Confronting Shame Through Dialogue Writing
A Short In-The-Moment Case Study
Me: Shame, why do you always have to ruin the moment? One minute I’m feeling really good, you know? And then BOOM. You come bursting through the door just when I think I’m onto something good.
Shame: Hey, just doing my job.
Me: But, why? I’m a strong, independent survivor who has been. through. some. shit. So why can’t I just make you go away?
Shame: Because… you let me.
Me: No, I don’t! I try so hard not to let it bother me when you sneak in. I can always tell you’re there.
Shame: Maybe you’re not trying hard, enough? Maybe you don’t want to believe that you’re talented and have gifts to offer the world and so you let me stay parked in your brain basement like an old-ass Chevy that breaks down every once in a while and needs to be rebooted.
Me: That’s not true! I know I’m talented and have gifts to offer the world so why do I still feel you there?
Shame: Because I’m something your trauma taught you to believe. The only way to drive me out is to recognize the truth. YOUR truth. Not the truth other people want you to have (get married! have 2 kids and a white picket fence with a dog) [META SIDENOTE: It’s always the dog, too. FFS, my cat enjoys a white picket fence, too]. Not the truth that you want people to see.
The real, vulnerable, gritty truth, Jade.
Me: What if I don’t know what the truth is?
Shame: You do. Think about what you just accomplished with this piece.
Shame: You took your inspiration from me and then used your skills and knowledge and expertise to craft this dialogue piece to work through your shit. That freaking, amazing. So what do you have to be ashamed of, right in this moment?
Me: Well… um, actually, I’m feeling pretty good right now.
Shame: Oh, yeah? Don’t get cocky. You are chuckling inside about how cool you think this is now. Tomorrow you’ll wake up and reread this and think: WTF was I thinking?!
Me: Nope. Not tonight, Shame. Because at the end of the day, I get to decide if I want to share this vulnerable in-the-moment piece with others. And I bet I will find it pretty cool tomorrow because I am cool. Duh.
I am choosing to share this vulnerable piece with you because I think it’s a great example of expressive writing. I went into this piece with a specific direction and a few constraints but knowing that if shame eventually won over, I could always hit the trash icon. I gave myself permission to write as shitty as I wanted to and for as long as I felt I needed to. But I think I ended up being far more creative, risk-taking and open than I thought. This technique is called dialogue writing and it’s one of the tools I teach to my students and clients when we work together.
It can be challenging when you’re not sure what the “other” side is going to say. That’s half the fun and mystery of it though. Seeing what happens. This type of journal exercise is a great one to do and take to a coach or therapist for further reflection. Or, like any of the expressive writing/journaling techniques — it can live in your own private collection, just for you.
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