How Leave No Trace (LNT) Camping Ethics Apply to Your Shame and Pain
Yes, you read that right! Scatter your shame and pain, intentionally! What have you been doing with your shame and pain? If you are like most people, you hide it, deny it, or perhaps unload it on one best friend or your romantic partner. But the problem with that is it comes out sideways, when you least expect it. Or it stagnates and rots inside you. Or you overburden your best friend or partner expecting too much. So what do you do about it?
In LNT principles, you minimize your impact on our environment by scattering cool ashes and scattering your strained dishwater. Why? You pack out trash, but you don’t want to carry dead organic material from the past with you. That is best left to return to the earth to be broken down and fertilize the next generations of life And leaving a pile of waste is an eyesore, attracts animals, and over-taxes one spot. Especially if you leave food scraps in a pile, it will decompose and stink.
Pain and shame is a natural organic human experience. Just like the lifecycle represented with food and ashes. Our emotional “yucky stuff” needs to be handled just like physical “yucky stuff.” It can’t be ignored, don’t let it accumulate, don’t leave it for others to deal with. Give it a proper treatment by straining out the big bits, and dispersing the small pieces where they don’t cause harm and in some cases can even nourish other forms of life.
Shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brene Brown advises that we handle these feelings just like we strain our dishwater or separate ashes from incompletely burned charred firewood. First separate what you do from who you are. You may have done something you regret, but it doesn’t mean you are bad. Guilt is feeling bad about what you did, which can be a healthy emotion that causes a change in behavior. Shame is saying who you are is bad. This is destructive and causes future harm, to yourself obviously, but to others in your life as well. Shamed people shame people. Don’t allow your shame to fester, rot, or accumulate or it will impact others by you shaming or judging them.
After we strain our dishwater or cool our ashes, we spread them so we don’t concentrate them in one spot. The next step of dealing with shame or pain is the same. Find lots of people who can share a little bit of your story. Shame lives in secrecy. The best way to free yourself of shame or pain is to shed light on it rather than hide it. Unloading everything on one person can be too much. But by having good friends, a partner, family, a support group, a therapist and/or therapy group, etc you can share appropriate parts with trustworthy people, eventually freeing yourself of the burden, while not overtaxing one person.
If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. – Brene Brown, TED Talk (linked above)
Doing what I do, I am exposed to the pain, shame, and trauma of lots of people. And of course I’m human too and create plenty of my own! I’m trained to work with these hazardous feelings and am better equipped than your average friend, but even I can’t hold that myself. And you too may have experienced more than your fair share of “yucky stuff,” so this tip can apply to you too. Over the years of doing therapy, I’ve assembled my own pain dispersal system. I have my own therapist, a men’s group, mentor(s), a peer consultation group, and several good male and female friends, a great relationship with my romantic partner, and spiritual practices and rituals that I can share and disperse my own pain and “yucky stuff” with. Due to confidentiality, I obviously can’t and don’t talk about other people’s details, but I certainly can talk about my own pain and how I am impacted by what I experience in my life. Often that is a better way to connect anyhow. People don’t always need to know the details, and often can’t even relate to your specific experience, but everyone can connect and empathize with the feelings you have. Get to the point, get real, and connect on your shared emotional human experience. And assemble a your own personal tribe of people so each person can handle a little bit, and nobody gets overburdened, especially the people closest to you.
When you don’t own your story, your story owns you. When you own your story, you are free to edit and re-author it any way you choose. When you don’t own your story, it controls your feelings and behaviors, often perpetuating the shame and pain. When you own your guilt, shame, or pain and spread it intentionally, it doesn’t harm you or anyone else. In fact, sometimes it can be a gift to teach others from your experience. But when you hold it, deny it, or repress it, it rots and overburdens you. It gets worse and will get spread unconsciously and possibly cause more harm to you and others in your life. With great circle of trustworthy people you can be real and vulnerable with, you can unburden yourself, without burdening others to free yourself up to write the next chapter of your life with more joy and ease. Spread it! Carefully and intentionally.
Bonus Videos on the Topic:
Here’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) expert Jon Kabat Zin speaking about this topic and to use mindfulness with these feelings.
And for a lighter more humorous look, here’s comedian Kyle Cease.
Chuck Hancock, M.Ed, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of CO. He has completed comprehensive training in the Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy, a mindfulness mind-body centered approach. Chuck guides individuals and groups in self-exploration providing them with insight and tools for change. He also incorporates nature as a therapy tool to help shift perspective and inspire new patterns.