How to stop shame spirals in their tracks
When emotions run high, and it feels like you’re stuck on a slippery downward slope, follow these tips to find balance again
It’s something that a lot of us may have experienced, and the result can be a knocked sense of self-confidence, and ongoing feelings of anxiety. When it comes to shame spirals, what may have begun as a small issue – e.g. being late for a meeting – can escalate into something much bigger as you begin to berate yourself to an excessive degree.
“A shame spiral happens when we get stuck on a negative event, and instead of letting go, we hold on to it, meaning negative thoughts grow from it, increasing its significance,” says counsellor Chris Mounsher. “It can mean we shift our thinking from ‘I made a mistake,’ to ‘I am a mistake.’”
So, if you find yourself in the midst of a shame spiral, what steps can you take to break free?
1. Understand the shame
“The first step in stopping the shame spiral is being aware that it’s happening,” says Chris. “When you feel yourself being triggered, pay attention to what’s going on. Think about what has happened, and how the single event that triggered things has grown into something much bigger. Be aware of the common thoughts that come up when you feel shame, as these will help you spot the pattern in the future.”
Once you’ve established these patterns, and learned to recognise your triggers, you can approach these with the self-knowledge that you need to respond to them accordingly. Plus, you can choose to take a step back if you think something is going to become triggering.
2. Be mindful
The practise of mindfulness can help us with a whole host of mental health experiences, and Chris recommends tapping into these skills when it comes to dealing with shame spirals.
"What’s important is the active choice to do something positive when you feel like being angry at yourself"
“Staying in the moment can help slow your mind down and halt runaway thoughts. Try to pause, and pay attention to what’s happening. Ask yourself what you’re feeling right now, and what messages you’re telling yourself. Get in touch with your body, and sense that it’s trying to keep you safe. Slow your breathing and sit down, concentrate on the feeling of the ground beneath you. This will help you to feel more grounded.”
3. Be compassionate
“A shame spiral focuses on feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, and encourages you to blame and criticise yourself. Being compassionate is a vital part in redressing the balance,” says Chris. “When you’re about to berate yourself, hold in mind what is happening, and remember that you are allowed to give yourself a break.”
As Chris recommends, try doing something you enjoy, or which harnesses positive feelings towards yourself – such as repeating supportive affirmations, journaling about your feelings, or engaging in your favourite self-care activity.
“What’s important is the active choice to do something positive when you feel like being angry at yourself,” says Chris.
4. Reach out to others
Calling on your support system during difficult times can be hugely beneficial, particularly when you’re experiencing a shame spiral and need to be reminded of the reality.
“Shame is an incredibly lonely place, but you are not alone,” says Chris. “Many people feel the same way, and there is more support than you imagine.”
Chris points to a quote from Brené Brown, who said: “Shame cannot survive being spoken.”
“Find someone you trust and tell them how you’re feeling,” he advises. “Talking with a trusted person will give you a fresh perspective on what’s happening, which will challenge the spiral’s negative views.”
To connect with a counsellor like Chris to discuss shame spirals or negative thought patterns, visit counselling-directory.org.uk