When our shame gets triggered a very predictable and destructive shame cycle begins. A shame cycle can last for decades or for a short time if we can learn to identify it and intervene on it.
What I mean when I say, “our shame gets triggered”, is that something either internal or external sets off the old shame core beliefs. So, if deep down I have a belief that I am “not enough”, and that is not healed, then something someone says or does, or something I think can trigger the old feelings of not being enough. It would not be so bad if we knew when that happened. However, most of the time our shame gets triggered and we don’t know it. That coupled with shame of our shame makes it really hard to stop the ball from rolling down the hill and becoming more destructive and more intense as it rolls.
Once our shame gets triggered, three things happen simultaneously. We are triggered, we move into a defensive posture, and we shut down from our real feelings. We may look like we are having all sort of feelings. However, the reaction is really a coverup for the underlying feelings. We may be ranting and raving and look really angry, but underneath we may be really hurt or scared. The hurt and scared do not show to the outside observer or self.
Once those three things happen, we drop into a self defeating behavior. The really really hard thing here is that until the shame is resolved (hard to do if we don’t know we are in it), we live in this self defeating place. The things that may be productive or helpful elude us. As we live in the self defeating space we reinforce the shame. This place’s hallmark is feeling very out of control. Our behavior may be very out of control or our inner critic may be out of control.
Eventually we try to get control again. We make plans and strategize or make amends or send flowers, but we haven’t come to terms with the shame that got triggered. So, the “getting control strategy” may bring temporary relief, but we are destined to trigger again.
I will be building on this in future blogs and my book spends a great deal of time talking about the shame cycle and how to dismantle it. However, for now, let it suffice to say, that it is really helpful to know when we are in a shame cycle. If we can name it we have begun to move in a different direction. It gives us a chance to begin to use the tools that we are learning to intervene on shame.
More to come!