Pivoting away from Shame (Part 3/3)
The first and biggest lie is that shame can protect us from being punished, by punishing our-self.
How does self-punishment arise? According to Hale Dwoskin, author of the Sedona Method, “first we do something, or think of doing something that we believe we shouldn't do or that is wrong to do. Because we believe that punishment from the outside is inevitable, we punish ourselves in order to prevent receiving it. But since we have no idea of what others, or even our own sense of inner governance will determine is an appropriate degree of punishment, we usually overdo it.” This is exactly what I encountered, a year removed from my year in the Brazil Super League in 2015, with my new team in Ajaccio, France. The environment in France was amazing, as I had teammates who supported me no matter what but I was still quick to punish myself after any mistake or failure. I felt if I didn’t punish myself, someone else would, which I knew from past experiences in Brazil, would hurt even more.
I’ve been blessed to live and compete in America, Europe and in South America. Through my journey, it seems that regardless where I am, most athletes are very quick to verbally or nonverbally punish themselves in an intense, malicious, outburst of their word of choice after an error. It’s this rationale that if “I make an error, I’m going to let everyone on my team and the coach know how upset I am with myself – rather than allow space for someone else to reprimand me.” For others (myself included) self-punishment can also manifest as a silent withdrawal of shame - a deep feeling of disgrace - splintering the confidence and the focus needed for the most important ball – the next ball.
“Freedom from shame means we are free to make better, healthier, more supportive choices.”
How do we move forward?
A mindful meditation practice has been a powerful ally for me to strengthen my mind through the practice of paying deliberate attention - building awareness of my thoughts, emotions, feelings, and bodily sensations. We can improve our mindfulness through consistent training, giving our mind a specific job to do while we sit and meditate. I personally prefer the task of focusing on the sensation of the breath coming in and leaving the nostrils. This consciousness pulls our mind out of its habitual state of constant thinking and processing in order to connect with the present moment and arguably more important – to return to the present moment, rather than being captured by our past failures or the dark, scary and ambiguous future.
By developing our awareness, it will ultimately lead to improvements in many aspects of life, on and off the court, including focus, decision-making, patience, stress-reduction and the space to respond rather than a knee jerk reaction.
Stimulus & Response
Stimulus: Getting aced at 23-23.
Reaction: Cursing yourself for what you should have done.
Response: Staying external, while moving our consciousness away from debilitating thoughts towards the sensation of a deep breath as we move forward to the next serve with as much clarity and confidence possible.
Meditation helps us observe our mind with equanimity and to be present, rather than being consumed by all of our self-deflating and self-debilitating thoughts that naturally arise upon losing a point. Each time we are able to consciously come back to our breath in meditation, we are training our ability to reset and to be as present as possible, not only in difficult moments, like getting aced at 23-23 but also in the middle of sets, where long runs of points are more likely to occur.
Whether the shame stems from a missed opportunity, anxiety about the next server or the pressure felt when the game is on the line, with more mindfulness on our side - we can observe these debilitating thoughts and let them pass, rather than allowing them to engulf and suffocate the focus needed for the next play. A mindfulness meditation practice teaches and empowers to be more courageous and take solace in the present, whether the present moment is viewed as gift or simply a given. We get the opportunity to begin again and to take with us as much confidence, clarity and focus possible towards the next ball, rather than being vulnerable to the external circumstances that we don’t have complete control over.
Taking our power back
There are so many emotions involved with sports but I believe there is no place in sport for the humiliating disgrace and guilt that comes with shame. I believe it’s important to be curious and to go within and to find where it has developed from – whether it’s passed down from our family, a certain coach, team or an accumulation of emotional experiences that now script shameful responses. Most importantly, we must find the courage to navigate shame, rather than allowing this guilt laded script run us subconsciously. We have the power to flip the script and take back as much of our focus, clarity and confidence possible, rather than allowing us to be vulnerable and dependent upon something external in our environment that we do not have complete control over. Ie: playing well, coach pulling you out, winning the game.
It’s been a battle for me, as I still observe traces of shame popping up every once in a while, but I am much better equipped to stay ahead of this debilitating emotion, freer to play the sport I love with as much clarity, focus, confidence and joy as possible. I believe you can too.