Last week I had a meltdown. A perfectionist, beat-myself-up, my-life-is-doomed type of meltdown. It wasn’t pretty. I said horrible things about myself that I’ve never ever said in front of my children. I kicked and threw things around the kitchen, slammed doors, shouted and ranted about the house like a spoilt brat.
It was triggered by a sudden, intense vulnerability hangover, and compounded by my tiredness and inability to effectively deal with the shame and anger that came with it. Under the force of my shame-ridden ego I crumbled and allowed it to run amok through myself and my family.
You might be wondering what a vulnerability hangover is and why it can cause such a reaction?
A vulnerability hangover is Brené Brown’s term for that strong feeling of shame and fear that completely envelops you after you have been brave and vulnerable and open and honest and shown yourself to the world.
Brené Brown describes it as:
“the feeling that sweeps over us after we feel the need to connect… and we share something deeply meaningful. Minutes, hours, or days later, we begin to feel regret sweep over us like a warm wave of nausea.”
Watch Brené discuss her own vulnerability hangover here with Oprah.
In my case I had just sent out a personalised email to 15 women from my network who I admired and respected, many of them friends. I had offered them ‘first-dibs’ on a new pilot coaching programme I am creating which is to be the first step in my (very meaningful to me) life’s mission of spreading compassion around the world – starting with helping women create a strong inner trust and confidence in themselves.
I wanted to connect with these women. I was sharing ideas that were important and incredibly meaningful to me. And due to the nature of email, I had no immediate feedback on how (or if) these women would respond.
So a few hours later the wave of nausea swept over me and fear kicked in. My whole body was screaming: ‘What the hell have you done!?’
And my ego took over. My poor, terrified, protective ego decided it needed to defend itself against this attack on it’s identity and existence.
But because you can’t attack shame without putting it under a very big spotlight and talking about it to others, my ego started attacking everyone within shooting distance: me and my children, and later my husband.
My ego fought as if it was fighting for it’s life – that’s the power of shame. Shame threatens to cut us off from others. It threatens disconnection. We are programmed to seek connection and belonging, so much so, it is now becoming understood that disconnection and even the fear of disconnection are the drivers of addiction and mental illness.
It is possible to practice shame resilience and get better at dealing with these vulnerability hangovers and ego hijackings. And I was somewhat practiced myself at doing this. However, I had recently come back from a 2 week family holiday and was still feeling jet lagged, out of my routine and generally not strong enough emotionally to deal with a massive shame attack.
So instead I succumbed. What was I ashamed of? Of being judged, of those wonderful women thinking that I thought they needed help from me, of asking for money, of daring to dream of a world where everyone was kind to themselves and kind to each other. Who the hell did I think I was!???
And what made it worse was the anger that came with it. This anger, sparked by fear, crashed through our house like a storm. It was unexpected and shocking. It allowed all this bad stuff, these bad, cruel, vicious words to stream from my mouth with such ease, without a care for their affect on my children. Even though I had heard those words before – when previously I had felt these things – I had NEVER said them out loud. I had never let my children hear those words of self-hatred and doom that I used to feel so often. Why did they come out now? I don’t know exactly, but some of the reason could be that I have recently had my marina coil taken out, and have stopped taking antidepressants – so my hormones have free reign! Ha! Is it worse to have a cocktail of chemicals running amok inside me, or my own unique blend of hormones having a party? Ask me in 12 months when my hormones have (hopefully) settled down whether this is the ‘real me’ or just the withdrawal symptoms of stopping chemicals that mess with my body, brain and mood.
But what I do know is that as shocking as this meltdown was, it made me realise that these occasions don’t occur with regularity anymore (and with such ferocity) because I’ve trained myself to be more mindful and conscious of my emotions and triggers. Four or five years ago this was more common, and I used to call it Falling into my Black Hole of Doom.
Yes, I’m more hormonal now, but I was also physically and emotionally tired, and due to our holiday was out of the practice of nourishing myself so I could withstand the onslaught of these emotional attacks.
Another thing that has changed is the speed with which I recovered from this ‘episode’.
During it I alternated between resisting the anger and accepting it. I was attached to the emotions – I totally believed that I was shit and my life was completely doomed – but also the next second was aware that if I just let the emotions pass through me everything would feel better tomorrow. It was a new and weird feeling to me because during my previous meltdowns I was never aware of what was going on. I was completely on board with all the emotions, believing them completely. There were THE TRUTH. This time I got glimpses that there are not the truth and so I didn’t need to resist them so strongly. They could not harm me because they were not true.
That evening I watched 6 hours of Jane Austen. This is how I know I was in a bad place. Jane Austen productions are my go-to escapism when I’m in my Black Hole of Doom – like Brené and her Downton Abbey marathon.
So, why am I sharing all the gory details with you? What’s the point of this story? Well the main thing is that although vulnerability – being brave and open – feels like shit, it is so worth it. It is what makes us grow. Despite the fear of disconnection, vulnerability is actually what connects us deeper to others. It is what makes us human. It signifies that we are daring greatly, prepared to take risks to follow our dreams, or to be the person we are, to be seen, to do the things that are deeply meaningful us – and that enables us to have deep meaningful connections with others, which is what we all long for.
That’s why it’s important to share this. I don’t want you to like me (shit, yes I do, but that’s obviously not my motivation for sharing my flaws). You might even judge me for having no self-control and shouting at myself in front of my children. But the important thing is to be honest and talk about shame, because shame can’t survive out in the open. We all suffer from shame, and we need to talk about it. Shame resilience needs to be part of our vocabulary.
So, here’s one woman doing just that. Care to join me? If so, please comment below, or, if the vulnerability is too much email me to share how this resonated with you. Create those connections, put the spotlight on shame so it can’t survive.
Thank you for reading.
p.s. Here’s a video I made after my vulnerability hangover/shame attack.