I was feeling great. Having a good day and in a good mindset. Then my husband made a joking remark about how I hadn't done an insurance task. Immediately I felt panicked and small. Not enough. I got hot and started to sweat, stressed. I thought, "Ugh, how could I have dropped that ball. What is wrong with me?!" I was caught in a shame storm.
I wonder if you can relate? It still surprises me how fast and how intensely I experience shame, hurling me back to around age 5 and that 'in trouble' feeling.
And the crazy part, now that I'm an accomplished adult, I realize at least part of it is of my own making. My mind unconsciously interpreted his words as criticism, judgement, attack.
Why do some comments, even joking ones, that call me out on not having done something or infer I was supposed to take me immediately to a place of shame and lack? That I feel fear and that my worthiness is in question? Why is this path, that Brené Brown describes as a shame spiral, so well worn?
I enter unknowingly into a negative tunnel, full of visions about what I haven't done, what I'm not doing, what I can't do, all of my inadequacy. I think awfulizing thoughts and reach for my 6th cookie. My jaw feels tight and I can only breathe shallowly, frown. My back is crawling with tension. My unconscious sense is, danger. I feel threatened. I go numb, in protection mode, and most of the time don't even recognize what's going on.
It brings up an old protective pattern of 'hustling for my worth' as Brené Brown writes. An unconscious habit of needing to be good at things, of doing, of accomplishing, of striving for the A to get approval, attention, love. Especially in areas like work, parenting, and not letting anyone down. And if I'm not doing a good job, hustling and proving...it's destabilizing, scary.
It's so uncomfortable that I can't even consciously face it, so I turn to more old patterns of numbing out with food, or wine or social media. I don't even realize this is what I'm doing.
Or I get pissed and snap back some criticism AT him. 'Oh yeah, what about the time you dropped that huge ball?! (Wait...did I just say that? Ugh.) Brené Brown refers to this old pattern as 'offloading our emotions' at others. Its cousin is 'finding someone or something to blame'.
But was he actually trying to criticize me? Or was he just following up about the insurance thing we'd talked about yesterday?
I've spent a lot of time pondering and researching this topic of getting triggered and catapulted into shame storms. I've come to the conclusion that it's hard to be human.
We have an instinctive, built in protection system designed to save our life, many know this as our fight, flight, freeze or limbic system. It's essential during a physical danger; it's overkill and makes things worse when it kicks in during a perceived threat to our identity like criticism.
On top of that, we are trained to operate from our thinking mind which is conditioned to analyze, interpret meaning, judge and compare, to determine if something is a threat or not. These ways of thinking don't work well in relationships when our goal is connection. Too often we mis-interpret or personalize; we worry everything about us and an attack on our identity.
This is why I reacted when I perceived that I was being criticized; it activated an old emotional pain wound. To protect myself, I self-criticized and then offloaded anger at him, rather than experience the discomfort.
Now I've learned how to notice my body signals when I'm in a shame storm. I know how to reach out for support and share my story, how to give myself support with LifeSaving Listening.
So I have a message of hope. There is a way out of feeling overwhelmed or anxious or angry or ashamed, caught in a trigger-pain-stuck cycle. We can share our stories and know we aren't alone.
It's not easy, it requires courage. Brené Brown is our biggest fan and cheers each time we enter the arena of vulnerability.
Join me in The Real Peace Place where we practice LifeSaving Listening in a safe, judgement/advice free space.
Don't wait. Start your journey today.