Writing about mental health from a feminist counselling perspective
In my experience of working with shame, I’ve found that when people are first learning about it, they generally ask about how shame manifests in the body. The reason is that they’re hoping for guidance so they can begin to better identify it in themselves.
It’s such a great question because it invites a sense of curiosity and mindfulness to the experience of shame. And I’ve often said that curiosity is a great antidote to shame.
Identifying how shame shows up in your body
Before we start learning to identify how shame shows up in our bodies, we need to understand that every nervous system is different. This is something that became clear in my experience.
In my work with clients, I integrate the Somatic Experiencing approach, based on the work of Dr. Peter Levine. This is a body-oriented therapeutic model that seeks to help the nervous system get unstuck from the fight, flight, or freeze response that is activated during a traumatic or stressful situation. In this approach, we learn to ask people where they experience a sensation rather than telling them where they should be experiencing it.
So, to get started, this is what you can do when you identify that you’re feeling shame. Explore what your body feels like in that moment. Ask yourself if you might be feeling heat, tightness, closed, small, or stuck, for example. If you’re just starting to learn about identifying sensations, I have a blog post that you might want to check out. In it, you’ll find a list of words describing different body sensations: you can try them out and see if any fits.
When you identify a sensation, can you discover where in your body you feel it the most? For example, some people feel heat in their face, others might feel their throat tightening, and others might feel sharp pain in their chest. Again, these are just examples. Identifying and acknowledging shame is one of the first steps in shame resilience.
Shame as a freeze state
Shame is an intense, whole-body freeze response to a situation. This is why it’s common that people will identify body sensations that relate to feeling frozen.
When exploring your own sensations, you might have used the words frozen, stuck, fuzzy, or numb, for example. People sometimes feel so overwhelmed by shame that they become disconnected from themselves. Because of the freeze, it may be hard to find words or move into action.
This is something that can be worked on in 1:1 therapy using Somatic Experiencing techniques. But I also believe that we can learn to identify shame as it’s happening and take a step back from it by building our resilience. The way I teach my clients how to do this is by using 6 scientifically-backed tools: 1) Connection; 2) Recognizing shame; 3) Self-compassion; 4) Self-talk; 5) Accepting your limits; and 6) Contentment. If shame resilience is something you’re interested in, I invite you to check out my online course Shame Resilience Skills.
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.
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