Editor’s note: These posts were written back when my brand name was Remodel Fitness. I’ve decided to include them here without editing them, in the interest of…well… transparency. 😉
My best friend taught me the term “shame cave,” and I absolutely love it.
A “shame cave” is the dark and self-judging place our minds crawl into when we feel like the truth of who we are (or what we want) just… isn’t… enough somehow.
I like the phrase because it connotes a dark and unfriendly environment in which we’re pretty sure we’re not safe, which is more or less exactly how it feels when we’re dealing with shame.
The thing is, we often think of shame as a more concrete and linear emotion, like embarrassment. We think of our cheeks burning, our skin crawling, and our heart racing at the thought of someone learning something deeply shameful about us, but the truth is that shame rarely shows up that way. Most often it shows up in teeny tiny ways you don’t even realize, in the form of itty-bitty self-judgements, or the urge to outsource your opinions and desires to someone who “knows better” than you.
This means that a lot of shame doesn’t actually “show up” as shame. It shows up as confusion, negative self-talk, and unidentified internal struggle.
A ton of the work I do with clients— everything from struggling with motivation to diet to body image to career choice— comes down to shame. In my experience, shame is the secret puppet master behind pretty much every self-loathing thought and self-destructive action. Sometimes shame shows up in significantly non-dramatic instances too, just to play mind games and keep you from standing fully in your power.
As an example, my brother’s birthday was this week, and we had agreed that the three of us siblings would spend it together. My brother was struggling to figure out what we should do for the day, and was having some angst about the decision. I kept saying “sure that sounds good!” when he presented a plan, but then he’d get kinda wishy washy about it and start changing his mind. Eventually I told him to take a moment, quiet his mind, and listen to his heart. (I firmly believe the heart always knows what it wants, and will tell us if we listen.)
He sat still for a moment and then instantly knew what he wanted to do. The problem was that he had been unconsciously trying to want something that would make all three of us happy. He felt shame about wanting what he wanted, because he was afraid it made him selfish or bad. He WANTED to WANT something different, and that little shame whisper was clouding up the whole operation.
This is shame’s subtle messaging at work. Shame was whispering “wanting what you want makes you selfish and bad,” and that little message immediately created inner conflict and confused everything. This is exactly what shame always does.
When shame tell you that your desires aren’t acceptable, it’s also saying that you aren’t acceptable. If our desires are wrong or bad, then we must be wrong or bad too; after all, our heart’s desires are at the very core of our being.
Think about how much shame and suffering is caused by the various religious teachings about the fact that our desire to have sex is bad! When you believe even having “impure thoughts” about sex can send you to hell, and you live in a human body… you’re gonna have a really fucking tough time liking yourself. Which is kind of the point.
If you struggle to like and accept yourself and your body, then you’re already in an intimate relationship with shame. If you engage in negative self-talk, you’re already well-acquainted with shame. And the only way out of the shame cave is to recognize shame for what it is.
This means we have to give up this idea that shame is something concrete and linear, or something experienced only by people with deep, dark, terrible secrets. Shame has a way of showing up all the time, in countless tiny ways. While the individual instances might not even be a blip on your self-image radar, the collective effect can be catastrophic.
So what do you do about shame?
In my experience, the only antidote to shame is to speak your truth, big or small. By getting vulnerable and naming exactly what you’re feeling/thinking/experiencing (preferably out loud to another person, although writing in your journal can work too), you dissipate a huge amount of shame’s power over you. By shining a light directly into the shame cave, you expose that there’s actually nothing there to be afraid of in there. Shame is essentially just comprised of isolation, darkness, and the heavy fear that you’re not enough.
Speaking your truth is the way out. Get vulnerable, share your experience, and tell people what you feel and want.
I want to hear your thoughts on shame. Does it ever derail you? Are you aware of it when it strikes in subtle ways? Do you have any specific techniques for climbing out of your shame cave?
Come on over to my private facebook group Women Who Empower Other Women, Unite! and share your thoughts!
Sending you all a blissfully truthful Tuesday night. 😉 <3 Jessi
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