Something I encounter often with clients is shame; shame over not eating the right foods, not exercising enough, sleeping too much or not enough, drinking too often or too much, anger, use of sleep medication, not managing time well, and the list goes on. With so many opportunities to feel shame, by the end of a day a person can shame themselves into feeling quite worthless. If we think of shame as a judgement against ourselves, against our very being, then we should start to be aware of how it affects us.
I once had a client who waited until our 7th session to tell me she was drinking too much in the evening. We had been working together for nearly two months at this point. When she told me, her face turned red and her eyes averted mine. Shame. The thing is, it didn’t faze me in the least! Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am drawn to coaching – I’m not easily fazed. I wish she had brought it up earlier because what she was describing, drinking a few glasses of wine each night, is so common. Personally, I can do the same thing if I have a great bottle of Rioja sitting on my dinner table and my defenses are down.
When we hold onto things that are causing us shame, they fester and grow and take our confidence down a bit each day. For my client, her common wine habit had become a secret so grand that the shame over it was more destructive to her than the habit itself.
Once we began talking about it, she was able to decrease her wine to a glass or two a few nights a week which is healthy for most people (especially red wine). Et voilà, the shame was gone.
I love this one-sentence description of the difference between guilt and shame by Brené Brown: “Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.” We are not a mistake. Each of us has habits that we feel shame over but when brought to light, they lose their power. So next time you feel shame over something, tell a trusted friend or coach about it and watch it wither into the ether.