Shame and Motivation
I was speaking with a friend recently about a certain habit she has that she doesn't really want to stop engaging in, but feels like she should for several reasons, first and foremost because it causes her a great deal of physical pain.
I shared with her that I too used to engage in this activity, and had a hard time shaking it. After discussing the tips and tricks I used to stop the behavior, we hit upon the reason that I feel is central to why it was so hard for me to stop: shame. It was something that I knew I shouldn't do because I believed that other people would think badly of me. It was a secret, and having a secret no matter how big or small, is powerful. Doing something I know would be frowned upon or judged? It is the most powerful lure; so powerful, very often, I don't even make a game of wanting to resist. I rush boldly into its dark murky depths, reveling in the badness of my behavior.
The rush of shame mixed with the satisfaction the activity provides is a cocktail that I take straight up as often as I can, until I become so self-destructive that I have to look at the cost-benefit ratio to determine if it is really time to stop. Truthfully, by the time I am looking at a cost-benefit ratio, it is long passed the time where I should have stopped and right around the time that my behavior is about to cost me permanently.
If I want to get rid of any behavior, any activity that I participate in that I feel badly about, I have to change my feelings around that behavior.* In essence, it is not the behavior itself that is pulling me, but my feelings around it.
This is the essence of embracing my sludge, my filth, my grime. It is all good, but I tend to judge myself and others for it, when the behavior is really a natural part of my life. Short of harming myself or another, there is no good and bad, just things people do.** The sooner I can release my intense feelings around my behaviors, the less power those behaviors have over me.
For many years, I struggled with sugar. I would binge, then quit, then binge, then quit, my blood sugar and anxiety going up and down with where I was in my "cycle of sick and shaky" (literally sick to my stomach from binge eating sugar or shaky in a sugar crash). It wasn't until I stopped viewing sugar as bad, and my desire for it as evil that I could actually go through life treating it like it was just another thing. Now, sugar is a thing I eat only when I want it, and only until I don't want anymore. In fact, I can very often be heard at work, proclaiming proudly, "I am eating cake, everyone!!" It is all part of coming out of the sugar closet. I have embraced it, brought it out into the light, and now, it really doesn't control me.
Is there anything in your life that you keep in the closet? Anything that you feel shame around that keeps you chained to it? Reconsider your feelings toward the behavior, and your feelings about yourself regarding that behavior. Love yourself because of that behavior, not in spite of it. The sooner you stop seeing any of your traits as flaws, the sooner you stop seeing your behavior as bad, the sooner you will know freedom.
*This statement does not apply to physical addiction, which is a whole other issue which I do not have the chops to comment or advise on.
**This phrase is taken from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
Wondering what that "habit" was at the beginning of this post? That is the power of shame, the power of a secret. It is seductive and exciting and often, quite destructive. The habit of which I speak happens to be a pretty boring, typical habit that would disappoint you if I disclosed it. Which is the power of disclosure. It frees you from the anxiety around it. Lesson learned?
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