Things You Might Feel Shame For, That Are Actually Very Common!

Things You Might Feel Shame For, That Are Actually Very Common!

As therapists, we hear from people in all walks of life. Every client is different and comes to therapy with varied experiences, but one thing remains true; most people hold shame for things they don’t need to. When we feel shame, our brains will often make us think that we’re the only one who could think or feel this way, or that only terrible people would be. Aside from being a horrifically uncomfortable emotion, intense shame is detrimental to our overall mental health, relationships, and long-term self-esteem. 

 

While this is nowhere near a comprehensive list, below is a list of things I often hear in therapy, that are entirely normal. If you’ve ever had these thoughts, you are far from alone!

 

“When ____ died, I felt relieved”

 

What shame tells you this means: I must be a terrible person to feel a positive emotion after a death. Did I wish this upon them? 

 

What it actually means: You’re a human capable of compassion fatigue, empathy for an end to suffering, potential safety benefits to yourself or others, awareness of resource strain, etc. Grief is always complex and there are typically many conflicting emotions that can include relief. 

 

“I lied/cheated/stole in my past”

What shame tells you this means: “I am a liar, cheater, criminal.”

 

What it actually means: Many people hold shame for very minor mistakes or choices from their past. Barring violent or aggressive actions, most of the time there is a reason for these choices, that once understood, lets in compassion instead of shame. 

 

 

“I _____ to cope”

 

What shame thinks this means: I can’t deal with the stress of my life. 

 

What it actually means: Substances, “nervous habits”, and impulse spending are just some of the behaviors people often feel significant shame for engaging in when they are feeling difficult emotions. If your behaviors are causing you harm or aren’t working to reduce your distress as you hoped, all that means is that they aren’t quite the right option for you. There is never shame in trying to feel better, there are only things that serve you and things that don’t. 

 

“I have intrusive thoughts about ________”

 

What shame tells you this means: “My brain is out of control, I’m disgusting/disturbed for thinking that way”

 

What it actually means: You have a normal brain, working exactly how a normal brain should. Intrusive thoughts are so common, that it’s more uncommon to be someone who hasn’t experienced an intrusive thought. To be frank, I’ve never met someone who hasn’t experienced intrusive thoughts, only people who felt strong emotion after them, and people who brushed them off and forgot about them. Having intrusive thoughts (even ones that feel totally out of character!) says nothing about who you are. If these thoughts are causing you intense distress it is certainly worth discussing with a mental health provider, but even then, there is no shame in experiencing them. 

 

 

 

How to Practice Self-Compassion

How to Practice Self-Compassion

From a young age, most of us are taught how to be kind, considerate, and compassionate toward others. But rarely are we told to show the same consideration to ourselves. This becomes even more true for individuals brought up in hyper-critical or neglectful homes....

4 Reasons We Judge Others and How to Break the Habit

4 Reasons We Judge Others and How to Break the Habit

One of the things most of us are taught as children is to never judge others. “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” And yet, despite our best efforts, many of us fall into the trap over and over again. Why do we do it? Here are four common reasons that explain this...

4 ADHD Skills That Actually Work

4 ADHD Skills That Actually Work

If you have ADHD, you know that finding the right set of tools and techniques that work for you can be a process of trial and error. What works for you might be the opposite of helpful for someone else. Below you’ll find a few techniques to try that go beyond the traditional productivity tips.  

 

Body doubling:

Have you ever struggled to complete a task when you’re by yourself, but have no problem doing it once someone else is there? This is known as body doubling; completing a task in the presence of someone else. If you have a task you’ve been dreading, putting off, or half-completing, try video chatting a friend and let them know your task. You can also try body doubling online with other folks looking for the same assistance. Check out https://bodydoubling.com/!

O.H.I.O.

An acronym for “only handle it once”, this is a helpful tool for managing the clutter and organizational challenges that many people with ADHD deal with. Often, when we take something out (for example, a box of cereal), that item gets left on the counter as we move on to the next step of the task (milk, spoon, eat). When keeping O.H.I.O in mind, the idea is that the cereal box is dealt with prior to moving on to the next part of the task so you are only handling (literally and figuratively) it once vs. twice (taking it out, and then later cleaning up from the task). While this does immediately reduce clutter, the more importance aid here is in reducing yoru overall mental load. Completing the task in the moment means it’s one less thing for you to have to remember later on, and keeps your space more functional for other tasks. 

 

Labeling

Another organizational technique is the ever-classic labeling system. This might sound trite, but labeling is another tool to reduce your mental load. Neurotypical brains aren’t typically burdened by remembering which cabinet the strainer goes into, if the tape is put with the gift wrap or the office supplies, and where you put that important reminder card from the doctor. Brains with ADHD tend to forget these things and have to make an in-the-moment decision rather than an automated one. On the back end, that means we spend more time looking for things, sometimes even spending unnecessary money or time replacing things that appear to be lost. Labeling (even things that seem silly or you swear you’ll remember where they go) automates that process, saving you mental energy, time, and even money!

 

Novelty

ADHD brains love novelty, it’s one of the ways we can trigger a dopamine release. While it would be great to be able to lean on this for every task, inevitably we all have repetitive tasks. Introducing novelty is sometimes as simple as a new location (take it outside or go to a new coffee shop you’ve never been to before), listening to new music, making yourself a new drink or snack, or even just changing the lighting or ambience in your home environment. Novelty is an ever-moving target, so these new things will lose their effect at some point, but once you have the framework for what feels novel and interesting to your brain, you’ll know what to switch up to keep it engaging!

 

At Star Meadow Counseling, Alissa Loncar is our resident ADHD specialist.

 

 

 

7 Ways a Counselor Helps Facilitate Change

7 Ways a Counselor Helps Facilitate Change

It is a mistake to assume that someone is ready to make a change, just because they tell you they’re thinking about it. Change is more complicated than Nike’s “Just do it!” slogan. Counselors know that lasting change builds over time. Many counselors use a strategy...

Understanding Cognitive Therapy: The Basics

Understanding Cognitive Therapy: The Basics

Have you ever wondered how your feelings are generated? Do you understand what it is that triggers your emotions? The fact is, there are many different answers to these questions in the field of psychology.  Let’s take a look at just one of those approaches from the...

Answers to 3 Questions about Boundaries in Counseling

Answers to 3 Questions about Boundaries in Counseling

1. How does confidentiality work in therapy? Seeing a counselor is sort of like being in the witness protection program. Even the fact that the counselor knows you is kept private and confidential. That means that when they run into you out in public, the counselor...

How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

Most people start the counseling process with a readiness for change. Some may not know the specifics yet for how they’d like that change to look (maybe that’s why they’re in therapy), but in some way, they are not 100% satisfied with the status quo. When you step...

Embody Boldness: Overcome Your Fear of Failure

Embody Boldness: Overcome Your Fear of Failure

The fear of failure can be paralyzing. In fact, a fear of failure can derail a life's passion, sap out motivation, and sometimes stomp the brakes on all forward momentum. It's what convinces you NOT to apply for that promotion, NOT to ask that girl out, and invites...

A Guide For Talking to Children About Remote Violence

A Guide For Talking to Children About Remote Violence

Children today are confronted with a baseline awareness of violence higher than most adults can imagine. “Remote violence” refers to exposure to highly violent images and stories, without experiencing the violence first-hand. In essence, this is the increasing awareness children hold that something could happen to them, even if it hasn’t yet. With monthly mass shooting drills in schools, awareness of police brutality against individuals and at peaceful demonstrations, and constant media coverage of physical and emotional violence, it’s nearly impossible for this to not reach a child in some way. It’s crucial that we find ways to talk about it to help them process, ask questions, and reaffirm our commitment to keeping them safe. There is no one right way to have this conversation, but keeping these three tenants in mind can help you create a framework to apply to the situation at hand. I’ve kept this purposefully simplistic; as much as I wish there were a script I could hand you, each conversation, each event, will demand a different response. It’s better to have a conversation, even if it doesn’t feel perfect to you so release the expectation that you’ll know exactly what to say, and focus your efforts on maintaining just these three principles:

 

  • Be developmentally appropriate
  • Be honest
  • Be regulated

 

Be developmentally appropriate: 

 

How you talk about events like this will vary widely based on the age and development of your child. A 3-year-old may not need to be told anything, whereas an 8-year-old will likely require a conversation.  Try to match the child’s level as closely as possible, and be prepared that they may have witnessed content or conversations what were not developmentally appropriate (overhearing adult conversations, hearing teachers at school, catching a news segment on the bus or seeing a newspaper on the street). Younger children may ask questions in an attempt to understand something outside their normal experience, while older children and teens may not need information or answers to questions as much as reminders of security and support. 

 

Be honest

 

You don’t need to have all the answers are tie things up perfectly, it’s an unrealistic goal that will leave you feeling like you’ve failed despite doing the best you can. In many ways, telling your child you don’t know something (when you truly don’t) helps them trust what you’re saying and offers an opportunity to seek that information together or process the uneasiness that comes with not knowing. Except in very young children, try to resist the urge to promise safety at all times, or to lie and come up with a reason why scary things won’t ever be part of their experience. Oftentimes children are aware that an adult can’t ensure this, and they’ll wonder what else you aren’t telling them. Instead, focus on the aspects of safety they do have- in you and other trusted adults, in the protocols and procedures of their school and other environments, community resiliency, training of those in positions of protection, etc. Kids need our honesty, but again, a developmentally appropriate version of that honesty. 

 

Be regulated

 

Out of the three, this is easily the most important. It can be incredibly difficult to manage your own distress while being present for your child. If you feel you aren’t in a place of emotional regulation, wait to have this discussion until you can. For younger children, seeing their parent highly distressed is confusing and scary. For older children, it can put them in a state of overwhelm or lead to a feeling of responsibility to care for their adult’s emotions. Neither of these options offer space to process their own emotions. When we talk about emotional regulation, we don’t mean you need to pretend everything is fine (they’d see through the inauthenticity in that fairly quickly!) This only means that you’re in a place to hold space for the child’s emotions, even when they get heavy. Letting them know you feel the gravity of what’s happened is good, letting that take precedence when they need you for support is what we try to avoid. It’s even ok to engage your child in the coping strategies you use to get to that place of regulation, it will help you be most present for them, and model healthy coping strategies they can use when they were overwhelmed. 

 


If you take one thing from reading this, please know that the specific words you choose in these conversations are significantly less important than how you show up in the conversation.  Remember, your goal in these conversations is not to take their fear and pain completely away, only to guide them through it in a way that helps them feel as safe and secure as possible as they navigate a world that can be both scary and beautiful. 

 

 

 

The Mental Health Dangers of an Over-Stuffed School Schedule

The Mental Health Dangers of an Over-Stuffed School Schedule

For their teens to succeed as adults, many parents (and teens) think they must be involved in numerous extracurricular activities. Perhaps we believe this abundance of activities will foster a sense of pride and accomplishment. Perhaps parents are hoping to keep teens...

All about EMDR as Trauma Therapy

All about EMDR as Trauma Therapy

Have you heard of EMDR? Among therapists, it’s all the rage as an up-and-coming, evidenced based approach for trauma treatment. Because it is different than standard talk therapy, we thought you might have some questions. We’d love to help demystify EMDR as a form of...

Life Hacks For When Everything Feels Hard

Life Hacks For When Everything Feels Hard

Mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, and ADHD can make for difficult days. Ideally, with the right combination of therapy, coping skills, or medication, there won’t be so many hard days. But sometimes we hit a rough patch or experience a stressor or change in our functioning that leaves us feeling like even the smallest of tasks are impossible. If you’ve ever been there, you probably know the compounding effect and how hard it can feel to care for yourself and your space. There are many resources about how to manage these things from a longer-term perspective, but what do we do when we’re in the thick of it? Below you’ll find some specific examples, but the idea here is to tailor this general framework to what feels manageable in the moment. 

 

  • Release the expectation of what you “should” be doing
  • Do something even if you can’t do everything
  • Get creative with how it gets done
  • Ask for help 

 

Hygiene

For a lot of folks, showering can feel like a monumental task, so let’s go through some other options. Some people prefer to take a bath, or just turn on the shower and sit to conserve energy. For some, it’s the idea of getting out of the warm water that feels overwhelming, so picking out comfortable clothes or putting a heating pad on a towel to minimize discomfort does the trick. If all else fails, move to dry shampoo and baby wipes. Is it ideal? No. But you’ll feel better than you did before and that’s an accomplishment. 

 

Nutrition

Mental health challenges often directly impact appetite and nutrition; the type, frequency, and scheduling of eating and drinking can feel like a never-ending task. If this is you, think about foods that combine convenience and nutrition. Stock a bedside cart with non-perishable items that fuel your body so there’s no planning or preparing needed when you’re having a harder time. Throw out the rules of what’s expected if it sounds good to you and will give you energy. Lasagna for breakfast? Sure! Ham, cheese, and bread eaten separately but not put together into a sandwich? Why not! Keep a list of low-effort meal ideas on your fridge so that if seeing too many options feels overwhelming you can remove the burden of decision-making. Getting enough water can also be a challenge, so try adding flavor, sucking on ice cubes, stocking up on hydration aids/drinks, filling up one large water bottle for the day, or even bringing a water dispenser into your space.  If you find yourself struggling with nutrition long-term or feel like it is tied to other factors, please reach out to a therapist and/or dietician for help. 

 

Environment 

Many people find their home environment starts to reflect how they are feeling, and can sometimes begin to exacerbate the original difficulty. Again, we’re throwing out the rules that your space needs to look “perfect”, and instead focusing on the word “functional”. Your definition of functional will be individual, but in general, all it means is that you are physically safe and comfortable and can find the things you need with relative ease. Does it matter if your sheets match? Nope, but having sheets would likely feel better. Does it matter if you fold your clothes? No. But it would probably help to sort them into bins so you can find what you need. Does every surface need to be clutter-free? No. But make sure you can comfortably spend time in your home and have space to do other tasks will help them feel more manageable. 

 

Outsourcing

There is inherent privilege in being able to outsource certain care tasks (laundry, cleaning, meal prep, etc.) If you have the means to be able to do those by hiring someone, now may be the time to consider lowering your burden. That being said, for many people this is where asking for help from your supports must come into play. When you’re struggling, asking for assistance can feel embarrassing and shameful, but most people understand the struggle more than you might think. Ask for help in a way that feels manageable, but that would make an immediate improvement in your functioning. Ask your supports if they can grab a few grocery items on their next trip or run an errand for you, if they can take your dog for a walk or cover school pick-up. Some people find it easier to complete tasks for other people, so see if you and and a friend can swap tasks to benefit you both. 

 

These are small changes, and while it may not seem like much at first, showing up for yourself in these incremental ways helps to both provide the energy your brain and body need to move through, but also to signal to your brain that you’re worthy of care. It doesn’t matter how you show up for yourself, only that you do. 

 

 

 

Coping with Scarcity and Scarcity Mentality

Coping with Scarcity and Scarcity Mentality

Are you among the millions of people that have lost work since a state of emergency was declared last month? Employment numbers keep rising across the country. And those numbers don’t account for those whose applications for unemployment remain in limbo. There is an...

6 Suggestions for Coping with Grief at Work

6 Suggestions for Coping with Grief at Work

Losing a loved one is one of the most painful tragedies that humans suffer. The impact of this loss is often crushing, and in the aftermath of loss, we often feel like we have no control over anything. Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s perfectly...

5 Ways to Cope with Anxiety as a Parent

5 Ways to Cope with Anxiety as a Parent

The hard work and unpredictability that makes parenting so rewarding can also cause a great deal of anxiety. Here are some simple ways to bring yourself to a place of calm.   Make a To-Do List Ruminating on worries can cause lots of stress. Clear your mind by...

Pride Month: How to Support Someone Coming Out

Pride Month: How to Support Someone Coming Out

June is Pride Month, so let’s take this opportunity to go over some ways you can support the LGBTQ+ folks in your life if they choose to share their experience with you. Your response should vary based on your relationship dynamic, but in general, these are some rules to follow: 

 

Listen and don’t assume: Every person’s experience is different, so be careful not to assume anything about their experience, needs, or preferences based on what you’ve seen other people do or examples in media. If you don’t know what questions to ask, a simple “tell me more about this” or “what has that been like for you” is a good way to signal you are open to more information and that you want to know their experience. 

 

Ask questions, but don’t expect to be educated: Ask questions about their experience, but if you are not familiar with the LGBTQ+ issues or terminology, be prepared to do some research instead of asking satisfying your curiosity at the expense of your loved one. Have questions related to the specifics of laws, family planning, brain chemistry, etc.? There are so many resources online that you can use instead of placing that burden on a singular person.

 

Don’t center the conversation on yourself: Many people respond with a well-meaning, “you could have told me” or “why didn’t you tell me sooner?”, usually intending to confirm to the person that they would have been open and supportive. Unfortunately, this changes the focus of the conversation to the person needing to apologize or manage your relationship instead of sharing their experience. They are telling you now, and that’s all that matters. 

 

Manage your fears and expectations on your own: Many people, especially parents, immediately start to think about the future when someone comes out to them, and this often focuses on safety and future expectations. Well-meaning people will often say that they are “just worried about how the world will treat you”, or that they “hate that this will make your life harder. LGBTQ+ folks are acutely aware of the discrimination they will face and do not need to be reminded of that. Respond to them the way you wish the world would. 

 

Resist the urge to make a “big deal”: While some folks love the idea of a celebration when they come out, most are just looking to know that your feelings toward them are no different than they were before you knew this part of their identity and that you will support them. While some outward demonstrations of support can be appropriate (things like putting up a pride flag, making requested changes to displayed pictures or items personalized with names, or sending care packages), make sure you also engage in the same things, conversations, and activities you used to do before they came out, remember they are still the same person! 

 

Acknowledge your gratitude: Trusting someone with this information is a huge deal, so be sure to communicate your gratitude that they told you, even if was later than you would have wanted or expected. 

 

Respect their privacy: This information is not yours to share unless you have explicit permission from your loved one. It is theirs to tell on their own, how they want to. So if you’re chatting with extended family members or friends, don’t bring it up (even in a positive light!) unless that person has given their consent. There may be reasons they are not wanting to share this information with certain people, and it undermines their trust in you. 

 

Commit to using correct terminology: If you haven’t had much exposure to LGBTQ+ folks or the community, it might feel like you are overwhelmed with new terminology and “rules”. No one will expect you to get it right all the time at first, but they will expect you to be actively learning and trying. Commit to asking what identifiers your loved one uses, and be willing to correct yourself when you make a mistake. If you do mess up, simply correct yourself and move on. Long, belabored apologies are unnecessary and again put the focus on you and your loved one having to manage your emotions. Here is a resource of common terms to get familiar with: https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers to 3 Questions about Boundaries in Counseling

Answers to 3 Questions about Boundaries in Counseling

1. How does confidentiality work in therapy? Seeing a counselor is sort of like being in the witness protection program. Even the fact that the counselor knows you is kept private and confidential. That means that when they run into you out in public, the counselor...

How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

Most people start the counseling process with a readiness for change. Some may not know the specifics yet for how they’d like that change to look (maybe that’s why they’re in therapy), but in some way, they are not 100% satisfied with the status quo. When you step...

Embody Boldness: Overcome Your Fear of Failure

Embody Boldness: Overcome Your Fear of Failure

The fear of failure can be paralyzing. In fact, a fear of failure can derail a life's passion, sap out motivation, and sometimes stomp the brakes on all forward momentum. It's what convinces you NOT to apply for that promotion, NOT to ask that girl out, and invites...

6 Ways Counseling Helps You Get Unstuck

6 Ways Counseling Helps You Get Unstuck

Do you ever feel like a hamster on a wheel—as if you are going through the motions of life, but not actually moving forward? People often come to counseling when they are in this state of stuck-ness. Here’s how we’ve heard clients describe their personal brand of...