The idea of shame as an impediment to self-care has been niggling at me for a while. I know from my own experience how this pattern goes – my shame is triggered and my ability to extend myself the kindness and empathy necessary for self-care is depleted, leading to more shame.
We all have our own shame triggers but there are common themes. Shame and vulnerability expert Brene Brown says “shame drives two main tapes: ‘never good enough’ and ‘who do you think you are’”.
When I talk about ‘self-care’ I am talking about things that nurture our bodies, minds and spirits. The things we love doing, things that make us come alive. Self-care is the things that nourish us. Self-care can be exercise, nutrition and meditation. It can also be music, art, creating something, playing with a pet, talking with a close friend.
For me, the exercise, nutrition and meditation side of things are easier to get to. This is because my personal version of shame means that for me to feel worthy I must be ‘healthy’. But until I spent some time with the shame that was underneath that I wasn’t actually healthy at all. I swallowed all of my insecurity and pain and kept this shame hidden, so while I might seem healthy on the surface to anyone looking on, underneath that was a lot of muckiness. I might eat a healthy meal with friends and eat a chocolate bar in secret later. I might do lots of exercise and yoga and then go out and binge drink and take drugs that night. I might act very happy and positive then be exhausted and depressed from the effort of this later that night. I might encourage a friend to share their pain with me then shut down when I had an opportunity to share mine.
To move past this coping mechanism and the idea that what was on the outside mattered more than what was inside meant me spending time with what those feelings were. I lived in a prison of judgement – judgement that I perceived as coming from the outside, but really it’s all a mirror of how I feel about myself. I discovered that the things I was doing to make me feel good brought up a lot of shame in this very fact that I then felt good about myself. The counter-actions were a form of self-sabotage, to bring me back down to size. I feel haunted by the phrase “who does she think she is” and that made me undermine any positive step I took to look after myself.
We can only really nurture ourselves positively if we nurture those aspects of ourselves that we want to reject. Now I have spent a lot of time in those murky waters and find it easier to let myself feel good, so I don’t need to undermine myself to the same degree. And at least now the awareness is there so if I slip then I can see that pattern for what it is and not be lost to it.
With this freedom I am gradually able to enjoy the things that make me physically healthy without undermining myself – I might choose a morning yoga class to set a peaceful tone for my day or go for a run to wake myself up and then I am (mostly!) able to let myself enjoy the benefits.
And the next layer of freedom I am discovering is that I am now more able to move toward the things that I really want to do but aren’t as immediately ‘justifiable’ in my personal frame of reference. I am spending time creatively, for the joy and fun of it – I still feel guilty about this and about choosing these solitary and ‘aimless’ ways to spend my time and I had to fight myself using the word ‘indulgent’ in this description. I still find it much easier if I can tell people I’ve been busy with work or parenting rather than acknowledge that I came alive mostly during the times when I was on my own, lost in creativity. That shame is still rampant and it is a work in progress for me to free myself from those shackles.
We can’t let go of all of these other things – my family, my work and paying the bills are all vital to me – but maybe we can ease up on the limitations we place on ourselves in honour of these if we can face the idea that perhaps its more than the reality of those getting in the way, that perhaps it’s our relationship with them and our relationship with ourselves that needs some attention first.
I have been writing occasional blogs for my work with West Norwood Therapies for the past few years so have published some here and am in the process of trying to find a regular blog writing habit for my own enjoyment and creativity. I'm not doing very well with it so far as other things seem to take precedence, but the intention is there and I'm sure I'll find the habit when it feels right :-)