Antidote to shame: Building a self-compassion practice

Shame is an epidemic. I consider it the most toxic substance to ever plague human beings. Shame is an age-old concept and features prominently in the Christian religion: shame is the result of humans’ eating forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

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Shame can feel so repugnant that we want to get rid of it, which means inflicting it on others, even our children. Though unfortunate, it’s understandable we would react this way–try to get rid of shame. Hot potato. No one wants to hold onto it. Yet casting our shame onto others does not decrease our own level of shame; in fact, it may increase our shame. Something we try to rid ourselves of that infects others and intensifies our own suffering? That’s why I consider shame the most toxic aspect of humanity.

There is hope. Shame doesn’t have to be permanent. There is a “cure”: Building a self-compassion practice is the antidote to shame.

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There is no “one way” to build a self-compassion practice. It must be tailored to the individual’s needs. Kristin Neff is the reigning expert of self-compassion (in the same way that Brene Brown is the noted expert on shame and vulnerability). Dr. Christopher Germer authored a mindfulness approach to self-compassion from a Buddhist-psychology perspective that may appeal to those with PTSD.

Regardless of the method chosen, building self-compassion requires a lot of introspection. This is not something many people in Western societies are comfortable with. In fact, I read a study that revealed most people would rather self-administer a potentially painful electric shock than be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Dr. Germer’s book takes the sting out of being alone with your thoughts by reasserting frequently that there are no ways to incorrectly build your self-compassion practice and many ways to tailor an effective practice.

The biggest barrier I am encountering so far in building my practice with Dr. Germer’s approach is my perfectionism. I worry that I am doing it wrong–that there is a wrong way and I will find that wrong way. This is part of my programming and dates back decades. So Dr. Germer’s frequent reminders of how to build a self-compassion practice to relieve worry and make life easier is helping me immensely.

“Let it be easy” has become my new mantra.

Take the time to practice his meditations, be honest with myself (as opposed to trying to be right), and trust myself. This relieves a lot of my perfectionist worrying. This letting myself off the hook is itself a form of self-compassion because I am not judging my perfectionism. It makes sense I would want to do everything right. I don’t want more things to go wrong in a life that has had suffering. Do you feel the same way about your life? Being myself and accepting my tendencies without judgment is liberating.

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That word “acceptance” is going to also factor strongly in building a self-compassion practice. Maybe acceptance is the antidote to perfectionism in a similar way that self-compassion is the antidote to shame.

Building a self-compassion practice is taking a lot of time, and I am willing to make that investment because the potential long-term emotional benefits are staggering. Think about it: the rest of my life to be easier on myself, increase acceptance, and decrease suffering. I am willing to scale barriers to attempt this.

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