Acting on shame

I read about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) today, for the first time – specifically, Opposite to Emotion Action. This is a psychological self-help technique wherein a person feels shame or anger, and reverses their actions to alleviate the feeling. The idea is that sometimes, one feels these negative emotions for a good reason, and the best way to relieve the emotion is to “fix” the situation that caused it in the first place. Theory goes, the emotions will change for the better, as you change your behavior. Sound familiar?

I don’t know about you, but this totally sounds like the process I went through on my way to veganism! When folks told me about their vegetarianism and veganism, I felt angry and uncomfortable and judged, and took out those feelings on the people who I perceived to be judging me. On some level, I now know that I felt very ashamed about the suffering I had been causing. I covered up that shame with defensiveness that made me want to find holes in veg*an arguments – anything to prove that I was right and moral and good, that what I was doing was somehow justifiable. But after a while, I let myself feel that shame. And I listened to it, and changed my actions. The result? The shame went away.

Anyway, I thought I’d share this, in case someone else finds it as interesting as I did. Maybe next time you’re getting a defensive reaction from someone who hasn’t gone vegan yet, remembering that they’re probably feeling some very negative emotions might help give you a bit more patience. Defensiveness is good, on some level – it means a person knows that they’re doing something that requires uncomfortable explanations and justifications. Since that was a first step toward veganism for me, I hope that it can head that way for others as well.

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