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The Cycle Of Shame

The Cycle of Shame

I listened empathetically as she described the way the morning “should have gone.” Those were the plans she’d made. Quite thorough she was in sequencing what was supposed to happen. Including the good feelings that should have come from those plans.

There’s a cycle we can get into that is understandably compelling and yet often destructive. And, paradoxically, in Hunger, Hope + Healing I do recommend we create beneficial structures for ourselves and our recovery. However, from what brain-state we make those plans makes all the difference between “plans” that lead to healing and those that lead again to the perpetuation of self-harm.

Here’s the cycle:

  • feel disappointed or uncomfortable; or let ourselves down again with self-harming behavior;
  • decide that tomorrow will be different;
  • anticipating the luminous efforts that will be made tomorrow, we experience relief of our painful (and often self-imposed) despair today (and some of us also escalate how badly we’re feeling by taking it more deeply);
  • when tomorrow comes, we don’t live up to our own expectations (which are usually too high, too complex, too driven by shame, too out of alignment with our basic needs, too unkind toward our unmet needs);
  • we suffer more.

Lying in Wait

In situations like these, the shame lies in wait like a hungry tiger waiting to pounce on us. We might “wonder what’s wrong with us” that we could behave so “pathetically”, yet we already believe we know what’s wrong: We are. We’re convinced that it’s intrinsic. While the pain of this is rolling in us, we dare not try on a moment of self-kindness. (Even though that would actually save us.)

From certain perspectives, self-kindness can look like its mimicking apathy or resignation, like giving ourselves a pass. In the time it would take to either run from the shame tiger or offer ourselves self-kindness for getting caught in a self-hating cycle again, our primitive brains are already geared up to fight off the tiger. One way we do that is by becoming “more” perfect, “more” better; or,  by promising to do so tomorrow.

A practice we can explore in these moments is a Befriending practice. Based on our deep needs for love and belonging, and the recognition that I discussed in my last blog to you, We Can’t Do It Alone, befriending is a way to warmly welcome ourselves back into the possibility of not being eaten by the tiger of shame. From the kindest part of ourselves to the part that is in pain, we practice befriending.

Keeping in mind that shame was originally a protective mechanism, which actually had your best interest at heart, but became distorted over years of loneliness. In hindsight we didn’t know shame was helping us when it isolated us, the exhaustion from it’s hard work protecting us from shame by being in shame, or by overwhelming us with fear of our shame being found out. With all of this in mind, and the amalgamation loneliness, exhaustion, and the sense of being overwhelmed, we’ll be making an offering from Befriending.

The Offer of Refuge

Draw a large empty circle on a piece of blank paper.

In the center of the circle, draw a smaller circle.

From that circle draw lines toward the outer circle. This will look like a bicycle wheel with spokes.

With your non-dominant hand, write in the center of the circle the word Loneliness or Exhaustion or Overwhelm (whichever you feel is appropriate for your personal journey).

On the spokes of your wheel, with your non-dominant hand, write some synonyms for the quality of befriending. Use one spoke per each quality. (some ideas from past group participants include: warmth, soothing, tenderness, understanding, compassion, and so on)

Here are 3 things to notice:

  • how you feel while you’re doing this,
  • which of your words have the most ‘zing’ or energy,
  • where you experience resistance (the fight part of us that isn’t afraid that if we practice befriending, the shame Tiger might get us).

Supports you can offer yourself:

  • slow down your efforts,
  • breathe into your belly,
  • remember that I’m with you in this exercise.

As you sit back and gaze at the spokes on your wheel, quietly turn the page (like a wheel) until you arrive at today’s word.

Let’s say for our example that your word is Refuge. And, let’s say that the center of your wheel is Loneliness.  A self-kindness mantra may emerge. It might look something like this:

To the part of me that is lonely, I offer it Refuge.

And, could get utilized like this:

Inhale and say silently to “Toward that in me which is lonely,”

Exhale and say silently to this part “I offer you refuge.”

As you move about your day, this practice can be integrated discreetly, silently, lovingly.

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