. “I don’t have time to deal with that” I’ve told myself.
It’s precisely this behavior that landed me in a therapist’s office several years ago.
I’ve since learned how to “feel my feelings” and observe myself with compassion, but recently my old habits kicked into high-gear. Thoughts of:
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’ll never get this right.”
“Everyone else can be good at this except for me.”
“I’m in over my head.”
“Other people have all the answers.”
“I’m just a stay at home mom.”
“I’m not qualified.”
“I’m fearful of making everyone angry - or keeping them angry with me.”
“I’m failing my marriage, my kids, my business…”
The storm started gradually, and I avoided my emotions by attempting to switch my thoughts. “Of course I’m good enough! I’m not going to think that disempowering thought.” But practicing positive affirmations often only does damage as we avoid what we’re really feeling.
Things soon swirled to monstrous proportions. Before I knew it, I was reacting to the emotion by snapping at my husband and children, and withdrawing into my own thoughts to fuel the fire.
I was soon challenged by my coach to feel my feelings. To accept them without judgment.
The shame was so real, and it was hard to merely “feel my feelings.” But I’m up for a good challenge, so I did.
I wrote out all the thoughts that were triggering my emotions and compassionately sat with them. I explored the possibility that those thoughts were neutral. That they didn’t mean anything about me. They had nothing to do with my value. That my thoughts, and my inherent awesomeness weren’t connected.
Observing my feelings with compassion, and not ascribing judgment to myself, was such a relief. “Ok, so this is what shame feels like. It’s just a vibration happening in my body. And it’s totally fine. My cheeks are flushed and my insides feel a little tingly. This is shame. And I’m built to handle any emotion.”
It wasn’t immediate, but allowing myself to be with my feelings, instead of resisting them or avoiding them, was ultimately what allowed me to emerge from the shame-storm even better than when I first went in it.
If you’re struggling to imagine what “feeling your feelings” is, think of it like this:
You meet a Martian who doesn’t know what feelings are. You tell him you’re “sad” but he has no understanding of emotion. So you begin to explain to him how it feels in your body when you’re "sad.” You describe the vibrations that happen, as you experience them. You don’t make the feelings mean anything about you or your value - they’re just vibrations happening in your body.
Or, imagine you’re participating in a medical study on feelings. You sit in a chair where you’re injected with “sorrow.” You observe the feeling of sorrow as it works it’s way through your body, but you don’t make it mean anything about you. You describe the feeling to the doctor as plainly as you would describe an ache in your leg. Just the facts.
Many times our thoughts are so swirled and knotted because we’re not managing our mind. We don’t realize we’re suffering needlessly. We’re extending the suffering by resisting, avoiding or reacting to our feelings. If we instead take the time to slow down and process what our feelings are, and what they feel like, it removes much of the drama.
Life is 50/50.
Half the time we’ll be offered experiences which are considered “positive” and half the time we’ll be offered experiences considered “negative.” It’s not that suffering is equally distributed throughout the universe - that’s just patently untrue. But our experience, and what we decide to make it can be either positive or negative. Without sadness there is no happiness. Without grief there is no joy. We define those words by their opposites, so it’s quite necessary we’ll feel both in our lifetime. They give each other weight - substance - understanding.
If you’re struggling with your emotions today, give yourself a few minutes to feel your feelings without judgment.
Compassion is essential in this process. As you become the compassionate observer of your thoughts and feelings you gain understanding and work through your emotions with grace and ease. The struggle really is optional. The more practiced we become in feeling our feelings, the more they don’t define and limit us. And the more we get to create the life experience that we want.