The Downward Spiral of Shame

You aren't defined by your most shameful moments, say Patricia Rockman. Learn how to transform this most paralyzing of emotions.

Photography by Magda Hueckel/Millennium Images, UK

A few years ago I ran a six-month training on managing stress through mindfulness for social-service workers.

These men and women were on the front lines of helping the homeless and people with serious mental-health problems. Suffice it to say, their work was more stressful and intense than most.

People often think mindfulness is about peace and relaxation. While these effects can show up, should you be so lucky, it’s also about effort, turning toward that which you’d rather avoid, and, of course, practice.

During our first meeting, I attempted to use some levity in describing the deep and rigorous work ahead of us. At one point I nodded to my two co-facilitators, telling the group, “These two are really sweet and accommodating. I’m the slave driver.”

The following week, one of the participants, who happened to be a black woman, asked if she could talk to me. Then, speaking softly but firmly, she revealed, “What you said really upset and hurt me, and I spent the last week processing it with my colleagues at work.” I was startled. “What did I say?” And then I froze. “I’m the slave driver.” The words came flooding back to me, chased by…


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About the author

Patricia Rockman

Patricia Rockman, MD, CCFP, FCFP is a family physician with a focused practice in mental health. She is the Senior Director of Education and Clinical Services at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies, Toronto. She is an associate professor at the University of Toronto, Department of Family Medicine, cross appointed to Psychiatry. She has extensive experience practicing individual psychotherapy, leading therapy groups, and training healthcare providers in mindfulness based interventions, cognitive behaviour therapy, and change management for stress reduction. She is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and meditation practitioner.