August 11, 2014 Faith

Shame is Not Just a Five-Letter Word

One of the hardest paths in the journey of recovery and living a wholehearted life is retraining our negative thinking, showing ourselves the compassion that we are worthy and that we do deserve recovery. A major part of this process is learning how to embrace shame, guilt, fear, vulnerability, and worthiness. The eating disorder has trained us into negative thinkers with severe cognitive distortions, especially catastrophizing. We set the bar so high we can never reach it, making us feel flawed and never good enough. This leads to drowning in our fears, shame, and guilt at such a toxic level it sends us into a whirlwind making us sicker adding to anxiety, self-doubt, and lack of worthiness.

Author and researcher Brene Brown created "Shame Resilience," as a process to learn how to deal with shame, guilt, and fear, so one can learn to cultivate compassion. "If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way-especially shame, fear, and vulnerability." She found that shame loses power when it is spoken.

One of the most helpful parts of Brown's work was separating guilt and shame.

Guilt=I did something bad. It is about our behaviors. It is just as powerful as shame, but the effect is often more positive, because it more tangible, leading to apologizing or changing a behavior.

Shame=I am bad. Shame is about who we are and is extremely destructive. It corrodes the part of us that believes we can change and do better.

Learning shame resilience is tedious and may involve some radical acceptance, but it can be an extremely critical and effective skill on your road to recovery. For those who have struggled for many years, these emotions may have built an ugly, interlaced web over many aspects of your life. The basis for Brown's research is that: "Shame resilience is the ability to recognize shame, to move through it constructively while maintaining worthiness and authenticity, and to ultimately develop more courage, compassion, and connection as a result of our experience. The less we talk about shame, the more we have it."

Shame Resilience 101:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

1. We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don't experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection.

2. We're all afraid to talk about shame. Shame is the fear of being unlovable, yet shame loses power when it's spoken.

3. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

The three seeds of shame that grow quickly like weeds and intertwine you with thorny vines are secrecy, silence, and judgment. The basis for shame resilience is to learn how to recognize shame and move through it constructively, yet maintain worthiness and authenticity. These are critical aspects of recovery as we are rebuilding ourselves and redefining our values. Ultimately, developing more courage, compassion, and connection from these experiences and learning to talk about them, the less power they will have. The experiences we have had are all part of our story. While we don't need to go broadcasting them to everyone, finding a small, supportive group you can process with will help immensely. The eating disorder will quickly grab onto the weeds of shame and guilt, but practicing awareness and talking about it will help you keep growing with authenticity versus drowning in the swamp of unworthiness and fear.

Everyone has a different reaction to shame, and it is important to become mindful and aware of your own reaction. Dr. Linda Hartling, a relational-cultural theorist, found that in order to deal with shame, some withdraw and keep secrets, some move forward and try to please, and some move against by trying to gain power over others or being aggressive. The bottom line still comes down to the fact that shame is about fear, blame, and disconnection. It is our story that brings about worthiness, courage, compassion, and connection. We all have imperfections, and letting go of the perfectionistic aspect that the eating disorder loves to hold so high is a key value in recovery.

Most people have actual physical symptoms when they become aware of shame, and it's important to develop that awareness, too.

In order to begin figuring out your own shame-resilience and story claiming, Brown proposes four questions to help you become more aware:

1. Who do you become when you're backed into that shame corner?

2. How do you protect yourself?

3. Who do you call to work through the mean-nasties, the cry-n-hides, or the people-pleasing?

4. What's the most courageous thing you could do for yourself when you feel small and hurt?

Recovery is a process, and the eating disorder is only part of your story. Learning to acknowledge, own, and grow from all the experiences all help build compassion for yourself. I can live with regrets and shame and wish it all away, but there is no such magic wand. I now have to learn how to embrace and work through it, even if it's just with one supportive person. I have a lot to work through and it's not easy. Sometimes I just have to practice kindheartedness, even if some days I can't really believe the words. Rebuilding myself with compassion, love, belonging, and authenticity all starts at the same place: "I am worthy." And you are too!

Reference: Brown, B. (2010). The Gift ofImperfection. Center City, MN: Hazeldon.