Shame triggers and the recovery process
As you move through the recovery process from shame, life will continue to throw obstacles at you—obstacles that trigger shame you thought you were rid of. Don’t give up or feel you aren’t making progress – this can be a lifelong journey. You might feel that you are making great progress and then your boss makes a comment to you, or your friend makes a less than flattering remark about your new haircut. Certain events are shame triggers and we are particularly vulnerable at certain times, especially times of change such as starting a new relationship.
This is the final part of a 3-part article on shame – its catastrophic effects and the path to recovery. Part 1 looked at the effects of shame on individuals, communities and nations. Part 2 looked at the power of self-compassion which new scientific research has shown to be effective and also a technique taken from NLP to create an anchor.
This final part looks at the idea of “Healing your Inner Child” taking ideas from the work of John Bradshaw and Alice Miller. The ideas and exercises below might be useful to you, but make sure that you are totally ready to do them – that you feel in a safe place and have plenty of support at hand if you need it. If at any time you don’t feel comfortable, simply stop and only go back if and when you are ready.
Embrace Your Lost Inner Child – a meditation
Many people who have been affected by shame lose a sense of who they really are. A shame-based person has taken over and the real you is hidden away in the deepest part of your mind. Healing means that you get to know, and trust, the rest of yourself, all those parts which haven’t been given a chance to really shine. This involves what John Bradshaw calls “getting in touch with your Inner Child”. I have adapted this meditation from his book Healing the Shame that Binds You, based on one by Alice Miller.
Find yourself a comfortable chair in a space where you won’t be disturbed and simply relax and take a few slow deep breaths:
Imagine walking along the street you lived on when you were small child. Focus on all the details – the sounds, the smells, the weather. Really see yourself there. Come to your house, and see yourself as a child walk out the door. Go over to this child and start to talk to him or her. Tell him or her that you are from the future and that you know better than anyone what he or she has been through. Say that of all the people he or she will ever know, you are the only one he or she will never lose. Ask if he or she would like to leave with you—but don’t anything. He or she has to be ready. If so, take his or her hand and walk away. As you walk away, turn back and see your parents on the steps of your house. Wave goodbye. Let the street around you fade and you are both brought to a new place where your closest friends, loved ones and your Higher Power (if you have a sense of one) wait to greet you. Feel them embrace you, and welcome the child-you. Then, transport yourself and the child to a beautiful spot; perhaps a place for a picnic. Promise the child you’ll meet him her here every day for five minutes. It’s a good idea to pick a time of day and commit to doing this meditation at that time, every day. Don’t break your promise. This little child has been rejected and left alone; it is a risk to come out of hiding. The goal of this exercise is to make the child you feel safe, to validate his or her experiences and memories and to remember what it felt like to be him or her.
Write it down
John Bradshaw suggests you keep an “over-reaction diary”, recording times when you feel that your thoughts, feelings or behaviour are inappropriate or out of all proportion to the event that triggered it. It’s likely that these were times when your shame was particularly active or close to the surface. You may then be able to see a pattern emerging, you may learn what triggers it. Even if you don’t keep a regular diary, any kind of personal writing can make overwhelming feelings manageable and accessible and you have not simply pushed them down without leaving a record.
Use Affirmations and OK Statements
Now it’s time to replace shaming beliefs like “I’m overweight and so my life will always be miserable” or “My anger means my life will never be happy” with positive, accurate ones—and the best way to make that mental change is by using affirmations. Affirmations are simple, positive statements of truth that counter the critical statements and limiting beliefs of toxic shame. Try to pick something that really lies at the core of your most painful feelings and insecurities—your deepest damage.
Some examples might be:
• I am strong
• I am secure
• I love myself
• I deserve to be happy.
You could also form affirmations with the word “OK” in them: “It’s OK to make mistakes,” “It’s OK if that person doesn’t like me.” You don’t have to be perfect. In fact it takes courage to be imperfect!
John Bradshaw calls this “positive brainwashing technique.” Once you’ve chosen an affirmation, or a few, to work with, get out a pen and write your affirmation down, including your name in there: “I, Alison deserve to be happy.” Pay attention to how you feel as you write it. At first you will probably feel very uncomfortable but just pay attention to this feeling, and take your time. When it dissipates slightly, write the affirmation again. Take the time to feel the feeling again, and then write it again. Write it until it is not so uncomfortable to write. Write it until it gets easy and starts to flow, and you don’t have to wait to write the next one because the negative emotional reaction is no longer coming.
Bradshaw recommends that you write these affirmations twice daily (and when you feel upset/ashamed), for at least twenty-one days to give them enough time to integrate into your unconscious. Do not undervalue this tool!
Imagine a siren sounds when you pull on your ear. The siren shrieks out, “Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame, shame…” Whenever you realise you’re feeling shame, pull on your ear and set off your mental siren. There is a humorous side to tugging on your ear and it reminds you that shame is a feeling—one that you can control. You have now realised you were feeling shame, and acknowledged those feelings by pulling your ear – a big step forward in terms of bringing the feelings into the open. The siren subsides the panic that will inevitably arise with your shame by reminding you that shame is just a feeling. Feelings rise and fall –there is no need to panic. In fact feeling feelings is part of healing, and of life. This shame feeling, like all others, will pass.
Need some more advice and support?
If you have been affected by shame or similar issues to those described in this blog and would like to talk it over with someone who understands, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!