The experiential feeling of shame is defined as a painful emotion caused by feeling like you have done something wrong or disgraceful. Shame carries with it strong painful emotions and regret(s). Shame is a common reaction of infertility. Both myself, as a woman who experienced infertility, and the therapeutic clients who work with me come to express their shame as all-consuming. In the context of infertility and pregnancy loss common expressions arise of feeling broken, defective, disconnected, and furious with themselves and their bodies. As a therapist I use various creative, expressive, psycho-social, embodied, feminist, narrative, and mindfulness based psychotherapies to work a way inside, through, and outside of the burdens my clients are holding. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on mindfulness psychotherapy.
Experiences of infertility and pregnancy loss engages one’s mind, body and emotional responses. As women in particular, we are often programmed to be aware of, value, or favor one part of our experience over another ~ for some it is intellectual or cognitive abilities, others are guided by emotions, others by physical signals. More and more we are realizing the importance of recognizing and listening to all of our responses as a way to heal and grow. A mindful approach to psychotherapy helps you to identify and integrate all of these parts of yourself. Brain science validates this notion and suggests that by attending to your thought patterns, emotional reactions and sensory experiences, you can change patterns of thinking, feeling and moving in the world. Even complicated experiences with infertility and the weight of shame can be tackled using mindfulness as a key component in therapy and applied in day-to-day life.
Mindfulness practice offers hope for changing unwanted or destructive reactions, belief systems, and behaviors that seem fixed or difficult to mobilize. For example, if you have a negative self-view, by noticing the story you tell yourself, and consider it a pattern of thinking versus a truth, there is room to re-evaluate and create a more accurate description of yourself. And when you have a more accurate and accepting view of yourself, you are more likely to trust yourself and live more freely. This work is not easy and it is important to proceed gently and in the care of a trusted mental health professional.
I will conclude this post with a short mindfulness practice that you can do at home. Mindfulness connects one’s mind to one’s body and one’s breath. I like carrying out this mindfulness exercise with my individual therapeutic clients and in group therapy because it serves as a reminder to connect to one’s body and to breathe through it. Through this mindfulness practice, that I call body scan, one can gain both emotional and physical clarity and start a naming and eventual cleansing of emotions that do not serve including shame.
Find a place you can sit comfortably, quietly, and undisturbed and set a gentle timer for 5-10 minutes. Be kind with yourself and start slowly with five minutes. The more you practice the easier a longer mindfulness practice will be.
During the body scan exercise, you will pay close attention to the physical sensations throughout your body. The goal is not to change or relax your body and mind, but instead to notice and become more aware of your body, your mind, and your breath.
Begin by paying attention to the sensations in your feet. Notice any sensations such as warmth, coolness, pressure, pain, or a breeze moving over your skin. Slowly move up your body—to you calves, thighs, pelvis, stomach, chest, back, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, neck and finally your head. Spend some time on each of these body parts, just noticing the sensations. Remember to breathe as fully as you can in through your mouth, exhaling through your nose. Your breaths are like gentle and ongoing waves.
After you travel your body begin to move back down, through each part, until you reach your feet again. Remember to move slowly, and just pay attention, breathing and noticing.
Dr. Abby Wener Herlin is the founder of Threads Education and Counseling. She is a therapist for tweens, adolescents, and adult women. She carries out client-centered, feminist counseling employing various creative, theoretical, and practical modalities. She is passionate about social justice, creative expression, and mental/emotional well being. She provides individual counseling and is also offering a group therapeutic circle in partnership with Yinstill Reproductive called Weaving Comfort for women experiencing infertility, pregnancy loss, fertility treatments. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her Instagram is @threads_education and her website is www.threadseducation.com