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March 15, 2019

Overcoming the Shame of Mistakes

I really blew it this morning. I sent the wrong intake form to a new client and when she pointed it out, the shame settled into my gut. In fact, it took up all the space between my heart and my gut. It took over my mind with negative thoughts of how I would never earn her trust, how stupid I am and always have been, how I shouldn’t be doing this work because it’s not okay to make that kind of mistake. I became my 7-year-old self who didn’t understand math and her exasperated father couldn’t comprehend why I wasn’t able to get something so simple.

It is common for our emotional health to get damaged during childhood. A painful experience can shape our feelings of unworthiness and fuel the self-critical voice in our heads, even into adulthood. Our inner self-talk can be so painfully harsh. When we look at the root of what drives it, we find shame, the feeling that there’s something terribly wrong about us.

Childhood fractures are often centered around shame, the painful experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love. According to Lise Borbeau, author of Heal Your Wounds and Find Your True Self, there are five common types of wounding. These five types of wounding can show up in adults as:

  • Fear of abandonment or fear of being alone
  • Fear of rejection which can prevent us from accepting our own thoughts, feelings and perceptions
  • Humiliation and fear of disapproval or criticism from others
  • Betrayal or fear of trusting others
  • Injustice, which leads to feelings of powerlessness.

In my work with women, I typically see in equal measure the fear of rejection and the fear of humiliation as the most common causes of low self-esteem. Sadly, many women tell me how as children, they were told they were stupid, bad, overweight, not smart enough, high maintenance, needy, emotional, ridiculous, nonsensical, exhausting, selfish, spoiled, and disappointing.

It’s not hard to see how adult women might have internalized any of these messages and are now overcompensating to prove to the world that it isn’t true. Trying to do it all and do it all perfectly.

Or not doing anything for fear of making a mistake– because a mistake would prove all the underlying negative beliefs.

Emotional fractures can lead us to armoring up in self-protection which can hinder our progress in life and block us from connecting with others as well as with ourselves. This armor comes from feeling ashamed of ourselves–our intelligence or our bodies–and needing to hide those messy parts of us. We don’t want to bring them out in the open for everyone to see how flawed we really are. This armor allows us to function in our lives and keeps us safe and hidden from the world but only to a point, until we make a mistake and then the shame bubbles up.

Creating mind-body awareness allows us to become the compassionate observer of the mind, body, and emotions. This isn’t about needing to fix anything, we are simply seeking to connect and learn.  Several times a day, take a few minutes to get quiet and bring your attention to your body. Then notice any physical sensations. You don’t need to do anything about them, you’re simply opening your awareness to them. You can set a timer to do this three times a day. This simple practice is a way to begin accepting yourself with having to change anything.

To experience ourselves fully, we must allow all that is present to be experienced and to do this we must stay physically present in our bodies. When we run away from, avoid or resist our experience, including the sensation of shame in our bodies, we force ourselves into powerlessness. Resisting emotion creates endless suffering, and welcoming it is the path to inner peace and feeling more at ease with yourself.

Experiencing the sensation of shame feels vulnerable. It’s hard, but it only last a few moments if you stay with it. Vulnerability offers relief from having to hide from any parts of yourself. This is the source of freedom and empowerment. As you begin to accept all the parts of yourself, you’ll become comfortable sharing yourself with the world and being vulnerable with others.

Today I am practicing body awareness. Being with the 7-year-old part of me that needs to be reminded that she is smart and she is lovable. I don’t want to run away from her or desert her. I don’t want to distract myself or numb away the shame. It’s a reminder that I need to question the negative self-thoughts as I notice them. It’s an opportunity to give myself love.

As adults, we can offer care and compassion to the parts of us that are still hurting.

Writing helps me do this. It gives me a safe place to uncover the tender, scared, ashamed parts that are crying out for love. It helps move the shame through my body and on to the paper. Creativity, nature, and movement are other ways to move the emotional energy while also giving yourself the gift of awareness.

Give yourself the love you needed then. Tell yourself the thing you’ve been waiting hear. You can be the one that does that for yourself.

You are magnificent dear one.

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