Ever done something that leaves you wishing you could sink into a hole in the ground? Turn back the clock and do it again – but differently? Shame, embarrassment, guilt ... sticky and unrelenting, ruminating and obtrusive. Yes, we are all aware that as human beings we are not “perfect”, that we make choices that sometimes end up with less than desirable results and consequences. But when we find ourselves in the thick of it, it can be hard to keep that perspective. Here are a few ideas to help us through those inevitable times.
1. Be your own Best Friend. I know it might sound corny, but it works. Imagine your BF comes to you with this situation. What do you say to him/her to make them feel better and to help them move ahead? We are often far kinder to others and are able to see a situation as far less catastrophic when it happens to someone else.
2. Remorse/ Regret, as opposed to Guilt/ Shame. We don’t have to deny that we behaved in a way that was less than our best, shining moment – but laying a guilt and shame trip on ourselves doesn’t usually help and can sometimes end up in our repeating the behaviour again. Some of our best learning moments happen in the most uncomfortable of situations if only we take the time to really look deeply, gently and non-judgementally. In other words, acceptance of our whole self can lead to appropriate responses to unhelpful (or harmful) behaviour, as opposed to self-denigration, which leads to inappropriate responses and may produce further destructive behaviour.
3. Rumination (aka – the hamster wheel). Not only do we regret doing the behaviour once, but then we punish ourselves by making ourselves re-live it over and over and over again! Perhaps the idea is that if we punish ourselves enough and feel enough shame, we are then worthy of our forgiveness? Personally, I can’t say this has ever worked for me. Ruminating feels obsessive, uncontrollable and unhealthy. Instead, this seems like a better time to re-direct our attention to something else; a book, a movie, exercise, a personal interaction, housework – anything to disengage the ruminating. This is not to be confused with avoidance. We may return to thinking about the situation when our mind is in a better space that will allow for more adaptive processing and the opportunity for producing more adaptive behaviour.
Of course, there are situations that may feel especially heavy, complex and dire. Those situations may need professional help and a greater amount of time to work through. If you, or someone you know is struggling and feeling stuck, please know that help is available and that you are worthy of feeling better again.