I never thought I’d say this, but I recently had a breakthrough during meditation: I realized that much of my unnecessary stress stems from simply adding a shameful tone to my thoughts. Have you ever experienced this?
It happens when I set goals for myself and don’t reach them, no matter how small or insignificant. Like if I said I would do homework and ended up 2 hours into a Netflix streak or when I said I wouldn’t that day (whether it was most of the bar or even just a couple squares of dark chocolate!). Usually what follows the realization of failing to meet this goal is an automatic response of self-inflicted shame. And it wasn’t until I was mediating early this week that I realized shame was even present at all. How hurtful and unnecessary this tone was to show up so uninvited!
But this shame is self-inflicted. Buddhist teachings call this the “second arrow”, or the pang we hit ourselves with after an actual event. (The first arrow being the event of not reaching a goal, the second being the shamefulness targeted at the self.) The way to turn off the shame is by bringing it to the light!
Imagine it: when you start sinking into a darker place in your mind (literally!), the shame can sneak around easily without you being able to see what it truly looks like or where it is. You may have that uneasy feeling of its presence and you start to doubt yourself or freak out. But BAM! Once you turn on the light, you see exactly what that shame looks like, why it’s here, and how it is trying to get to you. It looks so silly and insignificant when you can see it clearly.
Personally, my shame comes trying to steal that self confidence and self appreciation that is locked away. It wants me to feel bad for going to bed 30 minutes later than I had planned for. (Because THEN it will have shown me!) But really, how silly does that sound? Would you tell your best friend that she should be ashamed of herself for shutting her eyes a number of blinks later than she had aimed for? Of course not! That’d be silly. You love your friend and admire that she set a goal and went after it, no matter the outcome.
You would appreciate and applaud your friend for making strides toward her goals and listening to herself, no matter how far she got. And this is how you should treat yourself too.
Since I started identifying my shameful thoughts and putting a spotlight on their true shape, they have stopped showing up as often. So Now I want to turn it back to you.
How to Combat Shame
1. Give yourself a minute or two to just sit and think of times you have felt shameful or uneasy about something. And let yourself sit with it. This is where the personal growth can happen.
2. Put a name to the shame. Identify where and when the shameful feeling comes up. Why might the shame be there? Where do you experience it in your body? Once you can spot times it might show up and why you don’t need to believe it, you can dismiss it more easily when it wants to visit again.
3. Recognize that you don’t have to listen to that shame or second arrow, because it isn’t you and it isn’t true.
4. Appreciate yourself. Appreciate that you want the best for yourself and thank yourself for everything that you do anyway, no matter how small.
Bonus! Physically feel the freedom that comes with letting go of that voice’s hold on you. How does it physically manifest itself? Maybe energy runs from your feet to your core or your shoulders are able to relax more and drop that tension you might not have noticed before. If you still have trouble letting go of shame’s grasp, still imagine how you would feel without it. Next time you see shame trying to creep up, try to remember this physical response of letting it go.
Remember, you are always worthy of love.