Shame spirals always start with self-judgment.

Maybe you do something you’re not proud of, or a thought or emotion comes up that feels threatening. Sometimes a trigger will set it off. But the result is you begin doubting yourself big time. As the shame spiral progresses, you find yourself questioning your every move and motive. Suddenly you’re questioning your very being. Feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred set in.

Sound familiar? If you’ve experienced a shame spiral before, you know how paralyzing they can be. Feelings of shame are hard enough to manage on their own at times, but a shame spiral occurs when constant feelings of shame spin us out of control. The bottom of this spiral looks different for everybody, but it can result in a panic attack, over or undereating, withdrawing from others, a depressive episode, or even self-harming thoughts and behaviors.
When shame spirals hit, they keep us stuck. They limit us and prevent us from moving forward by convincing us that we’re out of options. They give us feelings of hopelessness and the belief that nothing will solve our problems because we are the problem.

The key to stopping a shame spiral is to catch it early before it really gets going. To do this, it helps to map out what your shame spirals typically look and feel like. If you don’t know how your shame spirals start, begin with mapping what the bottom is like and work your way back from there:

·         What happens when you’ve reached the bottom? What thoughts, feelings, and behaviors show you that your shame spiral has reached a critical point?
·         Right before you’ve hit the bottom, what signs in your body show you that you’re almost to that point? Which muscles may feel tense or numb? Do you feel shaky or out of breath? Is your mind racing or going blank?
·         Taking a step up the spiral from there, what thoughts, emotions, and sensations are you experiencing? Are you more or less talkative? Are you just beginning to feel anxious or depressed?
·         Then at the top of your spiral: how do you know when you’re just beginning to feel a sense of shame? Are you more irritable? Do you get a sinking sensation in your chest or start focusing on a specific thought such as, “I shouldn’t be this way.”
Once you map out your shame spirals, it takes practice catching them early and discovering which methods give you some relief. The earlier you catch it, the faster you can take a break, recharge, call a friend, get some sleep, or do something else to help soothe or distract yourself until you’re in a better frame of mind.
When you’re not in a shame spiral, it’s so much easier to return to the original issue and begin problem-solving. It’s easier to think and consider your options. You can figure out what in the situation you can control vs. what you can’t control and make a plan from there.
For an extra activity you can use to decrease shame, try this short, 5-minute meditation on extending loving kindness to self and others: 5-minute meditation
 Written by: Summer Greenlee, LPC