Don’t Go Down The Spiral of Shame

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Art by Jo Pedersen

“Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.” – Brené Brown

Can we stop ourselves from falling into the spiral of shame?

Out of all the potentially fun spirals, this one is definitely not a fun ride.

When we’re in shame, we tend to close off. We think we’re flawed, unworthy of love and connection, and we don’t want to be found out.

Think of any situation when you were feeling bad about yourself but were hesitant to share it with your friends: it’s quite likely you were somewhere in that spiral already, in fear to be judged and deemed “not good enough”.

Maybe you were having a hard time at a new job you were so happy to take on? Maybe you said something inconsiderate to your parents?
Overreacted and shouted at a stranger?

Whatever it is, we have to notice when we start going down that road and consciously stop ourselves from continuing on it.

So what can we do?

I’d say, two things help enormously.

One, reframing what happened and how we’re feeling in terms of guilt, not shame. That’s moving from “I am bad” to “I did something bad”. “Thanks, Justina, guilt sounds great…” you might think, but hear me out! No, literally, hear me out: I have a whole episode on the difference between guilt and shame and how guilt is a much healthier feeling to process. Instead of pushing our emotions and saying everything’s fine, we can choose to acknowledge what we’re feeling, take ownership of it, yet without being so hard on ourselves.

Two, socialising what we’re feeling. The same Brené Brown (…who I quote in every other post, I know) says that, according to her research, there is one thing that shame cannot survive in, and that is light. Talking about our experience – ideally with someone who can truly listen and stay with you in empathy and not judgement – is what makes our shame go away. Empathy is the antidote to shame, she says, and I bet all of us have experienced that. It’s the feeling of our shoulders relaxing after a friend tells you, “Awww, it’s OK”, or “Ah, I know how it feels…”

So if you’re feeling ashamed of something, please remember it’s a feeling that serves no good purpose: we can get our life lessons without beating ourselves up, and we can move forward through empathy — something we give so much of but sometimes forget we are worthy of receiving, too.

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One response to “Don’t Go Down The Spiral of Shame”

  1. […] go down the spiral of shame, thinking that what’s happening to you is entirely YOUR thing. A conversation with a friend […]

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