A Surprising But Effective Way To Get Out Of A Shame Spiral

“I have found that, among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” ~Maya Angelou

As an aspiring daily meditator, I’ve been instructed by many a spiritual sage to think of my emotions as clouds drifting across my internal landscape. The idea here is that clouds come and go, so clinging to any one cloud is an exercise in futility.

I like this metaphor. It overlaps quite nicely with the cloud-classification skills I learned in third grade and haven’t since put to use.

The more time I spend on the cushion, the more I realize that some of my emotions are cirrus clouds: feathery wisps of humor, annoyance, or connection that drift away as quickly as they came.

Others are cumulus clouds: hearty puffs of joy, nostalgia, or anger that make themselves known by casting shadows on the ground.

In my experience, only one emotion is a cumulonimbus cloud: an angry, heaping, blackened pile that trudges sluggishly across the sky. That emotion is shame.

Shame plants himself down in front of the sun with no intentions of leaving. He makes a god-awful racket with ceaseless thunderstorms and doesn’t move until he’s good and ready.

Recently, I found myself in the thick of a shame spiral. I had made a series of oversights that were impacting my very new, and as such, very delicate, romantic relationship.

The mistakes I’d made were honest, but I should have known better, and this became the mantra that fueled hours of self-blame and judgment. My mental movie was like a 1500s tragicomedy, and I was the snarling, callous villain.

I was feeling like sh*t, and I certainly wasn’t making it any better for myself, but I couldn’t seem to stop. I couldn’t focus on my work, my social life, or even the simple task of taking out my recycling.

As a person in recovery, I knew that a shame spiral was my one-way ticket to a first drink. So I rang up a trusted mentor for guidance. Over steaming coffee in the hidden back booth of a nondescript coffeehouse, I bemoaned my vivid ruminations.

What’s Shame?

Research professor and best-selling author Brené Brown is all over the shame game. She makes clear that guilt is the feeling that you’ve done something bad, while shame is the feeling that you are bad, and as such, “unworthy of love and belonging.”

As a recovering perfectionist, I get hit with red-hot shame when I do something “wrong.” (As my mom loves to remind me, I sobbed inconsolably when I got an A- instead of an A on my fifth grade…

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