Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jane Bolton - Shame Release and Buddhism

Nice post from Jane Bolton at the Psychology Today blogs. Bolton, Psy.D., M.F.T., is a supervising and training analyst and adjunct professor at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles - her blog is Your Zesty Self: New perspectives on freeing yourself from shame and building self-esteem.

It's important that we define shame and distinguish it from guilt - while guilt is about our actions and can be useful, shame is about who we are and is very toxic to our lives. This nice definition comes from Beyond Intractability:

Guilt is a feeling that everyone is familiar with. It can be described as "a bothered conscience"[1] or "a feeling of culpability for offenses."[2] We feel guilty when we feel responsible for an action that we regret. There are several types of guilt. People can feel ashamed, unworthy, or embarrassed about actions for which they are responsible. In this case, we refer to true guilt -- or guilt that is appropriate. However, true guilt is only one form of guilt. People can also feel guilty about events for which they are not responsible. This false guilt can be equally destructive, if not more so. Feeling guilty for events which are out of our control is often unproductive and detrimental.

Although shame is an emotion that is closely related to guilt, it is important to understand the differences. Shame can be defined as "a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety."[3] Others have distinguished between the two by indicating that "We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are."[4] Shame is often a much stronger and more profound emotion than guilt. "Shame is when we feel disappointed about something inside of us, our basic nature."[5] Both shame and guilt can have intensive implications for our perceptions of self and our behavior toward other people, particularly in situations of conflict.
Now that we have cleared that up, on to the article.

Bolton recommends a book by Charlotte Kasl, which she is riffing on in this article, but I am a big fan of Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within by Byron Brown, who builds his approach on A.H. Almaas's Diamond Way Approach. I found this book useful in my own life. Brown treats shame as a part, not as who we are, and offers some very detailed explanations for where it comes from and how to heal it.

Shame Release and Buddhism

One Buddhist perspective on how to ease shame, increase self-esteem

I'm taking a course of study that includes training to assist people who are dying and their grieving families and friends. Part of the study includes study of Buddhist practices for the dying and dead. I was delighted to find material for dealing with feelings of shame in the book If the Buddha Got Stuck: A Handbook for Change on a Spiritual Path by Charlotte Kasl. Below I add to, subtract from, and rearrange many of steps she mentions to help "ease" the feelings of shame.

While the experience of shame can be an excruciating personal experience, it usually interferes with relational harmony too. When we are self-focused on the pain that shame arouses, we are not present to others, who can feel abandoned or lonely in our presence.

1. Recognize it. Name it. Observe it.
When you start to feel depleted, inferior, not good enough, defective that's shame. Learn to recognize its energy. Merely naming it makes it less intense. (Just as naming anything, say the beauty of the sunset, compressed into "sunset" makes it less intense.)

Then look back and see what happened (you lost a job, didn't get a return call, some form of what feels like rejection, etc. ) or what you said to yourself, (I never get it right, no one will ever love me because I'm too old, etc.) right before feeling the shame.

2. Realize or remind yourself that YOU are not the feeling of shame. You are much bigger than any feeling. You contain the feelings. You also contain, joy, peace, love, etc. All of the feelings are temporary; you are not stuck in any feeling; they pass by.

3. Take a nurturing stance toward yourself. You can say something to yourself like, "This feeling is hurtful, toxic, intrusive! I learned to feel this way when I was abused, left, hurt, shamed, teased, neglected, scolded, or not allowed to voice my thoughts or feelings.

4. Think of what you haven't done for yourself because of your shame and commit to doing it anyhow. I'm thinking of one musician client who felt shame for something hurtful she had done to her husband while performing. She then stopped performing for six months until she recommitted to her growth. She's now cutting CDs. And her husband is happy with her.

5. Work against the tendency to hide and isolate yourself. Shame often leads us to withdraw from the very human closeness we want and need. So instead of allowing yourself to pull back from contact, reach out and call someone you know you can count on to be understanding.

Kasl recommends keeping a list of those understanding people by the phone because in a shame state "you will probably forget that you have any friends."

5. Practice in your imagination some alternative responses to shameful situations. Here are some examples.

Please ask me for what you want, rather than tell me what I didn't give you.
This conversation isn't feeling good to me right now, so I'm going to hang up.
That sounds like a shaming statement, did you meant to do that?
Would you mind telling me what you meant by that?

6. Avoid arguing with shaming opinions about you. If someone says, "That dress makes you look fat," if you agree, say something like, "I was afraid it might, but I just felt like wearing blue." Or, if you don't agree, "Really? (laughing at your own joke) You have no idea how fat I'd really look without the dress on."

To see more about Dr. Bolton, go to

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