All my commitments fly out the window: “I reflect, before I react.” “I see the positive in every person and every situation.” “I accept myself unconditionally, especially when shame arises.”
In a second. I have nothing left but a puddle of shock, fear, shame, and anger.
‘Tragic expression of unmet needs?’ Never heard of it. All I hear are criticisms, demands, evaluations. ‘Seeing our interdependence?’ Not today. I take her remarks personally and my mind races with defenses, counter arguments, attacks. ‘Empathetically guessing: “Are you feeling upset and scared? You want more respect and safety?”’ My mind draws a blank.
All I can do, is stare at her moving video image on my computer screen and desperately (and thanks to my Sangha, moderately successfully) try NOT to express the angry, anxious thoughts clamoring to come out of my mouth.
I barely succeed in saying “I love you” at the end.
After we hang up, I feel deflated, discouraged, hopeless.
My thoughts are: “What a fool I am for believing I could create a warm, extensive community that includes me, my husband, my family, and friends. What an utter idiot I am for having that crazy dream, trying to get my reality closer to my vision.”
The emotional tension is so intense that all I can think is “Give up, give up, give up. Pack your stuff and fly back to the Netherlands.”
And then I also think of something I read in Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline”:
“The juxtaposition of vision (what we want) and a clear picture of current reality (where we are relative to what we want) generates what we call ‘creative tension’: a force to bring them together, caused by the natural tendency of tension to seek resolution. The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives.”
“People often have great difficulty talking about their visions, even when the visions are clear. Why? Because we are acutely aware of the gaps between our vision and reality… These gaps can make a vision seem unrealistic or fanciful. They can discourage us or make us feel hopeless… If we fail to distinguish emotional tension from creative tension, we predispose ourselves to lowering our vision.”
This was a literal and figurative call back to reality. Apparently I am not anywhere close to seeing my vision fulfilled. My reality is very different from where I thought it was. Yes, this is a set-back, and yes, I feel discouraged about it.
And that doesn’t mean that my journey is in vain. It means the difference is a learning opportunity for me. Where am I on the path? How do I work -not fight- with the obstacles I face? How can I be more creative, resourceful, and whole?
How can I make the journey the reward?
And with that inquiry I shift to feeling a little more settled, at peace, and hopeful.
Let me know: how do you work with creative tension? I would love to hear from you.
I’m in a shame storm. I’m in our NVC group, practicing empathy with a buddy. My husband walks by. He says “I hope my eating won’t disturb you too much, honey.”
I feel the urge to explain to my buddy what my husband is talking about. “Well, uh,… you know,… I have this issue…”
My goodness, why did my husband say that? So innocently expressing his care for me. And triggering so much shame? As if I am exposed in my nakedness, covered in poop?
I look at my empathy buddy. He doesn’t seem too concerned by my stuttering. He just listens with a calm smile. I trust him to listen with empathy. I feel safe expressing honestly. “Well, you know… I hope you will not judge what I’m saying… I fear judgment… I get super triggered by eating sounds.”
Sigh… Relief… The truth is out… I never shared this with anyone, other than with my husband.
“It’s any eating sound: smacking, slurping, licking, screeching your fork with your teeth, or banging your spoon against a glass bowl.”
Another sigh of relief. My empathy buddy doesn’t seem too disturbed by my confession. He’s still listening. “You can fart as often as you want and I won’t mind. But making eating sounds drives me through the roof! I’ll get so triggered that I’ll either find an excuse to leave the table or I’ll turn it against you with something like: ‘There is something wrong with you for eating like that!’”
My empathy buddy still listens with care, nodding understanding and acceptance. No judgment whatsoever. I continue “And the truth is, I think there is something fundamentally wrong with me for having this sensitivity. I have the thought: ‘I am defective, beyond repair.’”
I feel a sadness come up. It is the first time I speak about this issue I feel so ashamed about. And it is just as Brené Brown describes: my shame disappears. Shame only survives in hiding. If it is brought into the light and received with compassion and acceptance, it loses it’s power. In the connection, acceptance and understanding, we experience the opposite of what shame wants us to believe. We experience that we are worthy of acceptance, love and belonging. We realize there is nothing wrong with us for having an issue. We notice we are not an issue.
I’m still not proud of my issue. It’s a handicap I didn’t chose. My eating sound sensitivity might never change. And now that I talked about it honestly with an empathy buddy, I can make different choices around it. I can ask for help without blaming or criticizing the other person. I can expand my compassion for everyone else who struggles with their own issue. I can choose mindful walking when my trigger overwhelms me. And most of all, I can work on self-acceptance and my longing to connect, even while eating.
With empathy and honesty, we can explore creative solutions that work better.
Let me know how you deal with issues you feel shame around.
This is a tender letter to all my friends who experience shame. Shame about the choices you’ve made, and how you think these reflect on you as a person. All my friends who have come to believe that whatever you do, it is never good enough. It is never good enough to cover up the fundamental flaws of your being. It is never good enough to get the love, acceptance, support, and understanding you so deeply long for. You just want to hide and never face the pain, fear and loneliness of this shame again.
You’re not alone. I am here. We are here. For you. For me. For us. We all know what shame feels like. We all know the devastating impact shame has on the freedom of choices we make.
We also all know the healing power of compassion.
Last year I participated in a yearlong program Nonviolent Communication. We were invited to offer a workshop to the other participants as a learning opportunity. I had two participants show up. Josie had 14. I felt deeply ashamed. Here was direct proof that I was not attractive, interesting, and inspiring enough to have anyone show up. When I shared my shame in my empathy-group a shame storm raged through my body. I hardly could look at anyone. Then they responded. With compassion. With care. With understanding. With a longing to include me, support me, reassure me.
I was flabbergasted. I was showing up naked, covered in my shit, and instead of the anticipated response of disgust, rejection and exclusion, I received love, belonging, acceptance.
I wish this healing experience for everyone in the world. I wish we all can find a friend, a coach, a therapist we trust. Someone who is willing and able to listen and empathize with us. Someone who doesn’t brush off our experience, or tries to cheer us up, but who is willing to be there for us in our suffering.
Then we can start to heal. We can start to heal the wounds of our childhood. We can start to believe that love, acceptance, and belonging are possible, just for who we are, with all our flaws. We can start to open up and be vulnerable. We can start to share our dreams, our aspirations, our heart’s desires.
After the shame storm is heard, we can listen to the quiet. We can hear everything that brings joy in our lives, and help us bloom, blossom and grow. Our vision will reveal itself, guiding us on the path of becoming more fully who we are.
May this year shower you with love, acceptance, and support.
You want help bringing compassion, healing and integration in your life? Contact me, 512 589 0482
Brené Brown talks about living wholeheartedly. Well. I do everything halfheartedly. I use Nonviolent Communication with some friends, but not with others. I work, but keep looking for other jobs. I eat vegan, but not around my family. I visit my Sangha, but not when I am tired. If there is anything I do wholeheartedly, it must be creating reasons to live halfheartedly.
My inner critic comes to my rescue. “Well, as Brené Brown found out, people who live wholeheartedly have a basic sense of worthiness. They believe they are worthy of love, belonging and connection. You don’t. You are full of self-doubt and insecurity. You grew up being scared you would be ridiculed, rejected, excluded. You never developed a sense of worthiness.” A second critic shows up “Stop being a whiny. Grow up. Get your act together and start living your life! Have the guts to be vulnerable. Take a risk and show everything that’s you, even parts you feel shame around. Remember David Schnarch? Remember that unilateral self-disclosure is a key element in differentiation? Sharing your authentic self, even when the other person is not disclosing anything personal in return? Be willing to stand there naked, trembling in your vulnerability, and be proud for doing so?” Gosh, I can’t imagine ever doing that. Writing a blog and inviting feedback from colleagues. Calling an organization and offering my services. Reaching for the moon, and landing on the stars. Living a full life of ME. I rather hide. And die in the end.
I think of my stepdaughter. She goes for it all. She wants to be a member of the city youth council? She writes and delivers a speech. She wants to do the summer school dance program with the Chicago Ballet Company? She auditions. She wants to go to college? She applies. She is willing to fail, to succeed. That explains her success.
I wonder. Can I do that too? Can I start a 30-day journey into living wholeheartedly and ask Brené Brown to comment on my blog? Can I face all the voices in my head that cry out loud I shouldn’t do that, that she is too busy, has no interest, that she has much better blogs to read? Can I tell them it’s not about her saying “yes”, it is about me getting into the arena and taking a stand? For myself? Showing up for who I fully am? To reach for the moon, and land on the stars? YES, I CAN!
Day 6 of my Rejection Therapy. Finally: Brene Brown!!! (www.brenebrown.com). From Daring Greatly, p 68-69:
There are a couple of very helpful ways to think about shame. First, shame is the fear of disconnection. We are psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually hardwired for connection, love and belonging. Connection, along with love and belonging (two expressions of connection), is why we are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Shame is the fear of disconnection -it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. I’m not worthy or good enough for love, belonging, or connection. I’m unlovable. I don’t belong. Here’s the definition of shame that emerged fro my research:
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.
People often want to believe that shame is reserved for people who have survived an unspeakable trauma, but this is not true. Shame is something we all experience. And while it feels as if shame hides in our darkest corners, it actually tends to lurk in all of the familiar places. Twelve “shame categories” have emerged from my research:
- Appearance and body image
- Money and work
- Mental and physical health
- Surviving trauma
- Being stereotyped or labeled.