The Antidote of Compassion

How I combat shame.

Written by Evie Wynne

The Antidote of Compassion

01 Shame is a painful emotion, frequently experienced by those with OCD.

02 Evie shares about her personal struggle with real event OCD and taboo intrusive thoughts.

03 She advises combatting shame by being open, accepting intrusive thoughts as a part of the human experience, and practicing self compassion.

Being human can be uncomfortable, to say the least. There are many painful thoughts, emotions and feelings that we suffer through — or more often than not, try to avoid. One of those is shame.

Mark Manson describes shame as, “Something in your life that you are terrified of anyone knowing about you.” Paradoxically, it’s often the things we feel most ashamed about that we should talk about the most. In having open and honest conversations, we are freed from the clasp shame has around our throats. 

However, while conversations around destigmatizing mental health are increasing, there are still certain topics we shy away from. We often see messages around not feeling guilty for practicing self care, but we don’t always see content about the shame that comes with intrusive thoughts or sexual urges. 

Though everyone has intrusive thoughts or feelings of shame, the kind of deep distress and repetitive cycles that I experience are symptomatic of OCD. When shame creeps into my brain, it is like a black dirty cloud that surrounds me, muddying my view of the world and blocking me from connecting with anyone. I grapple with intense guilt, lose all sense of self, and feel undeserving of love. Sometimes it feels like no one knows the “real” me.

It’s a common struggle for people with OCD to question their morality or identity. For example, they may have unwanted thoughts about their sexuality, or fears of secretly being a murderer

As a child, I grew up with lists in my head of all the things that made me a bad person, and would ruminate about them over and over again. I had diaries full of urgent confessions, and would agonise over the belief that I was a psychopath. For example, when I saw something disturbing in the news or in films, I would compulsively gather evidence that I wasn’t feeling sad enough. Or when I would get an intrusive thought, I would feel anxious if I didn’t react with extreme distress or disgust.

My OCD often focuses on real events, where I obsess over past experiences. Normally in OCD treatment, people would give advice such as, “You’re not your thoughts” or “Your actions are what define you”. But I found these sentiments particularly hard to internalize, because so much of my OCD latched onto things I actually had done. I would get into spirals of analysing my feelings, and not being able to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

These are the real conversations about shame that we should be having. We need people to know that we are not alone in having these thoughts, and they do not define our “goodness”. Every child should know that they are not weird, bad, or wrong when struggling with OCD.

We only feel ashamed because these things are not spoken about, and shame thrives in silence. In her often cited Ted Talk, Brené Brown talks about the importance of connection. Think of that sense of relief when someone says, “I have thoughts like that too”.

The reality is that these things are part of being human. It’s part of the package to have some dark thoughts inside you. The wonderful Paul Gilbert, founder of Compassion Focused Therapy, explains how we all have these tendencies. He emphasises that we didn’t choose to be here — we didn’t choose to have these brains, or to be sentient mammals with immoral thoughts and uncomfortable emotions. 

The key is to practice self compassion and acceptance. Try to imagine how you would treat a friend in distress, and then treat yourself with the same loving kindness and understanding.1 Of course, accepting yourself is incredibly difficult when you experience high levels of shame, but maybe the first step is to just start normalising the odd innerworkings of our brains. As we let a little light into those dark corners, we slowly shed layers of shame, and learn that the most “terrifying” parts about us aren't so bad after all.


1 You can hear Paul Gilbert talking about these ideas on Episode 2 of the podcast Compassion Collective. You can read more about his work on his website The Compassionate Mind.

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