Surviving a Shame Storm

Surviving a Shame Storm

Focus on me being Better

Not on me being Bitter



The last real shame storm I had was my rock bottom. It hurt and made me realize shame was my underlying issue and that I’d better get to work looking at myself.

Another shame storm came and went today, and I thought I’d write about it in case you are interested. I find I’m pretty good at my ground game—that is my prophylaxis—my daily practice is pretty good, but I’m worried about reacting rather than responding (losing freedom) when push came to shove, and I was triggered.

This is my story today about surviving a shame storm.


What is the Content?

What caused the shame storm? What is the content? Well, it doesn’t much matter.

You know you will be triggered at some point, probably by your usual shame trigger. My shame trigger was my perception that a Zumba instructor made a critical comment about my behavior. I do not take criticism well; it sets me into instant shame.

Again, the content doesn’t matter, as our triggers are unique. The first step is to notice that you are triggered.


Notice the Shame Storm Start

It took me about 2 minutes to stop dancing and realize that I needed a moment to myself. As I mentioned, this is in the middle of Zumba class—a time I try to get out of my head and just dance. Just be in my body, not thinking. Obviously, shame sucks away the ability to be in the moment without caring what other people think. I felt embarrassed, and suddenly in the spotlight (in my mind, anyway); other people magically perceived that I was bad.

I left and went to a quiet space to feel the shame. I didn’t want to stop the emotions; I wanted to feel them.

Stop what you are doing. If we are in the hotbed of shame, we are usually running a story over and over in our heads or we are working desperately to fix something about ourselves. Stop and do neither. You do not have to explain it nor you do have to make a plan to fix it. Instead, notice exactly what is happening ~ Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC


Feel the Emotion

There are problems when you suppress your emotions. You don’t want to feel the hard emotions so you tune out yourself, and then you can’t feel the good emotions, either.

So, I wanted to feel the shame flow through me. Tightness in the chest… check. Buzzing in the back of the mind, check. The onset of mind fog… It feels like the start of a cortisol surge with just a touch of adrenaline. Yup, pretty full activation of the sympathetic system as well as the awesome feelings associated with cortisol surges. Luckily, I had sequestered myself when I noted the shame storm start, so fight seems unlikely, and flight was a good option since I was now alone and in a quiet space. I know that for 10-30 minutes after cortisol hits, blood flow to the decision-making areas of my brain drops by 30%. I cannot give up 30% of my decision-making capacity when it comes to getting angry when I’m triggered. I’m usually hanging on by a thread–I need that 30%! I have gotten angry so many times in the past that the path is very well-worn in my mind. The path is made by walking, so I need to make good decisions now rather than go down the path of anger. Now is the time to focus on metacognition; thinking about my thinking.


Metacognition and the Storm

Now is a good time to be curious if you want. After you feel the emotion and notice that it flows and passes through your body (and you didn’t die—fear of feeling emotions can cripple you, too) and without judgment or comparison, think about your thinking.

Remember, we are not re-hatching the situation and trying to solve it. Or planning revenge or being a victim and hurt by how we are wronged. That’s not the thinking we are aiming for. We want to know how is the quality of our thinking currently.

I went next door and got out a mat, and meditated. Just 10 minutes, but I cleared my mind of thoughts. And avoided suffering. You have to feel bad emotions; you don’t have to wallow in them. I had felt shame, and it was fine. It didn’t kill me, and here I was in a quiet space, so I don’t have to react.

Sometimes, this is when you start beating yourself up. My shame storms involve pervasive thought patterns of my repeating you are bad you are bad for what seems like hours.

This time I meditated for 10 minutes. Then got dressed and went home.

My perception is that thinking about what I thinking—metacognition—allowed me to, after letting the emotion pass and feeling it fully, understand that meditation might serve me better than a pattern of pervasive self-abuse. Returning my focus to my breath time after time helped me from imposing the usual self-suffering of shame’s negative message.


The Ground Game

Now seems like a good time to return to the ground game. Because you have shame, you have worked on self-acceptance, forgiveness (primarily of self, but importantly of others), and self-love. Really it is all about being worthy, of being ok just the way you are, and, especially important, that you are worthy of love and capable of providing all the love you need, all by yourself. You can choose to love yourself, and once you do, you feel pretty good day-to-day.

Since I had a pretty good ground game, I know the messages that I suck and am not enough just aren’t true. They are not my truth, nor the truth of my inner child, at least anymore. I have had enough gaslighting in my life to know shame’s message that I am somehow not good enough.

So, even though I had a pretty good shame storm after being triggered (likely for something that didn’t even happen, it is just the story in my mind that I am telling myself), I’m ok.

Since your amygdala does not know the difference between what is actually happening and what you think might be happening, you can set off shame just by feeling shame. It’s a positive feedback loop—that’s what happens when you trip a trigger.

So I didn’t suffer. But there is still work to do.

Be Kind to Yourself

This is the time to be kind to yourself. Self-compassion is huge. It’s fine that you took a second to yourself to put yourself in a better position to respond rather than react.

After all, you do want to over-identify, which means being judgemental. Being kind means flowing through emotions and thoughts without trying to restrict or interrupt them. The opposite of over-identification is a critical component of self-compassion.

Instead of beating myself up for feeling shame, which likely I will feel at times for the rest of my life, I used visualizations to remove the memory and associated feelings.



Three different times in the next 4 hours, I took a couple of moments to do some visualization exercises.

As part of the inner child work, I found visualizations to be amazingly helpful. If you can let your guard down enough to feel emotions and thoughts simultaneously (access both sides of your hemisphere or even non-contextual emotions in the amygdala), you can let go of old thought patterns that no longer serve you. 

You can write letters to your inner child; you can do all sorts of stuff. See what works for you, and remember that your ego is trying to talk you out of doing this because it doesn’t want to rock the boat. It likes to see you suffer!

Just try it. Write with your left hand. Discover your old vulnerable self that wasn’t perfect in the attachment game. None of us had perfect attachment. Remember that well-meaning parents and well-behaved children can miss being perfectly attached, and small t trauma may result. It’s no one’s fault, but emotional immaturity, character issues, and intergenerational trauma are common. Even in your family.

More often than not, you might be affected and not even know.

Shame is my core wound and is pretty common in men. Seriously, consider it, and don’t let your ego talk you out of such consideration.

Visualisations helped me move past shame. In the past, I also used visualization to move issues or thoughts or whatever bothered me into a treasure chest. Black with gold belts and locks. They are there, safe and sound, if I ever want to think about them again, but otherwise, they are locked away, and I don’t need to think about the:em again. These past shame cues, I put them all away. They are still there but not apt to get out of that chest and bother me.

Another time I found visualization helpful is post-betrayal syndrome. I was able to find forgiveness.


Elements of Shame Resilience

Mostly after Brene Brown’s work, there are some elements of shame resilience:

Develop an early warning system and understand triggers. Once physical symptoms grip us, it is too late. Name shame early, so you do not put yourself in the position to respond in inauthentic ways. Triggers can cause us to skip the physical symptoms and go right into a reactive state full of cortisol and even adrenaline. Positive reinforcement pathways in the brain cause shame storms.

Practicing critical awareness. Since shame is a universal emotion, yet something you’d never wish upon your child or your inner child, you know it is not what you want nor what others would wish for you. The sad truth is shame makes you think you are unique in your suffering when it is a universal condition of being human. Some figure out early on that they are worthy, and others must hit bottom.

Moreover, by now, you have taken precautions because you know that it is pretty easy to rely on yourself to behave if you have put yourself in a position where behavior is the best solution. If this might be a shame storm and there is the possibility that you might get angry or otherwise misrepresent your authentic self, create some space to honor your feelings and get to a better space before you respond. Or not.

Empathy is a hostile environment for shame


The Aftermath of a Shame Storm

Shame loves the darkness. You have to talk about shame. That’s why I’m writing this. It helps me. If you want to read it, that’s great.

But you have to talk to someone who has earned your trust and tell them what has happened. It is best to tell them how well you handled it because if they are grumpy, they will call you out on your self-limiting beliefs.

Or, even better than that, just be honest and vulnerable with someone who knows that you are just talking about it because it needs to be talked about.

Sometimes a repartee or a good helpful response is in order, but usually, you just want to be heard.

I had a shame storm today. I recognized it and then felt it. Then after being ok that it happened, I moved on. Later, when some negative reverberations came up, I used visualization to put them away and even invited white light to replace that thought so it doesn’t bother me.

Why not? After all, you can choose what you think—why not replace thoughts that no longer serve you?

More than anything, it is just another living day-by-day experience. About half the days are going to be better than the other half of the days.

The main message is to figure out what works for you and do it. There are some common themes—self-acceptance and self-love—and of course, giving up automatically living your life and deciding to participate in the moment. But prayer works really well. As does reading the bible. As do meditation and mindfulness. As does group therapy. Find what works for you and do it.

There are many crazy people out there, and you will find your niche if you let go of enough judgment and stop comparing yourself to others and worrying about what they think of you. Remember, they don’t. So if crystals or incents or Reiki is your thing, that’s fine. If you find a shortcut to self-care, one that doesn’t numb, have at it!

Because, in the end, you want to wind up being your authentic self. THAT’S the person who knows they are worthy to love themselves.

It is common to love yourself. In fact, most people do. And it’s a choice. Shame is a choice, too, once you accept responsibility as an adult to awaken and fix your inner child wounds.

Only through radical acceptance and responding rather than reacting can you find the freedom to control your thoughts and be your true self. You cannot stop every single episode of shame, but you can decide what it means to you.

Like rain on your wedding day, the two superpowers you get through self-work (radical acceptance and the freedom of response rather than reaction) are the hardest to choose under durress. Isn’t that ironic?






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