The Most Powerful Derailer of Our Resilience.
I’ll be teaching “Resilience: Healing from Loss and Trauma with Compassion, Clarity and Courage” on June 11, part of a comprehensive online Healing Trauma Summit sponsored by Sounds True, June 4-13, 2018.
In that presentation I suggest that certainly one of the most powerful derailers of our resilience, if not the most powerful, is shame.
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 an emotion intrinsic to being a human being – like anger, fear, sadness, and surprise and delight.
We are hardwired to want to feel safe to feel loved, to belong, to feel accepted, even acceptable, lovable. We are hardwired to want to feel important, of value. That’s not about the ego; that’s about being a social animal. We depend on the love and affection of others to experience love and affection for ourselves. We need to feel like we belong and are wanted and valued to feel comfortable with our place in the tribe and in the world.
And we’re all hardwired to feel shame when the conditions that evoke shame arise – being blown off by a friend, failing to get a promotion at work, being criticized in front of co-workers or ridiculed at a family gathering.
Shame arises when we pick up the signals from people around us, especially people we depend on for our survival, for our sense of okayness, that we have done something they don’t approve of, or that we are something they don’t approve of.
It’s impossible to be perfect and meet other people’s expectations or plans for us all the time, and it’s impossible not to feel a sense of shame when we feel we have done or we are something wrong or bad.
We learn to heal from shame attacks when we patiently, steadily, consistently practice cultivating the self-awareness, self-reflection, self-acceptance, self-appreciation, even self-love that gives us an authentic sense of our own intrinsic goodness and self-worth, larger than, even impervious, to any derailing from shame.
Just that action of paying attention to ourselves, [knowing] that I care enough about myself, that I am worthy enough to pay attention to, starts to unlock some of those deep beliefs of unworthiness at a deeper level in the brain.
– Elisha Goldstein, PhD, Center for Mindful Living, Los Angeles, CA
We do learn to love and accept ourselves from other people loving and accepting us just as we are, the foundation of our inner secure base of resilience.
The roots of resilience are to be found in the felt sense of being held in the mind and heart of an empathic, attuned, self-possessed other.
– Diana Fosha, PhD, founder of Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy
Challenges to your sense of self-acceptance and worhtiness can come at any moment. You might hear negative messages about yourself from others, whether they know you well or not at all. You may carry very powerful negative messages about yourself that come from early or recent experiences.
Everyone has parts and voices within. Not good enough, not lovable, don’t let anyone know; they won’t like you. We’re all so vulnerable to believing the messages of those inner voices. You may already have many tools to shift out of the derailing of those messages and encourage self-acceptance, self-esteem in yourself. Here’s another one you can do on your own.
Exercise: Even though [whatever]….I deeply and completely love and accept myself
1. Identify just one part that you deem negative about yourself: you’re sometimes grouchy, discouraged, complaining, rigid/stubborn, lacking confidence, smallifying. You wish this trait weren’t true, but you know it is.
2. You are aware, you allow it to be there. You be with it in your awareness with compassion for this part and some compassion for yourself that, yup, this part is part of you.
3. Then begin to say this phrase of loving kindness and self-acceptance:
Even though being [grouchy, discouraged, whatever] is part of me, I still deeply and completely love and accept myself. Repeat the phrase several times. I deeply and completely love and accept myself. I deeply and completely love and accept myself.
If “I deeply and completely love and accept myself” is too much of a stretch, start with, “I’m willing to consider thinking about trying to….” If that is a challenge to say to yourself, hear that as though a friend were saying that: even though you are grouchy sometimes, I still deeply and completely love and accept you. Or hear your compassionate friend or an imaginary friend say the phrase to you.
You get the gist. Over and over and over.
Repeat the practice until the positive self-acceptance begins to feel stronger, more reliable, more true, than the negative message. You may even find that the negative messages triggers hearing the positive message in your own mind.
Pause, notice your entire experience of hearing this phrase loving and accepting you for who you are. Notice any shifts in your relationship to yourself, or to the negative message or part.
Shifting from the derailer of shame to the empowerment of self-acceptance requires steady, focused, dedicated practice. Strengthening self-acceptance and trust in ourselves as worthy, lovable and resilient can be a daily practice. Learning to stay anchored in your own inner secure base of self-acceptance and resilience and to recover when you’re thrown out of your boat by shame and not good enoughness, is literally a lifelong practice.
This practice is part of being human and has been for millenia. From the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest-house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness come
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you
out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
We will continue to explore tools to strengthen our capacities of self-acceptance in this month’s posts on Relational Intelligence within Yourself. You’ll find many more tools and practices in Resilience, forthcoming in September 2018.