I took my kids to the dentist finally (after avoiding it due to the pandemic) and wouldn’t you know, cavities galore. The dentist said the teeth look good on the outsides but between the teeth is where the cavities are. “Have you been flossing their teeth?” Uh. I’m bathed in guilt. But that’s just the beginning. The amount of guilt I feel daily is astounding.
I feel guilty when the dog doesn’t get his walk or wash, when the kids have too much screen time, when I don’t get the Book Club book read, when the kids sleep past eight, when I sleep past seven, when I don’t do the dishes, when I don’t cook home cooked meals, when I don’t bake cookies and when I don’t get my mammogram. Like that isn’t enough I regularly feel guilt about not doing enough: showering, meditating, working, learning new skills, reading to the kids and homeschooling. Ya, it’s a lot.
I told my spouse once that we needed to take the dog on our evening walk and he sighed (my dog can be a little high maintenance on walks, puts a bit of a damper on an otherwise relaxing affair). I said, “if we don’t take him, I’ll feel guilty because he didn’t get any exercise today.” He looked surprised. “Does that really make you feel GUILTY?” Uh, yes. Totally.
(I’m not saying that men never feel guilty because they most certainly do. It’s an interesting thought though that I seem to feel it a lot more than him. Is he able to just rinse it off like a little pollen on a windshield?)
Brené Brown actually talks about guilt a lot in her books and Ted Talks. She makes a really clear distinction about guilt vs. shame. She says:
Shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behavior.
Shame is, “I am bad.” Guilt is, “I did something bad.”
When I stopped to ponder this, it began to bubble up inside me. All of this guilt I feel, well, is it really guilt? Or shame? Brené Brown explains it again with a clean clarity:
Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.
When the dog doesn’t get a walk, I am a bad dog owner. When the kids have cavities, I am a bad mother. When my mammogram is overdue, I am clearly a fraud who can’t take care of her own body even though I preach self-love daily. I am soaking in shame.
Brené Brown also says that, “Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders.” Now I feel guilty for feeling shame! Or am I feeling shameful for feeling shame? Where does this cycle of spinning shame and guilt end?
The good news is that there is one area of my life that I used to feel a lot of shame and I no longer do. FOOD. I used to feel shame every time I ate “too many” chips, ate “too much” sugar or didn’t get enough fruits and vegetables in my diet. I had more rules about food than a hotel employee has towels to launder.
And eating that way WAS a job. It consumed me. It drove me to spend a ton on organic minimally processed groceries that I couldn’t afford, deprive myself of joyful occasions (no birthday cake for me please!) and even caused me to have major digestive issues. Slowly (by going down a rabbit hole of body positivity, then body acceptance and on to fat liberation) I was able to see the shame society had soaked me in. Society had conditioned me to believe that the way I looked was wrong, that what I ate was the cause and that it was ALL.MY.FAULT.
It was my fault for wanting to eat. (You know, that basic thing we have to do to live?) Ya, it was my fault for “wanting” to do that (insert eye roll). It was my fault for losing control around food. (By the way, there is an infamous study mentioned frequently to support the idea of “sugar addiction” where lab rats lose control around sugar. Turns out the only way researchers could get the rats to lose control was to limit their caloric intake substantially. In other words, they only lost control around sugar when they were HUNGRY. And I’m pretty sure it was more like HANGRY at that point! Read more about this in Christy Harrison’s book, Anti-Diet)
Once I saw the murky water I was swimming in (ie. society), I was able to take a step back and start retraining myself to eat what was right for my body. I was able to quit obsessing over food and remove those arbitrary labels of “bad,” “forbidden” or “off limits” when it came to food. Now, shockingly, I don’t feel out of control around food.
Don’t believe me? I bought those super crunchy, yummy, kettle chips from Costco in a huge bag. I ate them everyday! For about three days. The whole time soaked in the knowledge that I could enjoy them without guilt. Then I sort of forgot they were there. Eventually my family and I finished off the bag. All good. No biggie. No shame.
So, can I use those same concepts to let go of shame in other areas of my life? Absolutely.
Marketing specialist and super cool soul Kelly Diels supports the idea that shame comes from social constructs that have nothing to do with ourselves. For instance, she talks about not being able to fit into jeans (at all in her case). She said she felt a lot of shame for not being able to fit into jeans for a long time but then she thought, I didn’t make the jeans to not fit people with my body type, why should I feel bad about it? Now that’s some acid-washed insight!
According to Brené Brown the detergent that works best to remove those awful shame stains is vulnerability. So here I am, sharing my shame. Scary but necessary. When we become vulnerable, we invite others into our world where we can create a community. In community with each other we can share those shameful thoughts and realize that we are not alone. Community is about LOVE. When we love each other and lift each other up, shame gets washed away.
I notice that sometimes my students feel bad when they miss a class or have been absent from the studio for a while. I try to never shame them or try to make them feel guilty. Why? Because I know guilt isn’t a motivator (and it feels ICKY). Instead, I want LOVE to bring them back.
They come to class because they LOVE seeing the other yogis in the room. They come back because they LOVE the way they feel when class is over. They LOVE the ritual way we begin and end that makes class feel more like a ceremony than exercise. They love that they get a whole hour to leave everything else behind and just focus on their own self: mind, body and spirit. They love that they get five minutes, maybe the only five minutes they will get all day, to just lay down and rest. Where no one expects them to do anything, produce anything, solve anything, fold anything or clean anything. Just rest.
It comes down to love. I don’t want to take the dog for a walk to avoid shame. I want to take him for a walk because I love the way his whole lower half shakes when I get the leash out. I want to cook because my six year old still loves picking out groceries and “helping” in the kitchen. I want to go to yoga because I love the way it makes me feel. I want to live a life free of shame where I might mess up sometimes but that doesn’t dictate who I AM. Where I can wash away society’s standards and live more freely with less guilt, less sadness and who knows, maybe even less cavities.
Read my thoughts on yoga, teaching, parenting and everything in between. Shout out to Tiffany Stewart for help with the writing.