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As a therapist and self-care blogger, I am a huge fan of Brené Brown’s books and seminars on shame, imperfection and courage. I recently watched a webinar on shame and was blown away.
One of her concepts that blew me away was this:
What happens when you get swept up in a shame storm?
Shame is that feeling that weighs much heavier than guilt. Brown describes guilt as the self-talk that says, “I made a mistake.” Shame, on the other hand, says “I AM a mistake.” Guilt focuses on a particular behavior and shame is more personal.
So what is a shame storm?
It’s that shitty feeling when:
Someone ghosts us after dating.
Being criticized by someone we respect at work.
Being passed over for a promotion, raise or special project.
Feeling alienated by family members or friends.
Intimate relationships become a struggle.
We talk ourselves out of trying something new (job, taking a trip, business risk).
Your children disappoint you.
A recent medical or mental health diagnosis.
Being stuck in a comparison cycle because your friends and family have kids, good paying jobs, fit bodies, education, happy relationships, etc.
Personally, I’ve been through a shame monsoon where self-doubt and anxiety flood my entire being. Every thought and step is bathed in doubt. And no one has to say anything to trigger it. When fibromyalgia floods my cells with a flare, it instantly throws me in a lurch. I don’t want to self-diagnose but I have no shame in describing it as depression. When I suddenly lose energy and motivation to even take a shower, it’s easy for shame to curl up next to me.
In all honesty, a therapist can’t prevent a shame storm. We can sit and listen and help provide solutions to paddle your way out of it though. Knowing what your triggers are could help you weather the storm too. Having the courage to discuss your shameful feelings with a trusted therapist or healer, is an important first step.
Here are some ideas to help:
- Identify who would listen without judgment. We don’t need that friend or family member who minimizes our pain. Don’t call the person who says, “Oh you have no reason to feel shame!” According to Brown, shame can’t survive in silence. Speaking to someone who will be empathetic decreases shame’s power.
- Write, write and write. And then toss it. Burn it (safely). Tell the shitty thoughts to leave your head and toss them. Give them a death sentence.
- Depending on how we react to shame (internalize it, lash out, isolation) we may need to ask for space. Our loved ones don’t need to feel the effects of our hurt and its safest to ask for space. You don’t even have to explain why. Say this: “Uhh I’m having a day today. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Enough said. Set healthy boundaries.
- If the shame storm soaked you, imagine drying off. Change out of your “wet” clothes, take a soothing shower and start fresh. This could be a good mindfulness exercise in literally washing off the scent of self-doubt. Himalayan salt showers or Epsom salt baths are popular practices. Cleansing our body can be a meditative process and helps mask tears. Crying in the shower is perfectly ok.
- If alienation or abandonment occurred, remind yourself of who still loves you and appreciates you. Reach out to your Higher Power, identify important and healthy people in your life and tell yourself you are loved. Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements” helped me make sense of the phrase, “Don’t take anything personally.” (Hey I’ve written about this! Building Confidence Using The Four Agreements)
- If you are feeling abandoned, beware of being “vague” on social media. If you’re not speaking clearly about what you’re feeling, people could brush you off or minimize your situation. Thus, you may end up feeling abandoned again. Don’t set yourself up for more sadness.
- Brené Brown has described shameful experiences as “falling face down in the arena.” I recommend her book, “Rising Strong”, where she describes the rumble before falling down and the revolution that takes place when you are resilient. She provides personal experience as well as therapeutic messages from the perspective of a healer.
As a therapist, I have seen clients become empowered when they identify the source of their shame. Many times adults are carrying around messages of unworthiness from childhood. An absent or distant parent, addicted parent, abusive siblings or generational trauma leave lasting scars.We are simply containers of emotions and most of us haven’t cleaned out our shelves. Click To Tweet
Working with a therapist or healer can help clean out our dusty crevices, especially if we are steadily drenched in shame storms.
My hope is that shame storms can eventually trickle down to sprinkles of guilt, which encourage us to change our behaviors instead of isolating ourselves in doubtful and discouraging self-talk.