Shame: 3 Tips for Breaking the Cycle

Hi, Today, I’m going to be talking a little bit about shame and offering you some tips on interventions drawn from neurobiological oriented therapies. So first of all, I just want to say in a neurobiologically informed way of thinking, we look at shame not as an emotion but as a physical, as a body experience. Something is said to us something happens and we feel this kind of “uh” hit of shame, flushing sick feeling in the stomach and the impulse to turn and hide our heads or sink to the floor. The chronic issues of shame that many of our clients bring to us include that physiological response of sensitivity to triggers of shame, but in addition to the physiological response beliefs about themselves that actually trigger the physical response all on their own leaving our shame prone clients in a vicious circle. Around and around they go. They say the words “I’m a loser, I’m worthless, I don’t deserve anything good, it was my fault,” and then they feel the physiological shame which appears to reinforce the belief and trigger simply “oh yes I’m so worthless,” and then that triggers the physiological response, which reinforces the cognitive schema, which then evokes the physical responses, which then reinforces the cognitive schema. So we have to help our clients get out of that vicious circle. So tip number one: work with a belief as just a thought or just a belief. When my clients say “I’m worthless,” I say “oh..” I have to actually interrupt, I break the the 11th commandment thou shalt not interrupt. If it’s a negative belief I have no guilt or shame about interrupting it. I interuppt. I say “Oh there’s that thought again, ‘I’m worthless,’ and when you have thought do you feel better or you feel worse.” And when they say worse I say “worse physically, worse emotionally?” And they say “Well kind of both. I just want to sink through the floor. I just don’t want to be seen.” Right and at that point, here’s intervention number one, I can say “how would that have helped you to survive as a kid?” And they say “Well I was supposed to be seen and not heard, and I definitely can’t say anything when I feel that shame response.” Ah ha! So the shame helped you to be seen and not heard. Pretty brilliant, huh? And so that’s intervention number one. Intervention number two: I say to the client, I interrupt again because I am breaking that 11th commandment…In anytime that I believe interrupting will disrupt a pattern which is not healthy for the client, and I say, “huh, is that a resourcing or a de-resourcing thought?” And the client says, “huh?” I want that ‘huh’ because huh means I disrupted an automatic habitual pattern and I got the client a little bit curious. I say well a resourcing thought is a thought that brings hope, it brings energy. It makes you think maybe there is a way. It makes you stand taller or it gives you more confidence. That’s a resourcing though. A de-resourcing thought is a thought that takes all the air out of the balloon. It makes you feel hopeless, painted into a corner, trapped, there are no possibilities, heavy, energy less. You know, what’s the point? So when you say those words ‘I’m worthless’ is that a resourcing or a de-resourcing thought? And they say, “well its de- resourcing.” And then I say, “okay every de-resourcing thought you’re gonna drop like hot potato.” Imagine somebody puts a hot potato in your hand… what’s that hand going to do? And without fail, even if they haven’t put out their hand as I, as soon as I say imagine the hot potato touching this palm they do this and I do this. That’s what you’re going to do with every de-resourcing thought. Now here, one of the tips, this is a kind of a meta tip that goes with all of them… We’ve learned in the last five to ten years that neural plasticity, or brain change, takes intensive repetition of new responses. So if I am going to teach people to drop the negative thoughts, especially the negative thoughts that saved them as kids… kept them quiet, compliant, withdrawn… I’m going to have to be very persistent in helping them to practice the new pattern over and over again. So my client might be..the next week comes the client might be talking about the hope of getting a job, but what’s the point. Nobody will want me. And I stop, I say, “Is that a resourcing or a de-resourcing thought?” And the client says, “well it’s a de-resourcing thought.” Okay let’s drop it. And that happens over and over again. The wonderful thing is I happen, this is a sort of combination somatic and cognitive behavioral intervention, and I love it because with most clients it becomes a game. It becomes a little like one of those games you play with small children where they drop the rattle off the little chair and you as a parent pick it up and they laugh at and then drop it again and then you pick it up then they look at you and you look at them and they drop it again and you pick it up. That’s what happens, you know after a while it becomes they habitually say, “Well you know. I I don’t have any skills. I’m stupid. They’ll find that out at the job interview.” And I say “hmm?” “Ok, that was a de-resourcing thought. And after a while they start, we both start to laugh. Right, I go like this.. and they say okay and we both laugh and they drop that. And so we’ve done that little intervention, little bit on the cognitive side, is an intervention for attachment. Because it becomes the game, and after a while the clients laughing and trying to drop the thought before I get my finger up. And it’s also changing a pattern of thinking. So try these out. Make them your own. And I want to give credit where credit is due to Sensory Motor psychotherapy for dropping the thought. It’s a wonderful, wonderful technique and have fun with it. Take care!