I had an experience of shame recently. The belly dropping, sinking feeling, burning in the solar plexus kind of shame. I noticed how visceral the experience was. After it happened, I saw how the thinking that initiated my emotional response had been outside of my conscious awareness. It happened so fast. All of a sudden the feeling was present.
In the past, I would have reacted to my shame. I would have used my emotional experience as evidence there was something wrong with me. I would have tried to do something to fix myself, or the situation, to try and escape my feelings. My thinking would have become jumbled and confused. I remember times when I felt shame, and I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I would not be able to explain myself because I felt so discombobulated. I assumed if someone was mad at me, not only was it my fault, but also I was bad. I am not saying there weren’t also times when I did behave badly, but dwelling in shame is not helpful in those instances either. If I judge myself as a bad person, I don’t have an open mind to learn and grow from my mistakes. Instead I feel hopeless and worthless and miss the learning opportunity.
This time when I felt shame, it had nothing to do with me. My thinking got stirred up after reading an email regarding one of my daughters. I was able to be curious about my experience. I didn’t react to it. By having the capacity to neutrally observe myself, I could see my emotional response was coming from my thoughts and not the accusation in the email. This awareness allowed me to take my feelings less seriously. I knew I didn’t need to react to them. I didn’t need to do anything about them. This time, I knew I was okay. Even if my feelings were telling me something very different.
As my feelings settled, I recognized feeling shame is a good thing. It lets me know when my distorted thinking is present. Shame gives me feedback as to when I cannot trust my thoughts. My feelings of shame help me to see I made up a rule for myself, at some point in my life, that in order for me to be safe, I must never upset anyone. I didn’t understand when I made the rule up that I am not responsible for another person’s feelings. I wasn’t aware that another person’s upset is a reflection of their thoughts and their state of mind, independent of me.
As I learn and grow, I am stepping outside of the rigid boundaries I defined for myself to try and keep myself safe. I used to try to protect myself by living small. I thought this would cause the least amount of upset to others because they would have no reason to find fault with me. I did my best to be a good girl, and tried to ignore, deny or forget my bad girl moments. I had the lines drawn. Now I am doing my best to dissolve those boundaries and set myself free from the suffocating expectations I set for myself. It is too painful to live within the arbitrary box I put myself in, and live my life based on a code of fear.
Instead, I am tasting more of the freedom of being myself. I am experiencing the lightness of being without such heavy editing. However, sometimes, my behavior gets ahead of me letting go of my self-judgments, and my feelings of shame let me know when I am buying into my limiting beliefs and misunderstandings.
When I feel humiliated for speaking out of turn, ashamed for sharing my vulnerability, bad for expressing my anger, embarrassed for being opinionated, worthless for getting it wrong, I am not feeling my behavior. I am feeling the weight of my self-judgment and self-condemnation. I am feeling my own beliefs that are intolerant of my humanness and fallibility. That is why I am learning to make shame my friend. It helps me to see my prejudice. Like the invisible ink I loved as a child. Once the paper was wet, the message was revealed. The temporary immersion in my shame reveals the layer of distorted thinking I am looking through that was previously invisible to me. I then have the opportunity to see beyond those thoughts and see more clearly.
When working with clients, I teach that feelings of shame are simply feedback that our thinking is distorted in that moment. When we feel shame, it is not the time to try to fix things or figure the problem out. The more we try to change our thinking when it is distorted, the deeper we get caught up in it. The more we try to shift our painful thoughts, the more real they look and the more painful they feel. When negative feelings are present, it is the time to wait until we can see the bigger picture. To wait until our perspective lifts from trying to fix the minutiae of our individual thoughts to seeing the landscape of our experience.
This helps us recognize our distorted thinking is a temporary state. We will eventually come out of it. By getting a bird’s eye view, we can see our thoughts are temporary. We see our feelings of upset are not our natural state. We have the gift of our innate intelligence that will always move us in the direction of emotional regulation and equilibrium. That is just how we are designed. A quiet mind is our natural mind, and we can effectively deal with any challenges from that state.
Once the limiting beliefs are seen as inaccurate, they lose their power. Just like you can’t convince me that two plus two equals five. Once I have seen I am innately worthy, lovable, and good enough, and so is everyone else, you can’t convince me otherwise.This realization is not only freeing, but it also points to the formless loving essence from which we are all comprised. Stepping outside of fear immerses us in the experience of love.
The more we trust the simple functioning of our design, the more graceful life becomes. It doesn’t mean we don’t get upset. We will. It does mean, when we get upset we can remember more quickly what is going on so we create less suffering for ourselves and others. It also means that we get upset less frequently because we take our negative thoughts less seriously. When you shift from using fear as your guiding principle, to living the love you are, it doesn’t mean fear won’t come up along the way. It just means that you get better and better at seeing any negative feeling as an opportunity to relax and break free from old thinking by allowing fresh, new thoughts to emerge.
My intention is to experience the fullness of who I AM, and share this with you, so you can experience the magnificence of who you are. I encourage you to take a step into the unknown, outside of the bounds of your ego, so you can experience the freedom of being you big Self and little self, they are all one.
Please let me know in the comments section what fresh thoughts you are having or where you get stuck. I look forward to being in the conversation with you!