A couple of weekends ago, I was looking for inspiration to build on my last blog post about living brave. I wanted to share more with you about the construct of an arena and how my blogging arena (specifically, Instagram) creates interesting opportunities for me to call on my courage.
I couldn’t find an ounce of inspiration. I couldn’t get my mind in that place where ideas flow and everything just comes together.
So I decided to give myself permission to wait.
I took a nap.
And it was as good as you remember.
When I woke up to the sound of Benji howling from his crib, I felt mostly the same. Still somewhat un-inspired, but trying patiently to wait for a light bulb to go on in my head.
Recognize That We Tell Ourselves Stories
While Benj ate his lunch, I hopped on Instagram for a minute. I was immediately pulled into someone’s profile and their recent visit to Utah, where I live.
“How is she so good at finding the cutest locations to take photos?” I thought.
Three photos later and I immediately felt inadequate. I’ve been in those same areas of Salt Lake City and have never just happened upon the perfect little house with colorful fall leaves and the perfect family outfits to match.
I pictured her on a family drive, the kind that’s portrayed in car commercials with nostalgic music playing, and then conveniently taking her newborn baby and toddler out of the car to snap a few photos, courtesy of her professional-grade photographer husband. The kids, of course, behaving like angels.
Everything about her photo seemed perfect and effortless, even the fact that she looked like her pre-baby self and was only one month postpartum.
See how we tell ourselves stories?
I was sucked down quick into this shame spiral.
Suddenly, I was telling myself shaming things like, “If you don’t figure out how to make your photos and your life look like this, you don’t belong on Instagram,” or “Who do you think you are? You’ll never look that good no matter how hard you try. People like her are worthy of love and admiration. Not people like you.”
Everything in my life instantly became my excuse for why I don’t have what that person appeared to have.
- Instead of being grateful for my generous, loving husband, I was blaming him in my mind for not being a husband who loves to take photos and is willing to make his whole world exist for my Instagram success.
- Instead of being grateful for my miracle IVF baby, I was frustrated that he’s a busy toddler, making photo-taking anything but easy on me.
- Instead of being grateful for my full-time job that has brought so many incredible blessings to my life, including my IVF baby, it became the number one reason why my blog and Instagram haven’t exploded.
And, wait for it… Then came the shaming thoughts of recognizing how pathetic I was for thinking these things in the first place. This realization didn’t help me “snap out of it.” It only made me go deeper into shame.
I wanted to disappear.
The warm wash of shame spilled over my chest and stomach. When I’m in shame, I feel it at the top of my diaphragm, through my lungs and even the back of my throat. My heart pounds heavily.
The thoughts that accompany shame for me are ugly and critical and super distorted. They don’t align with who I am, what I value or who I want to be.
But this is what shame does to us.
The fear that we’re not worthy of connection causes us to buy into the messages of “not enough” (scarcity) and the messages about who we are “supposed to be” to be worthy of the connection we seek.
Shame gives us tunnel vision and causes overconsumption of Kit Kats and Tonight Dough.
Talk To Someone You Trust
As I sat in my own painful thoughts, I started to recognize that I was heading down a spiral of emotions. Practicing mindfulness — the ability to sit with our pain and recognize it, without overly identifying with it — was the first step that helped me separate myself from my overwhelming thoughts.
I found it ironic, that in my effort to find inspiration for a blog post on facing fears in our arenas, my very own shame experience was unfolding in front of me.
I thought back to my Daring Greatly class last month and the Brené Brown audiobooks I listen to while commuting to/from work.
“If empathy is the antidote to shame, I need to find some empathy ASAP,” I thought.
Finally, a light bulb moment.
I had just had this conversation two days before with a friend who told me she had quit Instagram for the past month because she kept losing herself in comparison and it was making her feel terrible about her life as a stay-at-home mom.
In that conversation, I tried to provide the empathic space for her to share her story with me. And in return, I shared mine with her.
Now, as I was experiencing Instagram shame again, my friend’s voice was fresh in my mind, saying, “Me too. I struggle with it constantly.”
“Me too” is empathy.
Practice Compassionate Self-Talk
I immediately felt different. And I knew this would be my next blog post. I moved through the shame spiral by doing these three things:
- Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.
- Reach out to someone you trust.
- Tell your story.
With this particular experience, once I recognized I was in the shame spiral and mindfully recalled the conversation with my friend, my self talk was replaced with things like, “I’m sorry, Amanda. This Instagram shame trigger is a hard one. It’s probably going to be that way for a little while as you work through this. But you’re doing great. You’re getting better at recognizing it and not overly identifying with the emotions you feel when you’re in it. You are not alone, even though this hurts. We’ll figure it out together.”
These are things I would say to Benji, or Matt or people I love. I often have to first picture myself saying things like this to Benji, holding him and kissing his head, and then replace him in my mind with myself.
It’s not easy for me to speak compassionately to myself before sharing my shame story with someone (usually Matt). Honestly, I can’t get myself out by myself a lot of the time. I need someone who will jump in the hole with me, listen to my story, and then decide together how we’re going to get the heck out.
Now, I’m here telling my story to you.
If I were afraid to share this for fear of being judged by you, then I’d still be in shame. I’d still be hearing the voices that say, “Are you seriously going to share that story with everyone? Think of how embarrassing that’ll be. You’ll only make yourself more unworthy of their connection.”
But because I’ve moved through the shame, I can recognize that those kinds of thoughts are not reality. They’re literally shame gremlins trying to convince me (and you) that we’re not enough.
And because I’m practicing self compassion, I see the common humanity in my struggle. I know there are others struggling with Instagram, too. I see it everywhere I turn—acquaintances going dark the way I do, friends saying that they have to get off the app for a while, some even deleting their accounts. So I know we’re not alone, but I also see the opportunity to help others while I help myself through it.
Perhaps the most important takeaway of this blog post is this:
If you don’t have someone to share your Instagram shame story with… my door is open. Visit my blog, email me, reach out and tell me your story. Know that I’m in this with you. And we’ll figure it out together.