The Shame of the Shoulds’ & the Shit Storm That Follows
So I’ve found myself on struggle street. I have been feeling rather lost on this dark and gloomy street and google maps keeps re-calibrating on me.
The whirlwind of the year that has been 2018, swept me up and I had been so busy chasing my tail I didn’t really notice how much it was affecting me.
That was until I felt like I hit the ground hard a couple of weeks ago.
I am really good at recognising someone when someone is struggling, even when their brave face mask is on, but acknowledging and accepting that I’m not doin’ too great, well that I’m not so good at.
The inner care giver in me wants to wrap myself up in a loving cuddle and remind myself to be kind.
I can hear her saying, You have taken a mighty leap going back to Uni full time darling girl, trying to keep your business running, keeping up my hours in the ambulance and attempting not to completely drop the ball as a mum, wife, friend and daughter. Take a minute to appreciate all that you have done this year.
But truth is I have not been kind to myself.
My inner mean girl , who is louder and far bossier than my inner care giver, has not looked at my lack of self-care compassionately but instead has whispered more than once that I really should know better.
My Bitchy McBitch Face inner critic has told me I am a hypocrite and am not practising what I preach when it comes to self-care, sleep and connection.
And most cringe worthy of all, what I am most ashamed to admit in this whole situation, is that my body image has taken a hit. A big hit.
The beautiful Brene Brown talks about how guilt is feeling that you have done something wrong and shame is feeling like you (as a person) are wrong.
Here I am, preaching body positivity and loving your body exactly as it is right now all the while having some seriously dark thoughts about this incredible body of mine.
It brings me so much shame that it makes my heart race to think of all of you Wonder Women learning my secret.
I have had that inner dialogue on repeat that I ‘should’ be able to overcome my negative self-talk. I mean I help women going through body image struggles and I know that I can only take someone as far as I have gone myself.
That’s when the vortex starts. That spiral down so quickly it feels like at any moment someone could pull the plug and I’d go.
The shame of the shoulds’ and the shitstorm that follows.
I went to see my Uni counsellor a couple of weeks ago. I was sick of telling myself that I ‘should’ know better. That I have all the tools to help others so I ‘should’ use them on myself. That I just need to get through a stressful time of year and I’ll be good.
Thankfully with a little gentle push from my sister I decided that maybe I was worthy of asking for help after all. I have this incredible service there for me to use, and my shame from all my ‘shoulds’ is a terrible reason not to bite the bullet.
In my initial appointment, between tears I managed to get my ‘I should know better story’, ‘I should have this figured out’ and ‘I should practice what I preach’.
He said to me Kate imagine we are both on our mountains. It’s not like because I am a psychologist I am at the top of my mountain and you are at the bottom of yours. From where I stand on my mountain, I can see things on your mountain that you can’t and vice versa. Just because you are in a helping profession doesn’t mean you don’t need some help once in a while.
Instantly the first shame layer got peeled off me when he described that analogy.
He is teaching me acceptance and commitment therapy or ACT. The basic idea is that it is completely normal to experience all the thoughts and emotions, even when they feel awful. By accepting this is just life and it’s all part of the incredible tapestry that makes this life so wonderful the sting of these awful feelings isn’t so poisonous.
Without sadness, we couldn’t appreciate happiness, without fear we can’t understand bravery and without heartache love isn’t nearly so sweet.
So in an act of self-love I am putting all my cards out on the table. Thanks Brene B for your beautiful quote
“Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect”.
And my goodness does the universe know that radical self-love is one of my deepest desires.
When those cards are on the table, I don’t feel so trapped by the shame of ‘shoulds’. Shame loses its power when it’s illuminated, even when it does put my stomach in knots to do so.
Of course we all ride the roller coaster of body image. We all have good days and not so good days.
Days where we are the shiz nizle and days where even our favourite outfit doesn’t cut the mustard.
And that’s perfectly OK.
You would have to be a hermit, living in cave, never looking at any type of media or having any conversations with anyone to be exempt from negative thoughts about our bodies.
So now a few weeks into my counselling sessions, rather than trying to fight the horrible body thoughts and getting sucked into that shame spiral, I’m just letting them be.
Just acknowledging them, making space for the discomfort, because I know this too shall pass.
Have they gone? Most definitely not. But they have certainly lost some of their sting. They have lost their power and I know they don’t define me, even if I had temporarily forgotten that.
I am pretty chuffed with myself for this insight if I do say so myself. Before I jumped on the body love, HAES, Intuitive Eating train four years ago, these thoughts would have been ‘fixed’ by hitting up weight watchers or cutting out gluten or not eating before 11 and after 6.
Now my approach is far kinder. Self-care, not self-control. What can I do to make my body feel loved today? That’s the beauty of this paradigm, you lead with love always.
Not with ‘shoulds’, or needs to but how can I look after myself today. My mind and my body and my spirit.
I know how incredible this body of mine is, even if I do struggle with how it looks from time to time.
I know that when I am feeling out of control in my life (insert exams, financial stress, kid’s pushing boundaries, mummy guilt, Christmas, whatever else I can find to overthink) my body image is the first thing that takes a hit.
It’s habitual for me for want to be in control again and historically I have done that by controlling my food and body.
It’s a bit like my children who I always adore but drive me bonkers at times, and just like my kiddlets I will always love my body even if I don’t always like it.
So when in doubt Wonder Woman, ask for the help.
Show your vulnerability if you feel brave and see how cathartic it feels. Try giving some space to those thoughts you have been trying to suppress and accepting they are just there.
They are not good, not bad but simply just there.