Hunger Hope and Healing

Understanding Your Shame Monster

The Shame Furies

As the flu goes on, I am reminded that this horrible feeling with my skin aching from fevers is actually healing in action.

This is very different than the feeling I had many times in relationship to my body during my disordered eating years: the angry fire of wanting to tear my skin off.

That might sound dramatic to some (though perhaps not in this group). It was one way the symptoms of my body-hatred manifested. When I was caught in self-loathing (frequent and without need of any reasonable occurrence – it could be as simple as catching a glimpse of myself in the storefront window’s reflection), I often wished I could crawl out of my own skin.

This might seem paradoxical (it did to me): shame was, and is, a protective mechanism. My shame storms were sometimes fiery, like the fevered pain on my skin with this flu. They held me down, like being stuck in bed with this flu. These flu symptoms are preventing me from doing more than resting (and writing to you on FB), so that my body can do what it needs to.

The protection shame provided was similar though different. At the time we needed shame (usually we don’t see it this way), it would rise up, like a fury in my case, and prevent us from making ourselves more vulnerable than we already were.

With the flu, we’re already vulnerable. The symptoms it gives us that keep us in bed are to prevent us from making ourselves more vulnerable (by not resting, for example, or pseudo-resting while just ‘doing your taxes’).

Change the Way You Frame Your Shame

If we look at it this way, what changes in your relationship to your history with shame?

To be clear, I know that the feelings of shame are horrible, painful, sticky, torrential. Yet, healing from shame won’t happen by being angry about its occurrence. For me, the anger started subsiding when I saw shame had been trying to protect me.

Rather than wanting it to go away so badly, I became curious about it.

Of course, in certain shame storms, I still wanted it to LEAVE ME ALONE!!

And then I realized I WAS being left alone. I was isolated. Very isolated by my “shame monster”.

At this point in my recovery, two things occurred, neither of which I had any guidance about.  First, I started to move away from shame by connecting with ACTUAL other people. Real people.  And, I started talking with my shame monster, which caused me to move toward it.  This might sound like fun-house mirrors (and some of this flu actually feels like that too).

Let me unpack this a little bit: The part of me that felt overwhelmed by shame and saddened by the tremendous isolation it “punished” me with, wanted relief. So, too, did the part of me that had some notion that it was her role to keep reminding me about my shame (aka the shame monster).

When I reached out to other people (safe people, attuned people, willing people), my shame lessened in part because it was now “out-numbered.” Yet, it also lessened because the part of me that thought it was her job to bring on the protective mechanism of shame (which is to say to protect me from becoming more vulnerable) also got relief as she saw such connections lessening my vulnerability.

How does this possibility shift your relationship to shame?