Shame is a powerful emotion. I experienced shame that was like falling into a dark, scary and what felt like an inescapable hole.

As I was learning how to avoid yelling at or around my kids, I would pause when I noticed I was triggered.  Sounds great right? One problem, I would immediately fall into a shame spiral.

It went something like this, the kids would say or do something difficult. I’d in turn get triggered and remove myself to avoid my big reactions spilling all over onto my kids.

I’d escape into the bathroom, where alone, I’d begin to slip into the familiar dark hole of shame. I was so ashamed that I was triggered and flooded with emotions. As I slipped down the dark hole, familiar thoughts began to run through my mind, “Why am I so triggered? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be calm?” and so on and so forth. It felt like getting thrown into an emotional riptide.

I had to come out of my bathroom at some point and having a withdrawn sullen mom wasn’t ideal for my kids or our relationship. I needed help with these tough moments. This is when I started to use self-compassion practices. One of my favorites was the R.A.I.N. practice I learned from Tara Brach.

R.A.I.N. stands for recognize, accept, investigate, and need/nurture.

Recognize – Notice when I’m triggered, flooded, ashamed, or of all of the above.

Eventually, with more distance, I might be able to say, “I am experiencing shame.” Notice how adding the word experiencing creates a little distance versus I am ashamed.

Allow – “Can I allow the anger or shame to be present versus trying to push it away or judge myself for feeling it?”

Over time I could add a bit of playfulness to the moment with “Welcome to the party anger and shame.” Thanks, Jeff Warren, for keeping mindfulness lighthearted.

This bit of lighthearted acceptance of our emotions helps to manage the judgment and self-criticism that usually accompany difficult emotions.

Investigate – “What am I feeling in my body when I am experiencing shame or anger?”

Anger – “I feel like my body might explode. My chest and shoulders are tight and tense. I feel a hot and explosive energy all over.”

Shame – “I feel numb, heavy, shut down like my body and soul are a blob of darkness.”

Need/Nurture – Over time this became my favorite. I put my hand over my heart (as instructed) and I’d ask myself what I needed at this moment.

Knowing I felt alone and deeply ashamed I found imagining my support system surrounding me to be a powerful antidote to the shame I was experiencing.

I’d imagine bringing into the space all the people I trusted most in the world. The people who were unconditionally compassionate, understanding, and genuinely believed in me. Many of these people I’d never met before such as Patty Wipfler and Emily Nagoski. But I believed if they were there with me they’d offer the support I needed. I’d have my imagined support system surround me. 

Eventually, with months and years of practice, the shame spiral became less automatic and less intense. I came to see I couldn’t control being triggered or what triggered me. Over time I believed it wasn’t my fault. Maybe it was my genetics, my upbringing, or past traumatic experiences. Maybe being a highly sensitive person and experiencing my kids’ big emotions and usually loud volume lit my nervous system up like the 4th of July. Or possibly the low tolerance for stress that comes with having ADHD would easily push me over the edge. It could have been having three kids so close in age in addition to not having family support close by for years. Whatever it was it didn’t matter so much. Eventually, I came to accept I get triggered for good reason (any and/or all of the above) and I can support myself when I do.

Thought for the day:

As we begin to tune into our emotions, thoughts, and what triggers us we can notice the impact and offer ourselves compassion. Tuning into those most difficult, painful, and trying places ironically eases up on the thoughts, and gives us more emotional space.

~Michelle

Michelle Puster M.Ed.

Mindfulness Informed Professional

Helping burned out parents find inner calm and compassion

440 Cobia Drive Suite 1301

Katy, TX 77494

832.361.1547