There’s a lie that you and I both believe, and it’s sneaky.
Here’s how it happens: first, you start struggling with feelings of shame. Maybe you made a comment that you wish that you hadn’t, or you looked in the mirror and realized that you’re out of shape.
Shame engulfs you like one of J.K. Rowling’s Dementors, those terrifying wraiths that drain happiness. Soon you’re locked in what author and researcher Brené Brown calls a “shame spiral”.
The bully in your brain rants: “You’re a failure! You can’t do anything right!” And when you believe those thoughts, you’re drawn into the hell of self-hate.
After some internal torture, you realize that you need support to regain sanity. So you call a friend and say, “Help!”
Then you feel better … and the sneaky lie arises. It goes like this: “I’ve moved past the shame stuff! Never dealing with that again!”
A week or a month goes by, and something else blindsides you. You’re down again. Except this time it’s worse, because you convinced yourself that you were done with the darkness.
You’re ashamed of whatever it was that triggered the slide, plus you’re ashamed of feeling shame at all.
What can prevent this? For me, an answer appeared when I called my close friend Tammy (pictured above) during a severe shame spiral.
She listened and offered words of encouragement. Still, I kept apologizing for calling. Though I felt worlds better just hearing her voice, it felt ‘selfish’.
Eventually, Tammy said, “Listen, whenever you’re feeling this way, give me a call. I might not always be available to answer the phone, but I’ll always be here for you.”
“Really?!” I asked.
“Really,” she said. “Write it down, so you’ll remember.”
We both laughed; Tam knows that I tend to forget what’s real unless I write it down.
So I transcribed her words, but I didn’t stop there. After all, implicit in our conversation was the idea that I would go down a shame spiral again someday. And when that happened, I wanted to be prepared.
Paradoxically, admitting that I wasn’t ‘done’ with shame was a huge relief. It took the pressure off, allowing me to acknowledge and prepare for future struggles.
With that in mind, I created a Shame Spiral Survival Kit.
- Three permission slips, beginning with the words, “You have permission to …” The lists include basic self-care tasks, and the names of trusted friends to call.
- A letter to myself, reminding me of what’s real
- A favorite essay by Liz Gilbert
- A copy of my friend and mentor Rachel Macy Stafford’s new book, Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More
Here I must make a confession: when I received an advance copy Hands Free Life, I could only handle reading it in small increments. Rachel’s gentle, compassionate stories shed light on my dark corners, and that felt scary at first.
For example, when I read an early passage in which Rachel turns down an ill-timed NPR interview request in order to guard time with her family, my mind said:
“Look at how Rachel held to her boundaries! You couldn’t do that. You’re too ambitious; you’d be afraid to turn down such an opportunity. Your faith isn’t strong enough … ”
Now, Rachel shares plenty of her own mistakes in the book. But in the beginning, my inner critic turned her moments of clarity and courage into personal indictments.
As I read, the bully in my head went into overdrive. Why? Because it was afraid. It knew that, if I actually let myself feel the compassion that underlies Rachel’s stories, I’d stop believing lies.
My mind spewed its self-critical monologue, but I kept reading. And by the final pages – when I read Rachel’s beautiful account of interacting with an employee with special needs at a fast-food restaurant – I was wiping away joyful tears. It was such a relief to see clearly again.
As I closed the book, I felt the way I do when I hear Tam’s voice, when I see dolphins in the ocean, when Jonathan holds out his hand: safe, held, and stunned with gratitude for this beautiful life.
The tide had turned. Shame was washed away in a sea of true stories.
In the end, only love remained.
Friends, I’m sharing this post in celebration of the Hands Free Life book launch on Tuesday, September 8. (I’m not an affiliate, just a friend helping to get the word out.)
If you pre-order a copy of Hands Free Life between now and Monday, September 7, you’ll also receive a free Kindle edition of Rachel’s first book, Hands Free Mama. Click here for details.
What helps you when you hit a shame spiral? Join the conversation in the comments.
When you do, you’ll be entered to win one of FOUR gifts: a copy of Hands Free Life, and three bracelets. Rachel has been so generous to offer these gifts to our community, and I’m excited to give them out!
Update: The giveaway is now closed; congratulations to our four randomly-chosen winning commenters, Donna, Lori Ray, Katharine, and Bridget!
The first two bracelets are buckskin; they read, “Live Hands Free”. (Click here for a picture and details.) The final bracelet is lavender; it reads, “Only Love Today.” I’m pictured with the lavender bracelet. (Click here for details.)
Post your comment to enter, and I’ll randomly select the four winning comments at noon Central time on Monday, September 7. Good luck!
Liked this post? Join us on the journey, and receive three free books designed to bring you back to what matters most.
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