Shame, Shame, Shame on the IBS Brain
Through my job in social services, I work with many people whose troubles are rooted in a deep- seated sense of shame. Shame about things that have happened to them, shame about things they should have done, shame about things they might have done, shame about things they did… You get the picture. What I experience very often is shame pertaining to a perceived negative belief about oneself. I have noticed a common thread amongst some of the people I have discussed my struggle with IBS. Due to the, uh, unseemly nature of IBS, many people experience a sense of shame regarding their condition. I think that this is mostly based in the idea of self-image and self-esteem. We want to believe that we are functional, strong, resilient and clean. IBS challenges each of these basic human feelings. Well, what can we do about it? What’s the plan, Stan? Depending on the person, a number of things can be done to address this particular side effect of IBS.
We are NEVER going to be what we ‘used to be’
Negative thoughts tend to stem from the idea that things are not as they are SUPPOSED TO BE. When we learn to accept who we are in this particular moment and not jump forward or backward in time, these negative thoughts tend to subside over time. When stress and anxiety manifest from an issue like IBS, we have a tendency to look into the future and ask, ‘what will this do to my life?’. Conversely, sometimes we look at the past, before IBS entered our lives, and create an idealized picture and think, ‘why can’t I be like I used to be?’. The sooner we come to terms with the fact that we are NEVER going to be what we ‘used to be’ and that we are not soothsayers that can see into the future, it becomes possible to have some clarity and calm about the current state of affairs. This can be called grounding or mindfulness or any number of terms you want to apply. The point is, you are here now and you have IBS, but that IBS is not a part of your identity. IBS is just something that has happened to our fragile human bodies. Once we learn to separate our identity from the disorder, we begin to think in a different way. This change in thinking reduces stress and ultimately; it reduces shame.
Positive methods to address shame
I’d like to share some of the methods I use to address shame with some of my clients. My favorite is the idea of challenging yourself. I don’t mean, go climb Mt. Everest. If you would like to and that would help, then please, be my guest. What I do mean, however, is to actually challenge the particular thoughts that enter your mind. Mental Statement: ‘Oh my God, I’ve gone to the bathroom six times now since I got to work, what must people think of me?”. Your Conscious Response: ‘I am not the center of everyone’s attention. They are doing their work. I’m fine and it’s none of their business anyway. I AM GOOD’. It may seem a little silly at first, but after some time, you may feel a bit more empowered.
Another positive way to address shame is to be as absolutely REAL with yourself as possible. What are you doing to manage your IBS? Are these easy things? As an IBS sufferer, I can say with absolute certainty that completely changing your diet, quitting smoking, exercising and making sure you are keeping up with your care (doctor’s appointments, medication, etc.) is not an EASY thing to do for most people, especially all at once. BE PROUD OF YOURSELF. If you have not been able to accomplish any of the things important to managing IBS, there is no shame in that. We are human and we are flawed. Try to accomplish one thing and be proud. Accomplish two things and feel empowered. Accomplish nothing and be confident that you are still you, with all your strengths and weaknesses and that IBS is not a part of that. It’s just something that’s happened in our lives that is inconvenient, uncomfortable and not a lot of fun. My final words today…please be kind to yourself.