Dealing with a Shameover
Have you ever woken up the morning after an amazing night and just felt terrible? Maybe you felt emotionally tender or raw. Maybe it seemed like everything was just a little bit off. Or maybe you were irritable, cranky, or withdrawn. However it showed up for you, there’s a chance that you were dealing with a shameover.
What is a Shameover?
A shameover is the emotional equivalent of feeling sore the day after an intense workout or other physical activity. It’s a sort of emotional achiness that leaves you feeling a little wrung out. And just like being sore from moving furniture or going on a long hike, it can be a signal that maybe you overdid it. The difficulty is that a shameover can also show up when you didn’t overdo it at all.
Shameovers can happen for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, they show up after an intense therapy or coaching session, or after a deeply emotional experience. In those situations, one likely reason for it is that you were in an emotionally expansive state. Maybe you shared something that you never had before. Maybe you leaned into a bigger feeling than you’d allowed yourself to previously do. Maybe you were more vulnerable with your partner than you usually are. Just as your physical body can stretch further than it’s used to and then contract into soreness, your emotional body can expand and then contract a little. It’s simply part of the process of learning to stretch and grow, but if you’re not used to it, it can feel painful.
These kinds of shameovers also seem to happen after intense experiences. In the BDSM world, people sometimes refer to “top drop” when a top or dominant crashes after an energetic scene. Folks who go to festivals or conventions talk about experiencing “con drop” when they get home. And a lot of people tell me that after they teach a workshop or lead a group experience, they have an emotional crash. One thread that often runs through all of these situations is feeling low, or reactive, or thinking about all the things that went wrong. If you notice that you get self-critical, get upset at things that don’t usually bother you, or feel withdrawn after doing something really energetic, that might be a shameover.
The difficulty is that it’s hard to know whether what you’re feeling is simply your emotional body contracting a little, or whether there genuinely was something about the situation or your actions that went a little too far. It’s pretty similar to how it can be hard to know whether being sore after a workout is because your body is tightening up or because you overdid it.
Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter (at least, for the moment), because the same self-care tips work whether you’re having a shameover or shame. Drink lots of water. Eat nourishing food. Get some rest. If you can, take it easy and avoid emotionally charged situations or topics. Notice what you’re feeling and see if the emotions have information that you can use. Be gentle with yourself. Do something that creates an emotional connection with another person. If it’s a shameover, it’ll almost always dissipate on its own, especially if you’re taking care of yourself. If it’s a genuine shame reaction, self-care will soften some of its edges and make it easier to figure out what to do next.
Shameovers Don’t Mean You Did Anything Wrong
One of the purposes of shame is to let us know when we make mistakes or hurt someone. Shame can be a signal that we crossed a line or broke a rule, and the discomfort of the emotion can serve us by helping us move back into integrity and connection with others. So it’s easy to understand how a shameover might make you feel like you did something wrong. The physical experience of a shameover in your body can feel similar to shame, guilt, or other related emotions. And the discomfort can prompt you to go into problem-solving to try to make it better.
Unfortunately, that can turn into a shame spiral. I often see this happen for folks who easily fall into shame. Self-deprecation, perfectionism, self-doubt, and being self-critical are frequently signs of shame. If you often slip into these patterns, a shameover can get the cycle going again and make it easy to get stuck. But even if these aren’t habitual responses for you, a shameover can still set it off if you can’t tell the difference between a shameover and shame.
One of the best ways to deal with this is by developing shame resilience. While that can be a long-term project, you can get started by remembering that you can feel shame without actually having done anything wrong. And on a smaller scale, you can also have a shameover even if nothing bad happened. Simply saying to yourself, “I think I’m having a shameover” can make it easier to hold onto that idea and start building some resilience.
It can also help to get some outside perspective about the situation from someone you trust. However, the trick is to get feedback about what happened without invalidating the emotion. There’s a big difference between, “I don’t think you did anything wrong” and “You shouldn’t feel bad.” So keep the feedback focused on the events rather than whether your feelings make sense.
You might also explore any patterns in your shameovers. Maybe alcohol makes them more intense. Or they arise more strongly after a spanking. Or they’re bigger when you don’t get enough sleep, or when you eat a lot of sugar, or when you have a one-night stand. Seeing the patterns can give you some opportunities to change some of the variables and explore how to reduce the shameovers. You might decide to not drink and have sex with a new partner, but find that it’s different with an established partner. Or you might decide that one-night stands aren’t worth it for you. Or that they’re fine, as long as you have time the next morning to recover. It’ll be a lot easier to figure it out when you know what the patterns are.
Aftercare can also be quite helpful. If you know that you’re likely to have a shameover after a BDSM scene, ask your partner or a trusted friend to check in with you the next day. Build some sweet emotional connection into your plan. For some people, simply knowing that aftercare is part of the process can lessen the shameover.
Whatever you decide works for you, the most important thing to hold onto is that a shameover doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong, any more than being sore or tired after exercise or moving furniture means that you’re injured. The trick is knowing the difference between sore and injured, or between a shameover and genuine shame.
If your shameovers are resistant to change, or if it’s difficult to figure out where the line is between a shameover and shame, that might be a sign that you would benefit from some shame resilience work. I’m a big fan of Brene Brown for that, especially her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”. However, she doesn’t address sexuality directly and her research focused on cisgender women’s experiences of shame. While I find that people of all genders have many similarities in how shame works, there are some gendered trends that her work doesn’t address as well as I’d like.
There are also steps in the healing of shame that need to happen with another person. It doesn’t have to be a therapist or a coach, although having a practitioner’s clarity and perspective can be a big help. But whoever you choose to do this with, the value of working with someone else is that shame is all about relationships. That means that some of the healing needs to happen within a relationship. Trying to do it all on your own will only get you so far.
I’m a big fan of somatic practices, since shame (like our other emotions) happens in the body. It can be valuable to explore how shame and shameovers show up in your body, both because it helps you identify when they arise and because you can look for somatic (body-based) tools to help you move through them. Somatic Experiencing, Tension & Trauma Release Exercises, EMDR, and other similar practices are well-known for helping people recover from trauma, but they can also be useful in healing shame and building shame resilience. As a certified Somatica® practitioner, I’ve seen how powerful it can be to work with the body and the heart at the same time, especially when dealing with shame.
Whatever path you take, I think that the most important thing to remember is that shameovers can simply be part of the experience without necessarily meaning anything about you or what you did. And the more you can take care of yourself as you move through them, the easier it becomes.
As a somatic sex educator and relationship coach, I want to help you find new ways to create the relationships that support you and make you thrive. Get in touch with me to schedule a free Acquainted call. Let’s talk about what’s going on for you and how I can help you make sex easy.