Mari came to one of my trainings on how to handle shame and said she never felt ashamed, but that she had trouble with other people around her feeling it. She was curious about how she seemed so different from the others at the training, who all shared about feelings of shame. We did a number of exercises, without Mari experiencing anything in particular. She could always brush off embarrassment or shame through some logical thought or by not engaging fully in an exercise, denying herself the possibility to get to know it more deeply.
On the fourth day, the last morning of the training, she arrived ten minutes early and came directly to me. Her face was glowing, and her eyes looked straight into mine.
“Now I know what it feels like. I felt shame last night and it was awesome.”
When I asked if she wanted to tell me more, she described how the night before she had met a man she had been dating for some time. Last night he had told her he didn't want to continue with their relationship any longer. A feeling she at first didn't recognize washed over her. She felt it escalating and it was so uncomfortable that she just wanted to leave right away. It was when she heard her own answer to the man that she realized she was rebelling against a “shame attack” that was going on within her.
“Well, everyone has to choose for themselves what they want to do so ...”
She stopped in the middle of the sentence because she realized that only part of her had been allowed to speak. That part of her that could always do everything, self-sufficient and cool, that part that could cut off her emotions and focus on independence. But she was more than that. Now came the tears and more humiliation. For a moment, she experienced rejection and thoughts that she was not good enough, was not loved or desired. Next a wave of self-loathing for this weakness washed over her, making her long for a black hole to open under her and engulf her. She just wanted to get away. But because she was in the middle of our training, where we repeatedly made the connection between the reaction of shame to basic human needs such as acceptance, belonging and dignity, she was reminded of that. Taking a deep breath, she asked herself if it was signals of these needs that she was experiencing.
“And then I realized how hard it was for me to keep my sense of dignity, as I had not been chosen, wasn't wanted,” she said and continued to describe her experience.
She realized that she was free to choose to be open about what was going on within her, and not to do as she normally did; brushing off all uncomfortable situations or using logic. Through this turnaround she actually experienced dignity, and she was able to relax a little bit. In short, she recounted their conversation to me.
“But wait a minute. Surely you are free to choose to go. But at least I want you to hear that I'm very sad to hear what you're saying, because I'd love to keep seeing you. You mean a lot to me.
Surprised, the man replied that he was not prepared to hear this from her.
What do you mean, what do you mean? Mari asked him.
The main thing I've really missed when we have been together is connecting with what you feel. You always seem so cool and unmoved. I didn't think I was important to you at all. That I didn't touch you at all.
Mari eagerly recounted how they had talked well into the night. That she had cried a lot and then she dared to tell us how challenging it had been to allow herself to let someone in so close. They had made love and then slept together for the first time. (Previously Mari had never slept over with him because it made her feel too vulnerable).
So are you going to keep seeing each other?
"Yes," Mari said, pausing. She stared at me with her eyes open and pointed at her own face.
"See, I'm blushing," she said, smiling. I haven't done that since I was a kid. And it actually feels good. I feel alive”
“And vulnerable and a bit scary?” I asked.
"Exactly," she said, giving me a hug. Thank you for teaching me to stand up for my needs instead of avoiding being ashamed.
Learning to accept and process feelings of shame is an investment in one's own well-being.
Learning how to deal with shame has a whole range of benefits, including:
- You learn to say no to things you don't want, (things you otherwise might say yes to, as you cannot stand the shame the no stimulates in you).
- You learn to say yes – and take chances that come your way (that you were previously worried would make you feel so ashamed that you wouldn't be able to deal with it).
-You learn to let people close (intimacy becomes difficult if we are not willing to be vulnerable).
- You learn to transform your inner perfectionist (which drives you to stress and overwork).
If you want to learn more about how to process your own vulnerability and transform shameful moments into moments where you can reclaim power and choice – welcome to the next online training. If you're want to learn more about how to process your own vulnerability and transform shameful moments to moments where you reclaim power and choice – welcome to the next online training. Starting the 1st of June. Welcome to From Shame to vulnerability - reclaiming power and choice.
Learn more about how shame can help you reclaim power and choice from my book Anger, Guilt and Shame - Reclaiming Power and Choice.
To buy the book in Europe - you can find it here.