Hello Shame Spiral, My Old Friend: The warning signs that I need rest and space to reflect

A couple of weeks ago I came off a virtual meeting. There was a delay and the sound dropped in and out. I should have raised awareness of this or sat back and kept quiet, instead I kept trying to contribute and ended up talking over everyone. This is rude and a trait of mine that I’m super aware of at the best of times. Sometimes I have so many thoughts I just have to articulate them to process and this comes across as super domineering and is especially not good for the introverts around the table. I struggle with it and I try every day to be better, it’s just I fail more frequently than I’d like.

This post isn’t actually about that though. It’s about the fact that I hung up on the call, sat on my sofa and cried. I then engaged in panicked reaching out for reassurance, which just makes everything worse. When I hit this point its usually a warning sign that I’m a) not well or b) so tired I’m not functioning well. It results in me wanting to ostrich and run away from interactions with anyone but my most trusted. Crucially it also stops me being able to self reflect, take the learning and move on in a balanced way.

When I am strung out like this I get stuck on feelings and can’t process enough to really engage with unbiased evaluation. To me that’s what a shame spiral is, the inability to evaluate and therefore move onto the other sections of the reflective cycle. Therefore preventing real learning from the scenario to take place.

Its taken me a long time to see these warning signs in myself. To know when I’m wallowing in self recrimination rather than self reflection.

I sometimes wonder if it’s just me that does this, goes through this, reacts in this way? I don’t wish this on anyone else but in many ways I’m hoping I’m not alone. On the off chance that the Shame Club isn’t a party of one I thought I would talk about it and share some of the things that I’ve learnt to help me deal.

Break the Cycle

The first thing I need to do is to find a way to stop the spiral. Part of the reason for me writing this post is that the writing of it will support the processing. It will help me to move past feeling to evaluation and to put the incident into context. I need to stop relieving the moment and get to the point where I have distance to evaluate and learn.

Now sometimes I need more of a break than others to let this happen. For me as my spirals are often triggered by tiredness, just the process of getting some sleep can enable me to look on things with fresh eyes. If I can concentrate enough a good book can transport me enough, so can a complete change of scene such as a walk/bubble bath/run. Shame spirals were one of the reasons I took up running, I’m so bad at it all I can do is focus on taking one step after another and it breaks the thought process.

Get a Reality Check

Once I’ve broken my descent it’s key for me to really undertake an evaluation step. Was it really as bad as I felt? Was anyone hurt by what I did? What are the ramifications? Is it just my imposter syndrome screaming at me that I should be seen and not heard? This is where checking in with others is more useful. If I do it too early I can only hear the response through the lens of shame. If I get feedback at this point I am able to put it in context and therefore it’s more useful in terms of evaluating what my next steps should be. This process is the start of me regaining some balance.

Own it and Embrace the Learning

No one is perfect! I know we all know this but for me there’s is a gaping chasm between knowing this and feeling/accepting it. I am super aware of my flaws (I mean I bet there are ones I don’t know about, but the ones I’m aware of loom big in my mind). When I mess up, especially linked to a flaw I know I have, I feel the failure of it strongly. There’s no point in ignoring it however, the main thing is for me to acknowledge the failure or ‘not being my best self’ and try to learn from it.

The big thing for me is to try to work with the incident and take learning from that, separating out my emotions. For instance: I talked over someone in a meeting, I should apologise for it, try to be even more aware of that tendency and do it less in the future. The key thing here for me is to commit to reduction rather than setting myself up for future failure. I will do X less, I will do Y better. I acknowledge this is an interative process and that development takes time and continuous improvement.

I also try to work out the triggers for whatever the incident was and therefore consider if there’s anything I can do to support it not reoccurring in future. For instance I’m more likely to fail when I’m tired or unwell. I’m more likely to spiral as a result of that failure if I’m, you’ve guessed it, tired or unwell. The key learning therefore is that I need to take better care of myself, or identify earlier before the failure that I’m not in the best place.

I’m hoping that by hooking my responses and thought process onto the Gibbs reflective cycle that it will support visualisation of the steps I find helpful and might give you a framework if you ever have similar issues to use as a framework to help you through.

Also, let’s all remember:

  • Life is learning
  • Perfection is not all that interesting
  • We are often our own biggest critics

All opinions on this blog are my own

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