Understanding shame spirals, and how you can choose solidarity over solitude
We’ve all been there- or at least I like to believe we have. The moment when every difficult thing crashes down at once sending any feeling human into an ugly cry. Historically, I believed that ugly crying should be done in private, preferably in the shower. As I age, I realize that loud, ugly crying is best done with a friend. Because, in our most vulnerable, lonely moments, what we really need is solidarity. Someone with a clear head to help us see the larger truth; someone who will remind us we are not alone and we are very loved. What never helps is ugly crying while curled up in the fetal position alone in the shower.
I’m not sure I started limiting ugly crying to the shower. Is this instinct or learned behavior? Why does the spiral occur so quickly?
I’m aware of this: I slowly respond less to texts, stop calling people, and avoid the door- whether letting in or going out, I rarely break the cycle before the spin occurs. Why?
Fear of Failure
I know that in order to learn, one must fail. Every fiber of my being panics at the thought of not achieving the goal I set for myself. If I’m going to learn from failure, I want to learn the lesson deep underground and only talk about it after I’ve had some sort of epiphany from the experience.
Fear of Rejection
After I know and have accepted that I have failed, admitting my failure to another breathing human feels completely beyond me. I almost need to remove myself from my body, take on another persona, and rehearse the conversation beforehand and visualize the inevitable disappointment and rejection that is sure to come. I steel myself from my feelings and set forth for battle.
If I can’t manage to muster the courage to admit my failure to others, I continue the spin with my old friend, guilt.
At this point, I have failed. I have accepted that there is no changing the past and it’s time to move on. But the emotions are still raw. I fully recognize that I’m avoiding my closest family and friends in order to avoid any conversation about how I’m doing. All calls go to voicemail and text notifications off. Why? Avoidance. I know that I will have to “lie” and say, “I’m ok”. I have guilt about both avoiding and lying.
When it’s been long enough that I’ve been obviously avoiding people, reaching out feels ridiculous. What do I say? “Sorry I’m a jerk? I just didn’t want to talk about this significant thing that I still don’t want to talk about?” My next dance partner- Anxiety
Ugh. I just don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want to talk to anyone.
When I do, my heart quickens, my face turns red, and I make an inappropriate joke to sidestep any real conversation.
I make myself busy which isn’t difficult. I have plenty to do. In fact, I’ll make a list of all the things I need to do and check off each one which makes me feel productive and allows me to avoid.
Now, I have so much to do that I convince myself I do not have enough time to have a social life.
The first time I read the phrase, “shame spiral” I knew exactly what it meant. I knew what it looked like, what it felt like, and what it damaged in its path.
This whole spin, the isolation, it’s my own doing. I believe the stories in my head when I should be searching for truth, kindness, and compassion; all of which I can find with my dearest people. But, these stories in my head are so convincing.
Shame Spirals: What are they?
You might be wondering, what the heck is a shame spiral?
In “Shame Spirals”, SmartTalk Therapy’s Linda Meier talks about three stages of a shame spiral. First, there is a trigger. This is usually an event or experience in which a person ‘becomes aware of a deficiency’. The person is overcome with ‘immediate shame’. But, the shame doesn’t stop there. The ‘immediate shame’ evokes other memories and experiences of shame that overwhelm. Overwhelming shame almost always pairs with negative self talk and self judgement. Eventually, “the person starts to feel shame of his/her shame”. As the shame grows, so does isolation. The spiral of shame continues. Thankfully, there are ways to help stop the shame spiral.
I’m certainly not alone in believing the tall tales of my mind. Two of my favorite thought leaders have much to say about shame spiraling, and thankfully, some wise words of wisdom to help.
If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, then this introduction is past due. Ted speaker, author, researcher, inspirational speaker Brené Brown made it her business to understand shame and vulnerability through research. What she discovered, she couldn’t keep to herself. Luckily for me, she has three pieces of advice to stop a shame spiral.
Recently, Youtube reminded me of Brown’s advice in a clip from the Oprah Winfrey Network’s Life Class. I know, Oprah and Brené Brown in the same room gives me chills, too. Brené Brown explains that there are three things you need to do in a “moment of unworthiness”.
Shame Spirals: The Antidote
Step One: Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love.
Think about it. There are things that I say to myself that I never say to others. I judge and criticize myself where I allow others grace and compassion. Later, look at self-talk again.
Step Two: Seek Solidarity; Reach out to someone you trust.
Shame loves loneliness; here she can spin and weave stories and tales that bring us further from the truth and closer to self destruction.
Step Three: TELL YOUR STORY.
This one might be the most difficult for me. Alone in the shower I can speak my shame where no one else can judge me or see me in a different way. In the clip, Brene Brown explains, “Shame can not survive being spoken”. Even Oprah knows the strength of shame and solitude, “When you’re ashamed, you keep it a secret that just sort of festers and ends up really overwhelming your life.” SHARING SHAME IN SOLIDARITY weakens its power, and strengthens its greatest enemy: empathy.
The segment ends with Brené Brown identifying what feeds shame.
She states, “…there are three things shame needs to grow: Secrecy, Silence, and Judgement. The antidote: Empathy. It cannot survive being spoken and met with empathy.”
Because the very essence of ugly shower crying breathes secrecy, silence, and self-judgement, there’s no wonder my shame spiral gets so out of control so quickly.
I suppose if Brené Brown and Oprah have both said it’s true, then no doubt should reside. But, a similar discussion come from Heather Chauvin who I found explains the source of my shame in a way that helps me process it and identify triggers.
Meet Heather Chauvin
Heather Chauvin’s first book Dying to Be a Good Mother came out in March 2021. The work is based on Heather’s life and experiences as a stage four cancer survivor, mother, social worker, entrepreneur, life coach, and Tedx speaker.
I’ve heard Brené talk about ‘stories’, blame, and vulnerability, but there was something about the way Chauvin approaches the subject, helped me realize my shame spirals start because of things that are only ‘true’ because I allow myself to believe them.
In chapter 13 of her book, Chauvin writes, “The stories we tell ourselves are often subconscious beliefs we are taught and internalize at a deep level”. Our subconscious has absorbed experiences, conversations, or what we have witnessed and created beliefs. “Since we don’t consciously recognize them as beliefs- they often feel like the truth- we typically don’t talk about them.” 👀 That sounds familiar!! Because we don’t share these beliefs with others, we don’t recognize that other people share these beliefs for themselves.
Chauvin goes on to talk about the limiting beliefs in women, specifically. She explains, “Our worth as women has been tied to our ability to serve and nurture others…We are nurturers.
We are givers…In this… the belief that we only matter when we are focused on others.” Here she speaks so much of my truth. I’m able to recognize some of the limiting beliefs that I have internalized; the ones often tied to my shame spirals.
Can You Relate to My List?
- I allow myself to believe that shame comes with failure. I allow myself to believe that my closest allies will reject me when there has only been support.
- I allow myself to believe that I am letting people down when taking space to process.
- I allow myself to believe that an awkward conversation is more painful than loneliness.
- I allow myself to believe that I have no control over how I spend my time.
- I allow myself to believe that no one can relate or help.
When I get over myself, and actually sit down with my sister or a close friend, I’m always asked, “Why didn’t you tell me? How can I help?”
Oh, there’s a question! “How can I help?” My resistance to getting help immediately stands boldly and states, “I’m the only one that can help.” Dying to Be a Good Mother addresses so much about resistance in receiving help, “…when we reject opportunities to receive, we rob ourselves and others of profound growth and connection”. Later she points out, “What do you say to yourself when you ask for help? Start by noticing your self-talk so that you can begin repairing your relationship with receiving.”
Because of Chauvin’s work, I recognize that my limiting belief that ‘no one can help’ is really tied to my own self worth and my own self talk. Both of these are directly tied to my shame and perpetuate my shame spirals.Remember Brené Brown’s Steps 2 and 3? Reach out to someone you trust, and tell your story. For me, reaching out to someone I trust feels like asking for help. Because of Chauvin, I know that I must heal this part of myself to seek the solidarity that shame fears so much.
Shame Spirals: Goodbye!
So, now that I’m wise and almost forty, I’m ready for a new machine without the ‘shame spin cycle’.
It’s time to let go of my ego and limiting beliefs. I need to start making choices out of love instead of fear. Love for myself and love for others.
By steeling myself away in fear- I not only limit my personal growth, but I’m limiting the growth in trust, connection, and support with my friends, my family, and the universe.
I’m not the only person who allows shame to take control. I’m not the only person reserving ugly crying to the shower.
You aren’t either.
We need to choose solidarity. “We have to start creating space for ourselves and each other to ask for and receive the help we need” (Chauvin). We are worthy of receiving help; we are worthy of kindness and compassion. We are worthy of success. “… when we come together as women, for women, we can do anything (Chauvin).”
I’m saying goodbye to shame spirals. Working through Heather Chauvin’s Dying to Be a Good Mother was a big part of that.
Now, it’s your turn.
Heather Chauvin’s work is now available on hiitide. The Online Book Club breaks down Dying to Be a Good Mother into 14 minute lessons over 28 days. You will connect and discuss elements of the work and your progress with others; seek solidarity! You might feel like you don’t have time to ‘read a book’, but you can take 14 minutes, 1% of your day to begin building the life you want, fewer, shorter shame spirals and an abundance of solidarity.