Being hard on ourselves comes naturally for most of us. There’s always a better way we could’ve handled a situation, a relationship we should’ve left sooner, an opportunity that would’ve been life changing that we missed.
So our minds tell us.
It’s easy to over-analyze and tell ourselves how we should’ve acted in the past. When we do, our hearts pound, our faces flush. Maybe our stomach does twists.
That feeling is shame.
Shame is, “A painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety,” per Merriam-Webster.
The way I see it, shame has two uses:
1. To make ourselves feel bad.
We can easily enter a shame spiral where the end result is that we realize that we suck, and we’ll never get it right. (Whatever “it” may be in the moment.)
2. To see an opportunity to recognize how we’ve grown from our experiences and practice self-compassion.
#2 is the choice we’ll focus on today, ‘kay?
The other day I was seated on my yoga mat looking out the window when I saw a person who reminded me of some poor decisions I made in the past. Shortly after I saw them, I felt my heart stretch my chest, my breaths become shallow, and my face start burning.
My first reaction was to push those feelings away and try thinking about something else.
Then I remembered what I want to do when feelings come up and that’s to sit with them. I needed to really feel the sensations in my body and figure out what’s happening in my brain.
What I felt was shame.
All those poor decisions from over 10 years ago came rushing back, and I felt ashamed of my actions and failure to act on my own behalf. I felt those old feelings of weakness and insecurity that I hadn’t felt in ages.
No one said sitting with your feelings was easy.
Then words I heard recently popped into my head.
“Of course you behaved the way you did. You didn’t know any better at the time.”
I added, “Of course they behaved badly towards me, but they were doing the best they could at the time.”
That’s what happens when Danielle LaPorte and Brene Brown share space in your head. (BTW, I highly recommend watching Danielle LaPorte’s interview with Marie Forleo and read Brene Brown’s book “Rising Strong.”)
Thinking these things to myself allowed me to do two things: 1) to forgive myself, and 2) release anger I felt towards another person.
It also showed self-compassion, which most of us have a difficult time mustering.
Speaking kindly to myself has been a fairly new thing for me. I’ve tried more of this in the last few years when I noticed it was easy to verbally or mentally call myself stupid, or become angry with myself for mistakes I’ve made.
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As a recovering perfectionist, speaking nicely to myself is a relief.
“Of course you stayed in that relationship too long. You didn’t know any better.”
“Of course you became angry (snapping and going all Exorcist on them), you hadn’t handled that frustration before.”
“Of course you didn’t speak up. You hadn’t found your voice yet.”
Saying these things to myself helps me recognize how I’ve grown. We all need to celebrate these wins. That’s what makes all the pain worthwhile.
So what do you do the next time an uncomfortable or painful feeling comes up for you?
1. Recognize that you’re feeling uncomfortable.
One way you may see this come up is if you feel something, then you rush to push it away. Ask yourself why you rushed to get rid of that feeling. more likely than not it’s because you’re unsettled by it.
2. Sit with your feelings.
Okay, so this may sound kumbaya-ish, but ya gotta do it!
Feel the sensation in your body. Where do you feel it? Our emotions stir up sensations in our bodies. We may not know what they mean at the time. Just feel it.
3. Notice what thoughts emerge from your brain.
How do these flashbacks make you feel?
4. If your flashbacks don’t feel good, ask yourself why.
Are they flashbacks to times when you felt bad about your actions or someone angered you?
5. Show compassion towards yourself.
If what comes up are times when you felt you should’ve, could’ve, would’ve done things differently or better, can you find a way to have compassion towards yourself? Try saying, “Of course I did ‘X.’ I didn’t know any better. I’ve learned and grown since then.”
If you’re angry with a person for how they treated you, try thinking, “Of course you treated me like that. You didn’t know any better.” You can even add in a, “I hope you’re learning and growing too,” if you’re feeling super generous. Good karma, right?
Do you feel that you’re compassionate to yourself? If so, tell me about what you’ve done to show self-compassion.
If not, what came up for you when you read this article?
Either way, tell me in the comments below.