"There is a fuel in us which needs to be ignited with sparks”
– Johann Gottfried Von Herder
I was speaking with a friend who asked me for advice about living with shame and
regrets. I thought on that for a moment before answering, because shame and regret is something I (and I believe many people) can relate to. I shared with her how shame is how we feel about ourselves, whereas guilt is something we feel about our past actions. As for regrets – we can make amends. As for shame – well that’s a different story
We then discussed how mindfulness based practices such as yoga, tai chi, mediation,etc. are helpful ways to deal with shame because they keep us in “the
now”. Shame is the culmination of messages we’ve internalized about ourselves from our childhood (the past), strengthened by the stories we continue to tell ourselves (based on the past). When we live in the present moment and practice techniques that help us do so, we can observe the stories we tell ourselves.
When the shameful thoughts come up, we can say “oh…you’re here again”,
and then ask…”what is it that you would like me to know?” If we were then able
to reframe shame as a “part” as many Internal family system’s therapists do, we
can understand that this part has something it wants us to know. Perhaps the shameful / negative story teller part is protecting a more vulnerable part that’s afraid to try something new? In my personal and clinical experience there’s always a deeper meaning to our thoughts, actions and behaviors. So if you mindfully listen to this part /story, you will understand it’s intent.
Yet you don’t have to believe the story. That keeps you stuck in the past. You just
need to hear it and shift your focus by becoming curious about it rather than
perseverate on it. Curiosity and mindfulness can then help you to understand what triggered this injured part to come up, and why now? When you pay attention to the part without succumbing to it, it will quiet, because it has been heard. Then you can go about your day feeling okay, because after all…a part… is just a part. And when life rattles us as it will from time to time, that shameful part is bound to appear.
But shame is always about the past, it’s never about the now (unless of course someone is trying to shame you which is really about their shame, not yours). When you are present “in the now”, you can change the story you tell yourself. This is where affirmations can be helpful. But if you just ignore the shameful /
regretful / negative storyteller part, your affirmations won’t work. As a friend of mine so eloquently put it: “ it’s like putting ice cream on top of a big pile of “sh@#”
The lesson: learn to love your shame. It has so much to teach you if you can embrace.
Part 2 next week.
Maura Matarese is a psychotherapist and yoga instructor. To learn more about Maura, visit her website at www.mauramatarese.com.