Acceptance to Heal Shame

This week we explored the theme of Blooming Acceptance to Heal Shame in our daily sessions. Bloom Pause is a community offering that meets remotely using Zoom. Each week we explore a new theme through discussion, sharing, meditation, and practices to improve daily life. If you'd like to join Bloom Pause, please email [email protected].

"Shame is about fear, blame, and disconnection. The story is about worthiness and embracing the imperfections that bring us courage, compassion, and connection. If we want to live fully, without the constant fear of not being enough, we have to own our story. We also have to respond to shame in a way that doesn't exacerbate our shame." Brene' Brown from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection.

People tend to respond to shame being triggered in 4 primary ways that are all informed by the nervous system:

1. Freeze: this is a shutdown, submission, collapse, going numb, or dissociation response.

FIXING RESPONSES:

2. Fight: this is a move against which is an aggressive attempt to gain power over. It can be against others or oneself.

3. Flight/Flee: this is a move away, run away, or escape from a threat, perceived and/or real.

4. Fawn: this is a response to appease, please, placate the perceived threat.

Recognizing that the emotion of shame is a normal part of the human experience is critical to being able to accept it. Shame is an essential emotion to inform our conscience about right versus wrong. And, learning to discern our unique experiences of shame so that when it's occurring we can be as present as possible for ourselves and others while going through it is critical for care. This presence can allow for a conscious response to shame which allows for what we're calling the capacity to feel into FLOW.

Acceptance of shame does not mean you like or dislike it - it does not mean you have a judgment of it. It simply means you are present for what is which allows a conscious response to this human emotion, honoring what you're feeling and allowing this to be and flow as it needs to. This conscious caring response can allow the nervous system to calm, balance, and heal.

A wonderful book on the topic of acceptance is Radical Acceptance: Embracing your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, by Tara Brach. She writes, "The way out of our cage begins with accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives, by embracing with wakefulness our moment to moment experiences. By accepting absolutely everything, what I mean is that we are aware of what is happening within our body and mind at any given moment, without trying to control or judge or pull away. I do not mean that we are putting up with harmful behavior - our own or another's. This is an inner process of accepting our actual, present-moment experiences... without judging ourselves for the feeling."

Group perspectives on acceptance and its role in healing shame:

  • It can be hard to feel any feelings of shame as it can be terrifying that it may bring about more feelings of shame and create "double shame."
  • Shame is often referred to as the master emotion. 
  • The experience of shame often is rooted in deep core developmental experiences, from early, very young, even pre-verbal stages. This can make shame very hard to acknowledge and speak about. 
  • In the experience of shame, we may simply feel out of sorts, off, bad, heavy, or stuck.
  • We may not realize where anger or other sudden emotions come from but are actually triggered by shame. Men, in particular, can be disconnected from their most vulnerable feelings as they were conditioned from a young age not to show emotion that would cause them to be perceived as weak.
  • People may go into shutdown, or freeze, and be unable to speak up about what may have occurred or how they feel. This is because of the freeze response from the nervous system and not your fault. 
  • It's important to understand the difference between shame and guilt:
    • Shame is generally about our identity (e.g. I am bad). Guilt is generally about behavior (e.g. I have done something bad)
    • Shame feels paralyzing, particularly where you originally experienced shame in your body. Guilt may inhibit you from taking action or initiative. Shame and guilt can be intertwined. 
    • Shame can feel insidious, like a feeling of being trapped, stuck, hidden, or silences, or like a veil covering your face. You cannot look at yourself until you are ready to lift it up and face it. 
    • It can feel like a warm wash all over the body or a sudden hot flush across your face.
    • If left buried for too long, you can become confused as to what's happening in the body and can become numb.
    • When released, shame can transform into lightness that can be like the sunlight shining on your face once again.
    • Guilt can lead to obsessing about what we have done, which can be detrimental to our health. Again, guilt is associated with the behavior.
    • A path to releasing guilt, healing guilt, or letting the guilt go can come by saying "I am sorry" for something you have done that would appropriately call for an apology. Making true amends.
  • Feelings of shame can also be brought on if an apology we gave to someone, was not receive - "Am I so bad that I am beyond forgiveness?"
  • Avoid where possible acting out unconscious or unprocessed shame when feeling emotional, mentally, and physically unbalanced. In that state, we may say shaming comments to ourselves or others, such as "Can't you just...?!" This is a cue to show us that we are going into a shame spiral that could cause disconnection and collapse - or to do or say something we might later regret. We can also double shame ourselves by being ashamed of what has occurred, even if someone else isn't shaming us at the moment.
  • Shame can also be used to control or modify behavior in ourselves or others. It's important that shame is not misused to abuse others. 
  • We all have parts in our internal systems that play protective roles.  When we are triggered, we have certain parts that may react in the most extreme way that in internal family systems therapy are collectively known as "firefighter parts."
  • There may be a time when a fight, flight, or fawn response was needed in order to protect or save yourself from harm or collapse.
  • We can appreciate that protective function and invite in the energy of non-judgment and acceptance to the parts that are trying to protect us.
  • Our parts want and need to heard. 
  • We may have parts not ready yet to accept whatever behavior or experience that brought on feelings of shame. We can practice unblending from those parts to allow for bringing the energy of compassion to support the part not ready. 
  • Also, we may not be able to clarify what we are feeling, as we are disconnected from any feelings within our body and just trying to survive. We can call in the energy of clarity to support this. 

Ways to accept ourselves in order to heal shame:

  • In order to accept our shame, we need to be in a safe connection with ourselves and others. 
  • Maintain a daily and healthy connection to "Self Energy" and be able to feel within your body, that is be as embodied as much as possible. This will help protect against going down a shame spiral. 
  • To maintain Self Energy and be embodied, make time to do self-care practices, such as breathwork, meditation, energy clearing practices, journaling, movement, exercise, being in nature, or being in a quiet and safe space.
  • Practice pausing when triggered so that you do not go into the trance of unworthiness. Find refuge within, where you feel safe and invoke resiliency. 
  • Perhaps pause and say to yourself, "This too shall pass."  Invite in compassion and practice non-judgment of what you are seeing, hearing, or experiencing.
  • Cultivate compassion and acceptance for whatever you have experienced in the past. This can take time and we must be gentle with ourselves.
  • Create time and space to hear your parts. 
  • Recommended book on acceptance by Tara Brach,  Radical Acceptance: Embracing your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. 
  • Recommended movie by Tyler Perry, "Waves" which portrays familial trauma and the ultimate healing of shame and anger.
  • Reminder to only share your story with someone who will hear your story with compassion and non-judgment. Not everyone has earned the right to hear your story.
  • People who have known us for a long time and witnessed what we have gone through may be able to see feelings of shame and help us understand from our experiences in our developmental years why we might be feeling certain things.  

Suggested practice:

In spite of my shame,

It is the will of my heart to be open,

It is the will of my heart to accept myself,

It is the will of my heart to love myself,

And, I offer the Light of my Awareness for whatever is called for,

for the optimal outcome.

And, so it is.

Questions and Suggestions for Reflection:

  1. What does shame feel like in your body?
  2. What about your story have you believed would cause people to think less of you?
  3. What if this were no longer true for you - what could this allow for?
  4. How could offering courage, compassion, and connection to the parts of you struggling with shame help you heal?
  5. When shame gets triggered, how can finding safety through connection help you return to FLOW?

We hope you find this information of value. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us or join us at one of our Bloom offerings for support and community.

In bloom we grow,

Maria Mellano

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