A rush of heat from gut to throat, like you’re going to throw up. Chest contracted, shoulders caved in, heart racing. As quick as the heat rises, it’s gone and replaced by cold. Trembling. Tightening.
The worst part? You can’t let anyone else see you quake. You’ve got to hold it all in. As bad as this is, it would be so much worse if anyone saw.
It might even be unrecoverable. You know you’ll be rejected and abandoned.
So all that energy — horror rising deep from within that cavernous part of you… it stays with you.
It turns into a cold distant freeze that never gets fully thawed, because that would be unbearably painful. Or it becomes anger outwardly expressing that hot energy, blaming and spewing on any target in sight who would cower — whoever would not turn around and hold up a mirror.
It’s the worst thing ever for you to see it.
This is one manifestation of shame.
Is this familiar? The saddest part is how isolating it is. If you’ve experienced this, has it stayed a secret? How do you know those around you have NOT gone through something similar, and are also hiding it?
Let me tell you — you are normal. It is okay to feel this way.
Whew, let’s take a breath here. Let go of what you’ve been holding. Inhale. Exhale.
Yeah, it’s not a fun experience. You want to get rid of that feeling? Makes sense.
Yet just like with any other feeling or experience, the more you push it down, the more it rears up and comes out in big messy uncontrollable ways. The more you try to hide it, the more the jagged edges snag your skin.
I invite you to bring in compassionate awareness. Can you name this emotional experience as shame? The cover-up reaction could be a hair trigger from the initial gut wrenching fear/grief — it might only be a blurry instant from anger or withdrawal. You may barely be aware of the initial feeling.
As soon as you name it, you may decide it’s a diagnosis. “Okay, so shame is what’s wrong with me, and now that I know, I can fix it. I can make it better and make these horrible feelings go away. Whew. Yay, I can’t wait to get rid of feeling this way!”
Hold that part of you with compassion. Your shame is part of you. Your shame of shame is part of you. There is nothing wrong with you. Hear it again: There is nothing wrong with you. Feeling shame is normal.
Shame has a purpose. It has a cause.
Bringing shame out into the light helps alleviate it. Is your heart racing when you read this? That’s okay. Be where you are. You don’t need to post your shame experience on Facebook or tell your family about it. You don’t need to do anything in this moment.
The first step is simply gentle identification. Does it help to have a name for that terrible feeling you wish you didn’t have, which you hide so no one else sees?
You don’t have to force a different reaction than the one you have. After all, isn’t that what you’ve gotten so used to doing?
Try something new: just sit with it.
Take yourself to a place you are safe, where you have undisturbed time, where you are alone and vulnerable only to your own gaze, and let yourself feel. Let that heat rise in your body.
You may notice you try to push it down at first — notice and let that go. Remind yourself, it’s okay.
Maybe punch a pillow to move the reactionary anger so the vulnerability has space to come through. Be gentle.
Let your body do what it needs.
Curl up in a ball. Cross your arms over your chest and press in tight to contain and hold yourself. Feel the feeling, and let yourself shake.
Give your body permission to move and take shapes of shame; viscerally and physically express your shame experience. Remember tenderness and compassion.
When you are complete with this exercise for now, you’ll know. You may be able to take a deep breath, which you couldn’t before. You may have more space in your body to uncurl.
And, you may not be ready to stretch and take up space. You may still feel small. That’s okay too. Honor your body. See if you can find gratitude for this new experience. If you’ve been so used to tightening (or exploding), this is different. Acknowledge that for yourself.
Send the broken-open, vulnerable, jagged-raw places waves of love. Try to stay in the physical reality without getting lost in making meaning. Later, you can make sense of your shame.
For now, you don’t need to ruminate. For now, love and tender care is enough.
You might write what you’re feeling. Describe what it felt like. Claim the feeling. It is yours. It means everything, and nothing, at the same time. It is only one part of the whole.
Breathe in care, breathe out love.