Episode 48: Part 2: How to Move Through Guilt and Shame with Rebecca Christianson, LCSW
Episode 48: Part 2: How to Move Through Guilt and Shame with Rebecca Christianson, LCSW
Friend of the family and friend of the podcast, Rebecca Christianson, is back with a two-part discussion on the two emotions that trip us up the most when working through PTSD: Guilt and Shame. On last week’s episode, we discussed the ways in which guilt and shame can hold us back in our recovery from PTSD. Tune into part 2 this week to discover how you can move through these feelings in order to live a more fulfilled life.
Rebecca’s website: www.rebelliouswellnesscounseling.com
David Scolari [00:23]:
Hey, hey, hey. Top of the morning, afternoon or evening, depending on where you are and when you’re listening. Light After Trauma listeners, this is David Scolari, Alyssa Scolari’s husband, editor of the podcast and all around nice guy. Alyssa Scolari forgot to record an intro for part two of her interview about guilt and shame with Rebecca Christianson, so I am just filling in here as we are rushing about, as we are about to go on vacation and we want to get these episodes out to you before we go. This is part two of the Rebecca Christianson interview, so enjoy and have a great rest of the week.
Alyssa Scolari [01:10]:
Wow. That is a very powerful workaholics, even potentially perfectionists, because when we are stuck in the perfectionism, which I used to be all the time, you have no fun. Zero fun is to be had when you are living in a world where everything has to be perfect.
Rebecca Christianson [01:31]:
Right. And Brené Brown says behind every perfectionist, there are shame messages.
Alyssa Scolari [01:38]:
Rebecca Christianson [01:40]:
Yep. And it’s interesting because I never really put that together until I learned more about shame that people will self-punish by limiting their own pleasure. And then society will punish shame. It’s used as a disciplinary action, like if the action is to boo, right, if you do that, you’ll be kicked out of the tribe. Shame is used as a disciplinary action in a lot of homes, a lot of societies, a lot of sports. If you’re not good enough, you’re kicked out. It’s used as a motivator, although ill-equipped motivator, and also as a disciplinary action.
Alyssa Scolari [02:28]:
Yeah. I didn’t even think about that, how much our society uses shame as a way to try to morph people into what we want them to be.
Rebecca Christianson [02:41]:
Yep. Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Exactly. That’s exactly right. It’s used as a disciplinary, if you don’t meet this criteria, if you don’t do things this way, then you’re cut out of the tribe. That fear of abandonment, that fear of rejection kicks in. If I’m not this way and I don’t feel this way, so I have to pretend to be this way, then you end up feeling like something’s wrong because you don’t align with that.
It’s interesting. There’s an African-American tribe, when a member of the tribe does something wrong, they put the person in the middle of this circle of all the tribe members and they all go around and tell that person something that they do right.
Alyssa Scolari [03:27]:
Oh, that’s the opposite of shame.
Rebecca Christianson [03:30]:
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And I thought that that was so interesting.
Alyssa Scolari [03:35]:
Wow. How incredibly healing is that, especially when you look at, right, when we talk about how do we treat guilt and shame, right, how do we treat these horrible, horrible emotions and have them not be so overwhelming to a person and take over the person’s world, a lot of it is about rewiring the brain and using cognitive behavioral therapy methods, which is like, “Let’s take your thoughts and let’s recreate the narrative.” Well, you have a whole tribe of people doing that, which makes it so much easier to rewire the brain.
Rebecca Christianson [04:16]:
Right. Right. And I thought that is so powerful. It really made me stop and think how I react to my own kids when they do something wrong or they do something or say something that’s hurtful, and it’s so easy to do what we’ve been taught, send a message of shame, and I thought to really be able to bring out something they have done right, how their feelings are right, how they express them might not land the way they want it to land, but to be able to show them that their feelings are valid and what they did was right, just how they did it could be better, I thought that was really interesting because you have a whole tribe of people who are validating that person so that they don’t get the shame message and they’re able to forgive themselves and they know that they have forgiveness from their tribe, right? It’s the opposite. Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Alyssa Scolari [05:19]:
I love that. That’s the complete opposite of what we do in this world, which is, God forbid you make a mistake and now it’s not even that you’re shamed, it’s you’re canceled. You as a human being, your existence on this earth, you are canceled.
Rebecca Christianson [05:37]:
Yep. You’re canceled. Right. One of the other things I learned about shame because it starts so young is it is such a deep-rooted central nervous system reaction. It sets in there so deep.
Alyssa Scolari [05:52]:
Wired in the brain and the nervous system.
Rebecca Christianson [05:58]:
A lot of it is helping them feel it. There’s this one part of treatment that talks about paying attention to people’s posture when you’re talking about their shame and helping them correct their posture as they tell you their story, because really being aware of where you feel the shame in your body is so important to treating shame, because you can rewire the brain. You can use CBT, but you have to use something that is more mind-body connected along with the CBT or you will never really fully treat the shame. One of the things that I thought was really powerful is paying attention to people’s posture as they tell you their stories. You work through their shame and helping them correct their posture as they tell you the story, and I thought that that was really interesting.
Alyssa Scolari [06:57]:
Helping them, correcting their posture in the moment, yeah, which I could see how that would be so powerful. I mean, I know just sitting in my office when people tell their story, you do watch their posture and what they would do is they curl into the fetal position, or what I would do is I would take a … My old therapist had a blanket in her office, and I would take the blanket and I would cover myself up to my shoulders, from the shoulders down in the blanket, curled in the fetal position, and yeah. I mean, I never did this in therapy, but I can think of how powerful it would be to correct that, to take the blanket off, to sit up with my shoulders back.
Rebecca Christianson [07:46]:
Yes, and talk about your shame messages. That’s a lot of CBT working with para … I can never say that word and that-
Alyssa Scolari [07:59]:
I can’t say it either. What the hell is it? Oh, the parasympathetic nervous system.
Rebecca Christianson [08:03]:
Thank you. Yes. Thank you. Yeah, thank you. I knew if I tried to say it, I would have totally [inaudible 00:08:11] that up, parasympathetic nervous system. I feel like those two working in conjunction, when you can help people correct their posture, you would have to do that slowly. You’d have to say what would it feel like if you took the blanket off. Those things are really, I think, useful tools in treating shame, and then because we really feel shame. More than we talk about it, we feel it, right?
Alyssa Scolari [08:36]:
Rebecca Christianson [08:37]:
And then Tara Brach did a lot of work in treating shame, as well. Her message is, “What is happening inside me now, and can I let this be?” When you’re talking through shame messages, to stop and say what is happening inside your body right now and can you let this be?
It reminds me of exposure therapy, when you’re doing CBT and anxiety only goes up. People feel like their anxiety is going to go … like it’s just never going to stop and their head’s going to pop off their body. That’s what it feels like, but that obviously doesn’t happen. Your anxiety only goes up to a certain point and then it-
Alyssa Scolari [09:21]:
It tapers off.
Rebecca Christianson [09:23]:
… it starts to come down, and once you realize anxiety does have a ceiling, then it feels more manageable. You can manage that anxiety, and it reminds me of this kind of work, stopping people as they’re talking through shame and helping take their blanket off and sit up straight and help them feel the shame. “What is happening in your body right now, and can you let that be?” helps, I think the same thing, realize that what’s happening in your body is not boundless.
Alyssa Scolari [09:54]:
Yes. It’s not going to kill you. It might feel like it’s going to kill you, but it’s not.
Rebecca Christianson [09:59]:
Can you let it be and can we release it? That is, I feel like, really, really powerful.
Alyssa Scolari [10:06]:
Yes. That coupled with being able to do that with a person who is safe, a therapist who is safe, who is letting you or making space for you to feel that and is not adding to it. That therapist’s calming tone and the lack of shame and the lack of guilt-inducing and the lack of judgment on the part of the therapist is so healing.
Rebecca Christianson [10:39]:
So healing. And then of course, hopefully people who do this kind of work with their therapist have an authentic attachment to that person. That is what becomes healing, is that you can trust another human with these stories, who’s going to help you move through and release the shame messages and help you be more self-compassionate and help you learn inner attunement, help you balance that. That’s really so healing, right, because your attachment. You learn to [inaudible 00:11:19] your attachments that way. You learn to how what a secure attachment feels like. You learn to know what you can expect from that, and then you learn how to process these shame messages and we rewire your brain, process and replace those shame messages. You learn to trust those new messages that are healthier and let go of the old messages all through that healthy attachment and release of shame in your body. There’s a lot of therapeutic yoga that help release some of the shame.
Alyssa Scolari [11:58]:
Yes. Yes. There is this … It’s free for the listeners out there … It’s Yoga with Adriene. She has these different types of yoga that are specifically for opening up the different parts of your body. And I did this one heart opener yoga. Oh my Lanta, what came out of me, the feelings that just released. If anybody is rolling your eyes out there at the idea of yoga to help release guilt and shame or as part of your treatment in general, don’t roll your eyes no more because go Google Yoga with Adriene and your life will be forever changed.
Rebecca Christianson [12:54]:
Actually, one of the people in our practice is a certified yoga therapist. DeAnn Mishler is a cer certified yoga therapist and she also does workshops in yoga therapy, so [crosstalk 00:13:09].
Alyssa Scolari [13:08]:
Rebecca Christianson [13:10]:
You can find her on our-
Alyssa Scolari [13:14]:
Rebecca Christianson [13:18]:
She also sees people individually for that as well. But I think that along with that, there are some meditations that therapists can use or can give and that’s so effective to do that with a therapist that you have a secure attachment to, and then you can do the meditation on your own, but to do that with somebody, to mirror that person and be with them in that shame, that is the way it’s truly healed and allows people to let go of those messages and take on more appropriate, healthier messages.
Alyssa Scolari [13:57]:
Yeah. I think it’s very important that you’ve pointed out the necessity of having a healthy attachment with the therapist, because I think, and I’ve heard the story many times before, that there are people who will go in to see a therapist and will release all of it in the first session and just spout off, “This is what happened. This is where I’m at,” and they share all of their trauma, all of their feelings, and then they leave and they never come back. And that is likely because it’s not healing to be doing that with somebody that you have not cultivated an attachment with, that you haven’t cultivated a safe relationship with. It’s very important to make sure that you are doing this work with a therapist who is safe because if not, you run the risk of re-traumatizing yourself.
Rebecca Christianson [15:01]:
Right. Exactly. There’s a quote by Dan Siegel.
Alyssa Scolari [15:06]:
I love Dan Siegel.
Rebecca Christianson [15:07]:
I know. It’s in the neural integration in the treatment of shame and it says, “It’s important to get them beneath thinking with words, thinking, thinking, thinking, and instead we want them to become present with their own internal experience beyond the need and before words.”
And I love that quote because it reminds me always, people are connected to content. That’s what I feel like … and I’m guilty of that, too. As I say all the time, every good therapist has a good therapist. And even when I am talking, I want to get all my content out, but what we know, especially in the treatment of shame, is that content isn’t important, especially in the treatment of attachment.
When we’re trying marriage therapy, everybody wants to talk about their content, but what’s important is the feeling. What’s important is what happens in your body before the words and that’s really hard to do by yourself. I think there’s a ton of books and meditations out there that people can find, but I think that’s really hard to do on your own. I think it’s so much easier to find a therapist that you trust that you can build a secure attachment with.
And then most time people don’t come in, like you said, into our office and say, “I have shame.” It’s that you have anxiety or you feel depressed, and then shame comes after you’ve built that attachment that you can start to talk about those messages, those unwanted intrusive messages that are shame messages and be able to identify them, talk about the root of them and release that.
Alyssa Scolari [16:59]:
Exactly, exactly. And it’s so much more about the shame and the guilt than it is about the content, not that your story isn’t important, not that what happened to you isn’t important, but like you said, it’s very easy, and I’m guilty of this too. I will sit down with my therapist and I will spend an hour talking about all the things that happened and not about what’s happening in my body. And in a way that itself can be a form of dissociation or a way to maintain a level of disconnectedness from your body to avoid any painful emotions.
Rebecca Christianson [17:41]:
[inaudible 00:17:41] painful emotions. That’s exactly right. And I think that one of the treatments is to develop inner attunement, and that’s what you’re talking about, to attach our content to what we’re feeling, because there’s a lot of content that makes us feel the same way. And if we can really get to the root of why we feel that way, the content doesn’t matter. We stop that shame message. We stop that high standard. We start taking some of our vacation days to self-care, and that is a sign that you’re healing from shame, that you start to take a sick day, a mental health day, a vacation day.
Alyssa Scolari [18:22]:
Set some boundaries, right?
Rebecca Christianson [18:25]:
Set boundaries. Recognize if you’re being self-critical and correct that, right, your path. I think that all helps us be more authentic and genuine. And if you’re authentic and genuine, then you have very few shame messages, because you’re able to deal with them in the moment. You’re able to reject what doesn’t sit, right. It is interesting.
I also think just for the listeners, it’s a work in progress. It’s not a work that’s done. It’s not a, “I feel anxious. Fix my anxiety.” It’s a work in progress. I think what you learn is a practice that helps you stay from attaching to shame messages. It’s a constant work in progress. I don’t think that it’s a, “Here, fix my shame and I’m all good now.” It’s that you learn tools and practices that when you feel that in your body, you’re able to inner attune, you’re able to figure out where that’s coming from and either rewrite that or right your ship or you’re able to process that and reattune, so I think it’s a work in progress. You’re always doing it.
Alyssa Scolari [19:51]:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, this was a really difficult topic to tackle, hence needing the two-part episode, because guilt and shame are just such complex emotions, but I could think of nobody better equipped to have this discussion with than you.
Rebecca Christianson [20:14]:
Alyssa Scolari [20:16]:
And thank you for coming on the show and for sharing. For the listeners out there, obviously I know you love Rebecca Christianson. Rebecca Christianson’s episodes get the most downloads. Rebecca Christianson is much loved on this podcast and fear not because we have some really great things coming for you in the future, so stay tuned for that. And yes, thank you to the listeners for tuning in and thank you, Rebecca Christianson. I appreciate it.
Rebecca Christianson [20:55]:
Thanks for having me on, and I love to talk about all these things with you. It’s always enlightening.
Alyssa Scolari [21:00]:
It’s the best.