I only discovered what shame feels like about 10 months ago. I mean, I’ve felt shame my whole life, it was most likely the first emotion I ever experienced as a screaming baby who’s gnawing need would forever go unmet by her parents and it continued to pulse through my veins every day since then… but what I mean is, I can pin down the exact moment I was able to name the feeling. To say, ‘this is shame I am feeling.’
I was in session and talking to Anna about some photos I’d seen on Facebook of my cousins visiting my mum at her new house. My mother had chosen to move 500 miles away from me and I was yet to receive an invite. I’d told my brother that I was feeling left out and isolated, even though I know my mum and my cousins are toxic and no good for me, I felt like I was missing out on this great thing. I was missing my mum (or rather the idea of her) and was sad that she had chosen to live so far away from me. My brother said something like, ‘why would you still care about all that? I thought you were over this!? You’ve been in therapy for over 5 years!’ (I would like to interject here and have it be known that my brother and I have a very close and supportive relationship, we’ve since talked about this exchanges and he’s apologised for being so harsh. He was worried about me and wanted me to remember how far I’d come and how he’s I’d been working).
As I relayed the situation to Anna she asked me what came up for me when my brother said those words. I said my usual, ‘I don’t know what this feeling is but it’s filling me up, it’s bigger than me. It’s like I’m drowning, I can’t breathe and I want to scratch it out of me…’ Anna asked a few more questions and in a moment of total clarity I said, ‘it’s like he was shaming me for wanting to matter to her, still… it’s shame! I feel shame! Oh my god it’s suffocating!’ Anna nodded and repeated, ‘the shame is suffocating, overwhelming, as if it could drown you…’ She congratulated me for naming it for the first time and explained how the feeling really is bigger than me because it triggers very young memories. I feel physically smaller when I’m feeling shame.
From then on shame has been a main player in my sessions… it comes up a lot! I still struggle to recognise it from time to time and by the very nature of shame it makes me want to hide, retreat, dissociate. But it’s where the work is.
Today I was confronted with a very uncomfortable situation. I’d basically been accused of missing a target that was really important to me. In the great scheme of things it isn’t that important but what happened, the way I was spoke to felt horrible. I was going to do what I always do which is not talk about it and just try to get over it but instead I tried something new. I relayed it to my very wise friend (https://girlintherapy.wordpress.com) who listened to me and validated that it was unfair. She asked me what the core emotion was and I slowly worked my way towards the realisation that it was shame. It’s an illusive, slippery fucker, shame. Sirena helped me find somatic experiencing movements that could help me discharge my rage and shame then encouraged me to be gentle with myself and find a soothing activity. She then suggested I could write about how I feel, with the possibility of sending the letter to the organisation involved. I took her advice, I went for a run, I had a bath, I wrote an email. I felt better. This things really helped. But what helped the most was her compassion. It helped me be compassionate with myself, which defused the shame. It was burning a hole in my chest but instead of leaving it there I let it move through me, then it left.
This is new. Noticing shame, talking about it, feeling it in my body. Doing something physical, something soothing, something practical. Watching the shame dissipate. Compassion is the key. And bloody good friends.