How Kindfulness and self-compassion can halt the shame spiral

Four simple tips to rekindle your self-worth

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We have all experienced times in our lives when shame overwhelms us and our inner critic cackles and points the finger.

Cast your mind back, perhaps you too have suffered the ignominy of any or all the following:

– Being unceremoniously dumped (again)

– A contract that isn’t renewed at work

– Blurting out something nonsensical when trying to appear composed

– Rear-ending the car in front while warbling along to a power ballad

– Sending a message to an unintended recipient and having to deal with the consequences

Our cheeks flush, tears may prick our eyes, we want the ground to swallow us up in our humiliation. Our inner monologue of self-criticism goes into overdrive as we mentally berate ourselves. Often memories of dozens of other similar incidents ambush us. Our emotions are flooded. Welcome to the shame spiral.

Typically, we respond to shame by adopting unhelpful coping strategies. We might become defensive and lash out in anger at others, escalating our negative sense of self. Afterwards, cringing, we can find it difficult to repair our relationships. Alternatively, we numb out, by binge eating/drinking/smoking/shopping online. Whatever the particular ingredients in our personal shame cocktail, self-blame kicks in.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Enter kindfulness: Mindfulness with a pinch of self-compassion. Accepting yourself and all your flaws. Treating yourself with the empathy you would extend to your best friend. Loving yourself warts and all. Embracing imperfection. Muting (or at least lowering the volume of) your inner critic.

Padraig O’Morain, author and psychotherapist writes extensively on the topic of fostering a kindfulness practice. Here are four simple tips adapted from his newly released book kindfulness: be a true friend to yourself- with mindful self-compassion.

Apply these, to help you to harness the power of kindfulness to slay the shame monster:

1. Cultivate your capacity for self-compassion

Kindfulness can be a gradual process, and that’s okay. Try to lower your defences. Accept compassion from others and foster your compassion for those around you. Shifting to a state of self-compassion will help to nurture a new outlook.

2. How would a good friend respond?

We are much harsher on ourselves than we are on those we care about. How would you respond to a good friend faced with similar circumstances? Probably with a lot more empathy. Negate the toxicity of shame by thinking about what your best friend would say to you about your current dilemma.

3. Revel in the success of others

Comparisonitis can gnaw at our sense of self-worth. I think we have all emerged feeling diminished after a bout of lurking on social media. It can hurt to see someone else achieve a goal that we too have hankered after. We wrongly believe that we will never master similar feats ourselves. Instead, we can acknowledge a fleeting pang of envy and then wish them well on their path. Infinitely preferable to festering in jealousy or beating ourselves up.

4. Release the need to be perfect

We all slip up and make mistakes. Try to be less self-critical when you catch yourself making minor errors. Tune into what you are saying to yourself when these occur and let it go. Mistakes do not define you.

Remember that you are not alone in sometimes feeling ashamed, humiliated or embarrassed. It’s part of the human condition. However, you don’t have to linger in the quagmire. Identify your shame triggers and develop a kindfulness practice to avoid the descent into the shame spiral.

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