I have spent years studying how fear takes root in the body, in myself and others. I know personally how it keeps us small.
In recent weeks I have experienced a resurgence of paralyzing anxiety attacks. I’m not talking about little heart palpitations or a wave that goes away. I’m talking full on, heart constricting, body dripping in sweat, feeling cold and clammy, complete nervous system shut down, attacks.
Sometimes the wave passes fairly quickly. Other times it’s a complete shutdown of the dorsal-vagal system. This is the “freeze” aspect of the “fight-flight-freeze” response.
I have struggled with this periodically for my life.
Only recently did I learn that what I thought was panic attacks could actually be a shame attack.
Despite years of meditation and mindfulness practice, practicing and teaching self-care and rest, I continue to experience these episodes, and the shame that both precipitates them and follows them.
Each time this has happened in recent years, I have heard a voice tell me that I can’t share my work and my programs because “clearly, they don’t work.”
And, therefore, that makes me a fraud.
This time, I’m calling bullshit on that inner critic. That voice is wrong, for 3 reasons:
First, it’s wrong because when these attacks happen, it’s my rituals that bring me back. It’s my rituals that help me through.
Second; I know that my experiences with these dark moments do not disqualify me from what I teach and how I serve. In fact, they make me MORE qualified to do the work I do.
Third, it’s wrong because I’ve learned that panic attacks and shame spirals happen to the best and brightest.
In fact, the best and brightest experience them much more than anyone talks about.
And that’s part of the problem:
Silence on this topic creates a vacuum, so that when we experience these things we feel alone. We believe there’s something wrong with us.
And we don’t talk about it because we fear the consequences if people find out: they’ll think we are weak, or incompetent, or unfit for our work.
Shame loves when we don’t talk about it. It thrives in the silence, blooms in the darkness, and nourishes itself in the shadow.
Knowing this gives us the medicine that can free us from shame’s grip: to defeat shame we must bring it into the light.
Exposing it, naming it, and talking about it weaken its grip. This is how to set ourselves free.
shame thrives in silence
dare to speak weaken its grip
and set yourself free