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Emails to my Therapist

Four Tips for Getting Rid of Shame

Dealing with feelings of shame can be divided into steps that help mightily to defuse the whole miserable state of mind.

This thinking comes from a book noted in an earlier post here: Brene Brown‘s I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power. It’s quite a good and useful book.

One of her techniques is “practicing critical awareness,” which is looking hard at the trigger for the shame. Here’s her procedure:

1. “Contextualize (I see the big picture)” This means noticing how economic, social, and political forces are involved in the situation. Doesn’t mean to shift the responsibility for solving a problem, but it does take the edge off the shame.

2. “Normalize (I’m not the only one)” If you’re not the only one, then there’s less basis for feelings of personally inadequacy.

3. “Demystify (I’ll share what I know with others)” Talk about the problem. And ask questions to get the info that will help. It may turn out several others in the neighborhood are keeping the same dark secret. We can help each other, or at least enjoy the company of people who understand.

One other tidbit of wisdom from this source: When other people say dumb things about the painful situation, don’t counterattack. “That doesn’t get us anywhere.” Instead say something on the order of: that hurt my feelings. “It seems counterintuitive, but telling someone how we feel takes more courage and is often more powerful than verbally attacking them.”

A small personal application: I’ve railed repeatedly here about some bad treatment at the “hands” of a health insurance company. One part of this reaction is that I’m ashamed that I can be taken advantage of. One of my buried assumptions is that part of my job in life is to have the savvy to keep this from happening. When I fail at this, I feel like a schlump.

Looking at this with the Brene Brown system:
1. The context: the entire healthcare payment system is in severe disrepair, to the point of national crisis. One piece of that is that our medicine is so advanced that we have tests and treatment that almost no one can afford. That’s the big picture.
2. God knows, I’m not the only one.
3. I’m sure talking about it.

I still have the stupid assumption that I should be capable of throwing over such problems, and I haven’t. But this critical thinking process does take away some of the feeling of failure, embarrassment and shame. And getting rid of those probably makes me more capable of dealing with a problem.

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Categories: courage, mental health, self expression, shame

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