As a 12-step life coach I've got clients who come from all walks of life. Some are women, some are men. Some are professionals, others unemployed. The youngest is in her 20s, the oldest in his 60s.
But there's one common thread that connects them.
- Shame that they're in or attract toxic relationships.
- Shame that they just can't seem to go cold turkey and get out for good.
- Shame that tells them they are stupid, worthless, unlovable as they are today.
- Shame that turns them into a Human Doing (I will tap dance to make you love me, I will fix you to make you love me, I'll be loyal no matter how badly you treat me to make you love me) rather than a Human Being, unique, specific and lovable for just being themselves.
I can relate to my clients as I have my own burden of Shame, which I learned in childhood.
I parented my emotionally distraught mom when I was a child, which made me believe I was only valuable insofar as I could help her. When she sent me to live with my dad permanently at the age of ten I learned that even my skilled care-taking didn't work. That I must be fundamentally worthless if my mom could leave me.
In my dad's home I was told I had no common sense, that I was too sensitive. I learned there was an absolute right way to do things and that much of the time I got it wrong and needed to be taught over and over again.
This made me feel wrong for being me.
This is not an indictment of my parents. Their generation used shame with good intentions and they loved me, doing far more good than harm.
But I suspect all of our parents shamed us to varying degrees during our childhood, because they were also shamed by their own parents.
Shame is a dominant gene that gets passed down from generation to generation, unless one generation breaks the cycle.
So when a client comes to me, the first thing we have to work on is their Shame, so they can feel worthy of embracing recovery.
I tell them that it's impossible to get rid of Shame completely. (And we can even be ashamed that we can't get rid of Shame. That's how sneaky and mean Shame can be).
1. So I suggest they make Shame a person.
My Shame is a man. He wears a business suit and tie. He knows everything I don't know. He especially knows that I'm untalented, irresponsible, immoral and unworthy of love.
So when Shame walks in the door, wearing his Bruno Magli shoes and his judgmental, scowling face I say this:
"Oh hello, Shame. Come on in.
"Yes, yes, I know, you don't think I deserve love today. I know you think I'm an idiot. But I disagree. So you can stay, because I know you won't leave, but you have to sit in that chair in the corner.
"Yes, the stool. I know it's uncomfortable, but it's the one you have to use if you won't leave.
"And I want you to know that if you talk and say mean things to me, then I'm going to call you out for what you truly are... which is a liar."
I talk back to my Shame all the time.
When he tries to fly under the radar and whisper in my ear I say out loud, "I'm worthy of love today. I'm responsible today. I'm conscientious today. And you, Shame, really need to unclench your sphincter."
Personifying Shame brings it out of hiding, makes it quantifiable and tangible and separate from us. We have our Shame, but we are not our Shame.
2. The second thing we must do to immobilize our Shame is to share it. But only in a safe environment.
You don't want to share your shame with people who will shame you further. Turn to a kind, trusted friend, counselor or spiritual mentor.
I ask my clients to share their Shame with me so I can help them work through it. This invariably lightens their psychic load and gives self-compassion room to come in.
Self-Compassion, not self-judgment, is the most effective way to work recovery.
Dr. Robert Caldwell has this to say about sharing your shame in his article, "Healing Shame:"
There is nothing shameful about shame.
You have every right to yours. You earned it by surviving in the midst of shaming people.
There is a great community of the shamed waiting to dare to trust others enough to be open and vulnerable. Sharing your shame with them will be a way of forming strong and rejuvenating ties with others.
Your sense of shame can be your channel of empathy and pathos to the hearts of others (...) There is no more powerful bond than that of shared shame transformed into a bond of understanding and mutual support for one another's healing.
There's a quote from the 12-step program that I adore:
"You're only as sick as your secrets."
If you're struggling with Shame that stems from a childhood that influences your choices today I'd love to work with you. CLICK HERE to book an introductory session today.
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