Step 10 for Non-Addicts: The Truth About Shame and the Benefits of Living with Integrity

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By Kristin Snowden MA, LMFT

In last week’s blog, we discussed why step 10 is so important for both addicts and non-addicts. This week, we look at how non-addicts can practice this step, which reads as follows:

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it

When I transcended my personal crisis using the concepts of the 12 steps as guideposts, I didn’t come out the other end wearing a halo with roses and sunshine lining my path. My relationships (and relationship dynamics) remain extremely imperfect. I shove my foot in my mouth regularly. And I constantly wonder if I’m the biggest imposter in the world as I attempt to parent my children, work with clients as a therapist, and engage in intimate relationships with my family and friends.

As I do these things, I try to remember that shame and the fear of being unloved and unwanted are as omnipresent and irreversible in me as my innate drive to seek connection with others. I simply can’t experience one without the other. As long as I have a desire to love and be loved by others, I’m going to have a little voice inside my head saying, “Um, I don’t know Kristin, are you sure you deliver a package that is actually something others like and want to have around?”

Therefore, when I’m being mindful of my behaviors and choices, I ask myself, “If my shame and fear have me on trial all day, every day, trying to convict me of being a crappy human who’s not valuable, am I behaving in ways that give my shame and fear more evidence that I suck? Or am I helping the defense team?” This concept might sound a bit transactional—be good to feel good—but it helps me hit the pause button and develop a clearer path toward congruent decision-making, which is what step 10 is all about.

Speaking of step 10, I find the following process useful when working it. When exploring my decisions and behaviors (when continuing to take personal inventory), I ask myself two basic questions:

  1. Is this particular behavior congruent with my values and goals?
  2. Do I have to lie or manipulate to execute or maintain this behavior?

The answers to those questions typically lead me toward the most congruent path.

I also use Brené Brown’s BRAVING model (from her book, Rising Strong) in conjunction with step 10. I find this to be an outstanding guideline for a personal “checks and balances” system. With her model, BRAVING is an acronym for the following:

  • Boundaries—Was I clear with others about what’s OK and what’s not OK? Am I aware of what I need and what I experienced, and did I communicate that clearly to those involved? At the same time, was I able to hear and respect others’ boundaries?
  • Reliability—Did I show up for myself and others? Am I consistent in this regard?
  • Accountability—Did I explore where I might have fallen short? Did I respond to others appropriately, or from a reactive place? What do I need to do to clean up my side of the street?
  • Vault—I am welcome to share my story and experience, but am I careful to protect others’ confidences and provide them the safety to be vulnerable, just as I expect from them to do for me?
  • Integrity—Did I practice my values, rather than profess them? Did I behave in a way that fully honors and is integrated with my values, goals, and priorities?
  • Nonjudgment—Do I create an environment where I can be present for other’s experiences and stories without judging them? Do I have people around me where I can share my story openly and freely without feeling shamed or judged?
  • Generosity—Do I try my best to maintain the idea that most people are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given?

For my purposes, I like to add a second “G” to BRAVING.

  • Gratitude—Am I taking steps to maintain my mental health and wellbeing by practicing gratitude (thankfulness and appreciation) as often as possible, with all things?

Taken together, my two questions and Brené Brown’s BRAVING(G) exercise can help us stay mindful, aware, and in the executive functioning part of our brain. That is the state where we make good choices, feel connected to others, and consider the consequences of our actions in broader contexts.

Our default, unconscious state allows shame and fear to drive our choices, causing us to behave in narrow-minded, unhelpful ways. As Richard Rohr states in his book, Breathing Underwater, “Whenever we do anything stupid, cruel, evil, or destructive to ourselves or others, we are at the moment unconscious, and unconscious of our identity. If we are fully conscious, we would never do it.” So we must work hard to remain conscious and to move away from the default, reactive state that leads us astray.

Step 10 reminds us to never underestimate the persistency of our old, wretched habits. It’s a constant process of embracing our eternally flawed condition, while never ceasing to change it and improve upon it. In other words: step 10 is the personification of the much-used recovery phrase: Progress, not perfection.