I have been teaching tools to reverse toxic shame forever. In my book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, in every workshop I teach everywhere, in posts and article like “The Power of Mindful Empathy to Heal Toxic Shame.”
The well-respected shame researcher Brene Brown says:
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Shame erodes the part of ourselves that believes we are capable of change. We cannot change and grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.
– Brene Brown, PhD
Shame is the biggest derailer of our resilience, and that’s why I offer so many tools – like the Wished For Outcome exercise below – to rewire the brain and heal the shut down and collapse of shame.
I’ll be offering additional perspectives on working with shame in a new NICABM training for clinicians on “How Do You Help People Work through Shame?” 20 experts will be offering their perspectives as well, a substantive resource on this most prevalent presenting problem. Here’s the link to a free preview of the series; I encourage you to explore and expand your own perspectives on healing toxic shame.
Wished For Outcome
The exercise is called Wished for Outcome and as always, starting small. One moment of one memory, so the brain has a chance to reprocess the memory and the client has a chance to develop a sense of competence in using the tool.
So, as I always like to do when reconditioning, we begin by coming into a sense of presence, aware of being in our own body in this moment, in this place. And bringing a sense of kindness and openness to one’s experience, evoking a sense of one’s own true and deep inner goodness.
Then, beginning the exercise by remembering one moment, one small moment, when an interaction between you and another person went awry, and you wound up feeling not very good about yourself, you wound up feeling badly. Stay anchored in your own awareness and your own self-compassion as you evoke this memory, and you light up all the neural networks constellating this memory by remembering where you were, who you were with, remembering what you said, and what they said. Remembering what you did, and what they did. And remembering how all of that made you feel, at the time, or even now as you remember the event.
Notice how you feel, or felt, and see if you can locate where you feel, or felt, that in your body. The visceral sense of the experience. Notice any negative thoughts you may have about yourself now because of what you experienced then. Let the evoking of this negative experience be as vivid as you can, lighting up the memory so it can be rewired.
Then, you create the positive resource that you will juxtapose with this negative memory to do the rewiring, by beginning to imagine a different outcome to this scenario. A different more satisfactory resolution of the event. Remembering, whatever you can imagine is real to the brain, even if this new ending never could have happened in real life.
So you begin to imagine something different you might have said. You imagine something different the other person could have said, even if that never could have happened in real life. Let your brain do its own imagining and its own rewiring. Imagine something different you might have done. Imagine the other person doing something differently, even if that never could have happened in real life. Let your imagination create a more satisfactory resolution of the entire event. You can even imagine someone who wasn’t there at the time coming in and doing something helpful.
As this new scenario unfolds, let it come to a new more wished for outcome. And light up all the neural networks of this new resolution. Let yourself feel how you feel with this new ending, and where you feel those feelings in your body. Let yourself notice any new more positive thoughts you have about yourself, given this new outcome. Let the experience of this resolution be vivid in its details and vital in your imagination. Strengthen your experience of the thoughts and feelings of this new ending.
Then, gently touch back in to the original negative experience. Touch it lightly. And then let it go and return to resting in the experience of the new ending. Then touch into the negative experience again, just briefly; notice any shifts. Then return to the resource of the new positive ending. Touch into the negative again, let it go, and rest in the feelings and thoughts of the new positive ending.
Then you take a moment to pause and reflect on your experience of the entire exercise, noticing any shifts.
This technique of reconditioning does not change what happened, but it does change our relationship to what happened. And it doesn’t re-write history, but it does rewire the brain.