Shame: I’ll be the first to admit it I’ve hurt people.

Have you ever experienced shame after you hurt someone? Have you ever questioned your own identity as a compassionate person? In this blog, I discuss how I used self-compassion to address my own shame and embarrassment after I hurt someone.

I confess…I’ve hurt people. This caused me a great deal of shame and remorse. Worst of all, I got defensive when the person confronted me because I couldn’t deal with my embarrassment. They did not think I was a good person and that shook me to the core. Mostly because up until that point, I considered myself a compassionate person. I considered myself and advocate of youth, a defender of rights, a loving and fair person.

The details of the story don’t matter. It also doesn’t matter that I didn’t intend to hurt the person. There is a difference between intent and impact. What mattered was that I hurt this person and when I had the chance to clarify, I made things worse. This person left the meeting thinking I was a horrible person, I left the meeting full of shame, and wondering what happened. I spent a number of hours berating myself and wondering what I could have done differently. Fortunately, I was taking the mindful self-compassion course at the time and was able to practice compassion towards myself after a while. This did not mean I got myself off the hook and minimized the impact. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was the villain in someone else’s story and that conflicted with the belief I had of myself as a “wonderful” person. Compassion helped me grieve the loss of my old identity, prevented me from turning my anger inward or outward and also reminded me that there was a person out there who was hurt by me who deserved an apology and a change in behavior. While I cannot take back the hurt, I did make a vow that day to never do that to another person again. I took comfort in the words of President Kennedy:

“An error is not a mistake until you refuse to correct it. We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them”.

JFK (ANPA) on April 27, 1961.

Via my compassion practice, I was able to forgive myself by reminding myself that I was not a bad person, rather I had bad behaviour that could be changed at any time. I could always choose differently. I told myself that I didn’t need to shame and criticize myself to change. I could choose to be compassionate to myself AND still change. By soothing my shame, I was able to see what had gone wrong in the situation.

Before I could correct my mistake, I had to realize where I went wrong. So I reflected a lot on what happened step by step. Two things occurred to me:

  1. I didn’t have my regular touchstone of compassion and so I relied on feedback from people who fed my fear and power over approaches rather than reminded me to always practice compassion
  2. I forgot I was dealing with an actual “person”, who had feelings and deserved the benefit of the doubt.

First, I will talk about touchstones. I had the good fortune to have someone in my life I could rely on to always keep me acting in a compassionate way. This person reminded me of the power of compassion. They helped me see how important it was to act in a way that maintained people’s dignity. I lost my touchstone when the person left and I relied on others who fed my fear instead of reminded me to love. Since I relied so heavily on that external touchstone when situations got challenging or I was overwhelmed, I created a new one for myself to remind myself of who I want to be. It was a rock (as shown) I received in one of my MSW classes from my classmates. I additionally wrote on it “remember who you are”…you are compassion, to remind me not to lose my way again. I keep that rock next to my monitor and when challenges come up, I rely on it to keep me focused on my goal of compassion. Although I no longer rely on external touchstones of compassion, I like to keep this rock as a reminder of who I choose to be every day.

Secondly, I realized that the biggest mistakes I have made in any of my leadership roles have been when I, first, forgot I was dealing with human beings and secondly, when I did not give people the benefit of the doubt. I now work from Louise Hay’s stance that “everyone is doing the best they can with the understanding, knowledge and awareness that they have”. This reminds me that I too make mistakes and would want to be given the benefit of the doubt, if I was in the person’s shoes. Every time I have suspended my judgement and have given a person the benefit of the doubt, it has worked. I am now grateful for the experience and what it taught me although I would not do it again. I am interested in compassion work, not because I am perfect…far from it. I know what it’s like to hurt others. I know what shame feels like. I do this work because this is the way I want to live. This is the person that I want to be every single day. As I practice compassion, I am also helping others remember their compassion. If I can do it, so can you…

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