I recently had the honor of working with an 80-year-old client, a magnificent embodiment teacher and leader in her own right. When she first came to me, she was spinning in such shame-chaos that a crucial legal document needing attention remained unaddressed, which only compounded her shame, self-blame, and worry, and increased real world consequences. She was stuck. So I asked her to bring the document to her session.
A while into our time together, I asked her about it. She began dismissing it as not worthy of our time. I asked her what it might feel like in her body to have the document filled out and in the mail. She immediately began breathing more deeply.
“It would be a relief,” she confessed.
“Can we spend the next 10 minutes looking it over and moving on if it’s not helpful?” I asked.
She attempted to read it, but she couldn’t. “Here!” She thrust the document under my nose as though it were dirty laundry.
I read and began nonchalantly filling it out with her.
Ten minutes passed, leaving another five to complete the task. She agreed, and we walked the document to the mailbox together. There were still 15 minutes remaining in the session.
“I am such a failure. I can’t believe at this age I needed you to hold my hand to get to the mailbox.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I rather enjoy the process. I found it old fashioned and sweet, and I am wondering if it would be okay to allow yourself, for two minutes, to feel your worry lift and experience what satisfaction and accomplishment can offer your body?”
She shrugged. “If you make me.” She half teased.
“Well, I care about you and the quality of your life to gently insist.” I said, and smiled as I began the timer.
“Wow, that’s confusing.”
“Someone supporting you to think about what is best for you?”
“You got that right,” she said.
There was a lot of this kind of back and forth filled with hesitation, disbelief, bewilderment and being touched and feeling supported, until she began to pick up and initiate these supportive more satisfying impulses for herself.
Shame forms a barrier around experiencing a sense of true accomplishment. For chronic shame survivors, a goal or aspiration represents yet another set up for failure, humiliation and hopelessness. Learned shame leads to learned hopelessness and a deep sense of inadequacy. It’s the complete opposite of empowerment. Plus, learned hopelessness creates a self-fulling prophecy.
Shame distorts our judgment about the world, others, and especially about ourselves. It forms a harbor for self-doubt and anxiety and/or rumination around that doubting. Attempting to move forward to accomplish something, regardless of how badly it may be desired, calls forward an army of self-doubt or a cascade of depressive and freeze-like neuro-signaling. If disgust is an emotion that was bound with the original shame-wound the person will feel disgusted by his/her own self-doubt.
To make matters worse, one’s ability to clearly think through next steps and components necessary for satisfaction, accomplishment or success become muddled and elusive. Progress feels completely out of reach.
The work looks different with other clients, each situation calling for its own individual approach; yet, the common thread involves creating a deep container of compassionate relentless around deserving something other than chaos, shame, worry, criticism and guiding the client toward something less shaming—this is a critical component of shame transformation. In each case the work is attuned, real, close to the bone, and life-changing. Clients experience themselves differently because of this kind of holding and resonance that the AST Model makes available to them. Below, I offer what I see as some intervening shifts that allow for the overall transformation process.
1. Keep clients moving forward even if in the tiniest of ways.
2. Help your clients find the support and resources that meet their level of challenge.
3. Support your clients to think through plans and necessary steps.
4. Assist your clients to envision themselves feeling satisfied and successful.
5. Guide clients through their feelings of undeserving of success or deserving only failure.
6. Make space to explore being on the other side of the shame state.
7. Normalize being stuck as a natural part of processing their shame.
8. Uphold the reality that despite the depth of their shame, your clients CAN get to the other side where wonderful life-affirming and satisfying behaviors, emotions, thoughts and experiences await them!
When applied in sessions these steps create very powerful intervening shifts that build on themselves and breakthrough many of these habituated cycles. Your clients deserve the freedom shame resolution work affords, and you deserve the reward of watching your clients BLOOM this summer:)!
Caryn is the developer of AST Model of Holistic Shame Resolution®, a neurobiologically–principled, attachment based approach that specializes in chronic shame relief, building shame and inner critic resilience, healing shame-based early trauma, facilitating shame-based attachment re-patterning, and supporting life-affirming authentic self-expression and empowerment.
She is the author of the following ebooks and articles, Alchemy of Shame Transformation for Therapists and Healing Professionals (AST), The 5 Step Journey to Healing Social Phobia, The Yin/Yang of Abandonment Recovery, and Wound & Essence: A Call and Response Approach to Transformation. She is leading a shame-free living movement and training therapists, healers, and community leaders how to facilitate shame resolution and cultivate acceptance, connection, belonging, worth and well-being.
Caryn works face-to-face with people around the world on Skype, and in-person in the California’s Bay Area and New York City where she sees adult clients. She offers phone case consults to therapists, healers, and coaches as well as teaches neurobiological principles through webinars online. On a wider scale, she collaborates with UN affiliated NGOs and Governments to heal collective trauma and post conflict PTSD. She is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and SETI adjunct faculty member, a member of the UN NGO Committee on Mental Health, USABP presenter, and speaker at the United Nations on the issue of resolving shame in women and girls around the w