What is Gottman Method Relationship Therapy & What to Expect When We Work Together
The one thing you need for New Year’s resolution success is: Be KIND to yourself. Grace and compassion activate and fuel the course of any positive changes we ever make. No-one ever changes from shame. Yet, often, it’s shame that we feel when considering making needed changes – even ones that will benefit our health and our futures.
It’s important to realize that the sensation of shame in the body is one of the most paralyzing experiences we humans can have. No one changes from shame because it completely shuts us down.
Shame is the emotion that loves to lie. It implies rejection on a giant order of magnitude. It says something like “if others knew the real me, or if others knew what I’m hiding, they would never like or accept me.”
Many of us have shame messages embedded within our psyches from family and culture. These are thoughts or body-based beliefs which can even seem helpful, since they point out needs for improvement. They aren’t helpful, though – just toxic.
In fact, they actually produce stress hormones which are literal neurotoxins in our brains. In the presence of high levels of stress hormones, we go into fight, flight or freeze. When levels are extremely high or last too long, we simply stall out. We’ll fail to take the action steps our “shame-brains” designed for us.
We can recognize these shame messages because they often begin with “should.” I should lose weight. I should stop drinking. I should finish my project . . .etc . ” Think about how both “should” and “shame” begin with the same sound – “sh,” and don’t “should” on yourself!
Instead, try to give yourself messages of open loving acceptance. “I’m valuable and really enjoy healthy cooking for myself; I relish the feelings of strength and energy I get from moving my body; the future “me” deserves the extra money I’m saving, etc.”
Gentle, tender thoughts toward yourself will soothe your body. Energy will arise from a calmer more peaceful and loving place within you.
As you’ve been scrolling social media over New Year’s, maybe you’ve been having “should thoughts” about making resolutions for major life changes. Take a moment and ponder one of the resolutions you’re thinking of. Notice what you feel in your body as you contemplate the issue. Do you feel gripped by negative emotions, dread or self-loathing, for example? These feelings are coming from the stress hormones elicited by the shaming nature of the thought.
Our own shaming self-talk is experienced by our brain-stems as if some other person were actually yelling at us. It’s as if a bully were screaming right at you, “You are so lazy!! You should get moving!!” Our brainstems are too primitive to tell whether the message is coming from us or someone outside of us. We’ll just register the grip of shame and the fear of rejection it brings.
This experience going on inside us can be quite distressing. Our stress hormone levels will rise. Our adrenal glands will send cortisol and adrenaline into our bloodstreams to prep us for fight, flight or freeze, and our ability to see ourselves from an open loving perspective will be lost. Then we’ll likely just go into “freeze mode” and stay stuck.
On the other hand, when pondering a desired change that’s based in healthy self-nurture, or messages of grace, (“You’re worth all the delicious rewards of your success. You can do this! One step at a time!”) you may notice feelings of energized excitement and anticipation. You may feel open to a flood of ideas about how to implement the change. You may desire to research options, join a community of like-minded people, and make a concrete plan to take action. As you continue nurturing your desire with messages of positive acceptance, you’ll continue to fuel the change with energy in its direction. It’ll be easier and natural to set aside time to exercise or meal-plan or take yourself off of social media to focus on your new creative project.
One study shows that dieters, when given a message of acceptance and grace after a moment of weakness, (ex.”most people cheat every now and then with no lasting consequences. You’ll be fine, and should be successful at losing weight,”) did lose weight, in contrast to others who were not given any such soothing message. Those who didn’t hear reassurance from another person were left to stew in their own shaming self-talk after giving into temptation. And, not surprisingly, they stalled out on weight-loss goals.
You can learn about this study and other ways to hack your own ability to make positive changes in the book The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal PhD.
The take-away is clear. Nobody changes from shame. We all need grace and acceptance and the soothing to our bodies those feelings bring. When we know we’re loved “as is,” then we’re free to grow and change our lives in positive directions.
When you think about all that you accomplished in 2018, it’s likely that you survived some very tough stuff. You may even have made headway in some of your major life goals, and you can keep going! Your previous positive changes will stimulate new ones, as you ponder them with pride. Think back with good thoughts, and put that self-appreciation on to fuel the fire of your next step!