Saying “NO!” to self-sabotage!
Author: Esther Sarlo, BA, CEO | Founder | Myndful Spark of Mynd Myself
Have you ever had a niggling sense of self-doubt or shame? Even if you can’t quite put your finger on it? I know I have…and every once in a while, a rough edge still trips me up when I least expect it.
I can’t speak to other parts of the world, but in North America there are many of us—particularly women—who’ve grown up with a deep, underlying sense that there is something wrong with us. That we just don’t measure up…and that it’s our own fault.
Never mind that we are inundated with images and words in almost every situation imaginable—from social media, tv, radio, magazines, our workplaces, events, etc. The deliberate cultivation of shame in us is a purposeful strategy to make us feel ‘less than’ and to get us to ‘buy.’ To buy something more, something new, something that will—somehow—make ALL the difference in our ‘otherwise-lackluster life.’ Eat more of this, wear more of that, travel more, get more gadgets that you’ll likely use rarely—if ever, keep up with current trends, look like a supermodel, be successful, etc. I’m sure men experience their own versions of these same messages.
The most fraudulent part of this is, we mostly have no idea of the true cost of all this manipulation because we are immersed in it. Like a fish doesn’t notice water because it lives in it. Like we don’t think about breathing air—although when it’s polluted, we sure feel it!
The Deep Cost of Shame
In When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, Dr. Gabor Maté—specialist in neurology, psychiatry, and psychology—says,
“Shame is the deepest of the “negative emotions,” a feeling we will do almost anything to avoid.
Unfortunately, our abiding fear of shame impairs our ability to see reality.”
The body, mind, and spirit cost of shame is so deep and wide that it’s hard to quantify in a few words.
Unrecognized and obscured internal shame affects our thinking, our self-image, our physical health, our ability to love and have healthy relationships (personal and business), our ability to thrive in our careers, and our capacity for peace and joyfulness.
Shining a Light
It seems to me that if we would root out and shine light on the shadowy corners of shame lurking inside us, we would all be able to live more freely. I know when I spend some time really looking at the symptoms of shame within me, that’s when its power is diminished.
Four Steps to ‘UnShaming’ Myself
Step 1: Recognizing My Feelings
First comes the recognition that I’m feeling shame. Acknowledging the feelings as they arise and taking a good hard look at exactly what is triggering those feelings, what is feeding those feelings, and what kind of choices I have around those feelings. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They are simply feelings. I can experience them and let them go…or I can cling to them and stay stuck in their grip.
Recognizing my triggers earlier can also help me not get as caught up in those old familiar feelings as deeply. Or, when I find myself reacting, I can recognize the ‘why’ sooner, and then get myself out of my old, previously embedded pattern of response more quickly.
Step 2: Acknowledge External Embedding
Secondly, there is the knowledge that the shame I’m feeling has almost certainly been imbedded by external influences and has NOTHING to do with who I am as a human being. We don’t make up these familiar expressions: “Children should be seen and not heard,” “Don’t be such a girl,” “I feel so fat,” “Did you lose some weight? You look SO much better,” “You’re too stupid to…,” “You should be ashamed of yourself,” etc. They come to us from many sources including the afore-mentioned media along with parents, siblings, teachers, ‘friends,’ colleagues, spiritual communities, authority figures of all sorts, bullies in many contexts, etc.
I believe if you can come to a place of bedrock belief that shame isn’t intrinsically who you are, then it follows that you don’t have to keep living with shame and its consequences. You don’t have to keep paying its high price. You can release the toll that shame is taking on your whole system.
Step 3: Releasing and Choosing
Which leads directly into the third part of the process. How do you release, get rid of, and triumph over any past shame you’ve experienced and carried around with you?
Well, there’s definitely work to be done here. Once you recognize your feelings of shame and you acknowledge that they were rooted in you by external factors, then you become much freer to make new choices about how you’re going to see yourself moving forward and what thoughts you’re going to ‘feed.’
Where your attention goes, your energy flows.
I acknowledge that getting to a place of genuinely loving yourself exactly as and where you are now can be a process—and the journey’s length may depend on the depth of the ‘shame rabbit hole’ you’ve survived. It might feel like an arduous task to even think about…but…perhaps it won’t be. Remember, this is a journey, not a single destination point.
Once you become aware of something, you then have choice about what to do with it. You no longer have to live as a victim in it. For example, consider a media message that is all too common: “If you buy this car (take your pick as to which one!) you will be better looking, you will have more status and friends, your kids will always be smiling and well-behaved in it, you’ll be freer and get to experience more ‘life,’ and you’ll have a better relationship with your partner, etc.” Right?!?!?!?
Not! You know this message isn’t true…even if you might sometimes look longingly at what they’re offering. I get it.
Here’s the thing…When you KNOW what the messages are and you remember that they aren’t true, then you get to choose your beliefs and decisions around them. I know that a car is not going to give me those things listed above. So, if I see any kind of ad marketing those ideas to me, I just look at it, let it flow on by, and make up my own mind about if and when and what.
As I get better and better at recognizing those messages, I can quickly recognize them, laugh at them, and make my OWN decisions and choices.
The same applies to shaming thoughts.
- When I recognize shame emerging, I deliberately bring those thoughts as fully into my consciousness as possible.
- Then I ask myself, “Are these thoughts really true…and really mine?”
- Next—and here’s where it gets simpler than you might think—I acknowledge the source of those feeling of shame, remembering that they are not truly my thoughts…they have been embedded.
- Once I’m really clear that the source of the shame is not me…then I get to decide to let them flow on through myself instead of holding onto them and stewing in the shame.
Step 4: Replacing Shame with Love—in Thought AND Action
Finally, the most important step—replacing the feelings of shame with loving thoughts and actions.
If I just grit my teeth and say to myself over and over, “I don’t want to feel and think that way anymore,” I’m likely not going to be able to sustain positive change. Remember, ‘where my attention goes, my energy flows.’
If, however, I release the shame feelings and then redirect my thoughts to positive things (e.g. beautiful images, kind and true things people have said to me about who I really am, things I am good at, favourite authors who write beautiful messages, etc.), I am much more likely to create and groove new neural pathways that support my magnificence.
You, too, can make this kind of acknowledgement, recognition, choice, and focus to reduce and/or eliminate shame in your life. If you give yourself some space, time, and perseverance it is possible!
Each moment is an opportunity for a fresh start…
and to embody your own freedom and magnificence more fully.
As a final note here, sometimes shame can be so deeply entrenched in your system that you may need to seek professional help for working it through. If you find yourself in that situation, please find someone to talk to! There are many services available, in person and online (see a couple options in the Additional Resources below.)
Know that you are not alone. This is so important. You are worthy! …And YOU matter!
Lao Tzu said,
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
What if you could love yourself that deeply!?
Will you join me on this journey of self-love?
Additional Resources on Shame if you want to take a deeper dive:
- www.healingshame.com/Canada – a Canadian website helping you to find a therapist in your Province.
- www.withtherapy.com – a US website helping you to find a therapist in your State.
- I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame by Brené Brown
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
- Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame: A Relational/Neurobiological Approach by Patricia A. DeYoung
- You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame, Resilience, and the Black Experience by Tarana Burke (Audio CD)
- Emotional Agility by Susan David
- Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw