#048 - Shame: That bad feeling


There is this feeling that at times can be hard to name, it often comes in the morning right when you wake up, before you begin to distract yourself. In the body it is a sinking or dropping feeling in the stomach, a lack of energy, difficulty in lifting the head and looking the world in the eye, or my personal fave: a deep self loathing that brings into question my very existence as a being on the earth. Fun! It often feels like the statements: “There is something wrong with me.” “Everyone hates me.” “I should just disappear.” “I am so ashamed of myself.” For many, because these feelings are so strong and pervasive, it can feel like this is just what it means to be alive. There is no sense of separation between these feelings and one's fundamental identity.

People spend lots of time and energy moving away from this feeling. Some common avenues are drugs and alcohol, being busy, accomplishments, relationships based on validation and approval, working hard at fixing ourselves, exercise, dieting, shaming others, and feelings of superiority. I write these because I have used all these ways to get away from that bad feeling! I’m sure there are many others, probably everyone has their own flavor of escape, and it might be worthwhile to find out yours.

Once we have identified that yucky feeling, often unnamed (unnamed because it is so systemic), we have some things to do. First, stop trying to get rid of it! That’s the main problem, all our running from it results in it burrowing deeper under the surface. Second, don’t try to figure out where it came from. This may of come from someplace you have no memory of, or maybe it is just what it means to grow up in a sick society, or maybe there is something really fundamentally wrong with your programing from your family of origin. No matter the reason the solution will not come from making yourself better or proving you are loveable through your accomplishments.

Then notice your story line as to why that feeling is up today. I imagine this feeling acts like a magnet and once arisen a story is attached to it so something (or someone, not only you!) can be fixed. If the feeling arises and the day before you were vulnerable with someone then all of a sudden that moment of vulnerability is the reason why you feel this way. Or maybe you sent a text a little earlier reaching for connection and didn’t get met, that’s a good story as to why that feeling is there. Or maybe it’s the common, “I have always felt this way and will always feel this way” narrative that latches on good and tight to that yucky feeling. Without aggressively adding more shame begin with the question is your story about this feeling true?

It may be true, it may not be. But see if all your striving, protecting, planning, orchestrating and despair have eliminated this feeling. If it hasn’t worked, maybe try something new? One suggestion is: Turn towards the feeling with the idea that your story about your badness and failure might not be true and just for a few moments really feel the feeling. Add no fuel, no story, no aversion, and see what does it feel like in this moment in your body sensations. See if it is as deep or true as you have come to believe. Maybe its just a little wave on the surface that when met honestly with your non-judgmental interest dissipates. And on the other side of it is a sense of relief just for a moment. You might even begin to question if shame, or that bad feeling, is helpful in anyway?

It might be helping to keep you small, safe, and in line with what your family or community wants. That can feel good! To belong, to try hard and succeed, to be praised for your efforts, but what is the cost to your true identity? Each individual will have to assess their own relationship to that feeling to see if it is worth it to keep denying or affirming it, which in the long run will not lead to peace but further internal and external conflict.  

You are freer than you realize, and not so far down that all is lost. But, if this feeling is overwhelming seek others that know how to work with it so you can get the support you need. Everything is workable!