Maria came to one of my courses, which focused on dealing with shame, and said that she was never ashamed. She was curious about how come that she seemed so different from others, even the other participants on the course who all affirmed that they felt ashamed feelings. We did a number of exercises, without Maria learning anything new about herself or about shame. On the fourth day, our last morning of the course, she entered and stepped straight towards me. I thought she looked tired but happy. Her face flared and her eyes were fixed on mine as she exclaimed.
- Now I know what it feels like! I felt shame last night and it was awesome.
When I asked her if she wanted to say more, she described how the night before she met a man she was in love with, and he had told her that he no longer wanted to see her. A feeling she didn't recognize washed over her. Then she became numb and cold. It was when she heard her own response to the man that she realised that she was rebelling against her inner shame attack, the humiliation of the moment.
- Yes, everyone must be able to choose for themselves what they want to do with...
She had stopped when she realized that only part of her had been allowed to speak. This was the part of her that was always self-sufficient, was able to turn off emotions and stay cool. But she wanted to be more than just cool, calm and collected, so she took a deep breath. Now she dared to feel the humiliation and let her tears flow. For a moment she listened to the thoughts; that she was not good enough, not lovable or wanted. A wave of self-loathing for the vulnerability came over her and made her wish for a big black hole to swallow her.
But since she was in the middle of a training, where we repeatedly made the connection between the reaction of shame to basic human needs such as acceptance, belonging and dignity, she asked herself, if there were any of these needs that were not met. She realized immediately that it was dignity, and to some sense belonging, that she needed at this moment. Just connecting with the needs that way and realizing that she was actually free to choose to be more open, made her experience more dignified. She was also able to relax a bit and to continue communicating instead of just leaving this man she was in love with and actually wanted a deeper relationship with. She recounted their conversation to me.
“Wait. Sure, you are free to choose but I want you to hear that I am very sad to hear what you say. I would like to continue seeing you and actually deepening our relationship. You mean a lot to me”, Maria said.
(She also made it clear to me that this was super-scary and even embarrassing for her.)
"Oh, I wasn't prepared for that," the man replied. “One of the things I missed when we met is to connect with what you feel. You always seem so cool and indifferent. I didn't think I was important to you, and I'm tired of having superficial relationships. Do you want to say what you mean when you say, I mean a lot to you?”
Maria told me how they had talked long into the night. That she had cried a lot and finally dared to share how difficult It was to her to allow herself to let someone so close. They had made love and then slept together for the first time (so far Maria had always slept at home instead of sleeping with him).
- So you're going to keep seeing each other?
- Yes, Maria said. She looked at me and pointed at her own face. See, I blush even now, she continued and smiled. And it actually feels good, I feel so alive.
- And vulnerable and scary, right?
-Exactly, she said and gave 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. But embracing feelings of shame needs to be your own choice.
We can offer our support to adults, children or teenagers we care about, but never force them to face their shame, it needs to be a choice. If we try we will just encourage more of the avoidance. For young children, and even some individuals at some other age, it is not even possible to make the difference between their feelings and themselves. This makes it difficult for them to process their feelings in any other way than to try to get rid of them on some way.
Some advantages of being able to process feelings of shame:
- Ability to deepen your most important relationships
- Courage to dare to do things you have always wanted to do
- Ability to choose empathy instead of revenge
- Ability to regain power from someone who tries to ridicule or diminish you
- Courage to show openly and authentically what's really going on inside you
- and much, much more.
If you want some tools for this, you are most welcome on online course 19 May.