Jane Bolton Psy.D., M.F.T.,

Your Zesty Self


Shame Release and Buddhism

One Buddhist perspective on how to ease shame, increase self-esteem

Posted Apr 10, 2010

I'm taking a course of study that includes training to assist people who are dying and their grieving families and friends. Part of the study includes study of Buddhist practices for the dying and dead. I was delighted to find material for dealing with feelings of shame in the book If the Buddha Got Stuck: A Handbook for Change on a Spiritual Path by Charlotte Kasl. Below I add to, subtract from and rearrange many of steps she mentions to help "ease" the feelings of shame.

While the experience of shame can be an excruciating personal experience, it usually interferes with relational harmony too. When we are self-focused on the pain that shame arouses, we are not present to others, who can feel abandonned or lonely in our presence.

1. Recognize it. Name it. Observe it.
When you start to feel depleted, inferior, not good enough, defective that's shame. Learn to recognize its energy. Merely naming it makes it less intense. (Just as naming anything, say the beauty of the sunset, compressed into "sunset" makes it less intense.)

Then look back and see what happened (you lost a job, didn't get a return call, some form of what feels like rejection, etc. ) or what you said to yourself, (I never get it right, no one will ever love me because I'm too old, etc.) right before feeling the shame.

2. Realize or remind yourself that YOU are not the feeling of shame. You are much bigger than any feeling. You contain the feelings. You also contain, joy, peace, love, etc. All of the feelings are temporary; you are not stuck in any feeling; they pass by.

3. Take a nurturing stance toward yourself. You can say something to yourself like, "This feeling is hurtful, toxic, intrusive! I learned to feel this way when I was abused, left, hurt, shamed, teased, neglected, scolded, or not allowed to voice my thoughts or feelings.

4. Think of what you haven't done for yourself because of your shame and commit to doing it anyhow. I'm thinking of one musician client who felt shame for something hurtful she had done to her husband while performing. She then stopped performing for six months until she recommitted to her growth. She's now cutting CDs. And her husband is happy with her.

5. Work against the tendency to hide and isolate yourself. Shame often leads us to withdraw from the very human closeness we want and need. So instead of allowing yourself to pull back from contact, reach out and call someone you know you can count on to be understanding.

Kasl recommends keeping a list of those understanding people by the phone because in a shame state "you will probably forget that you have any friends."

5. Practice in your imagination some alternative responses to shameful situations. Here are some examples.
Please ask me for what you want, rather than tell me what I didn't give you.
This conversation isn't feeling good to me right now, so I'm going to hang up.
That sounds like a shaming statement, did you meant to do that?
Would you mind telling me what you meant by that?

6. Avoid arguing with shaming opinions about you. If someone says, "That dress makes you look fat," if you agree, say something like, "I was afraid it might, but I just felt like wearing blue." Or, if you don't agree, "Really? (laughing at your own joke) You have no idea how fat I'd really look without the dress on."

To see more about Dr. Bolton, go to www.DrJaneBolton.com