Worth (part 3)

Shame, shame, go away,

come back another day.

Shame doesn’t work like that.  Oh, how I wish it did some days (ok, all the time).  I didn’t know what shame was until two years ago.  I had no knowledge about it, yet, I spent my life developing an intricate system around denying it.  The body is a remarkable machine, we can suppress an emotion the split second before we feel the physical sensation come on.  And shame comes with a full body experience.

My chest gets tight in order to close off oxygen to my body.  It freezes it, no motion is allowed for a second and no thoughts run through my head.  It happens quickly, maybe less than 30 seconds.  It feels like I’ve temporally lost control and I have to remember to ‘choose’ to breathe again.

When I eventually exhale, I never seem to bounce back from it before the minute is over.  My body is still trying to catch up with my breathing.  When it eventually does, it feels like time has slowed and my thoughts gently reenter the space between my ears.  They are trying to catch up too.

I didn’t understand how much of my body is required to let myself feel an emotion, it was something I learned when beginning this chapter.  I spent the following year working on my shame triggers (vulnerabilities) using Brené Brown¹ exercises.  Within a few months, I put together a list of shame triggers and spend the rest of the year adding to it and completing the hardest aspect of her exercise – identifying its origin.  Digging meant unwrapping memories that were neatly tucked away.  Visiting painful memories was torture.

The least surprising part of this was seeing that many were influenced by my parents, cultural/societal upbringing, childhood friends – many of my triggers had to do with early childhood memories.  The most surprising were the ones added in adulthood – my MiL influenced a few.  Brown focused on the fact that we must find the origin of the trigger, otherwise, we will not gain any knowledge or understanding of our true self.

One ‘positive’ aspect of going through this was the ability to discern someone purposefully shaming me vs someone hitting a shame trigger unintentionally.  Because I had now seen, read, re-read, and stared at my list, I knew certain subjects were going to be tough to handle, which with some awareness allowed me to hear the words being used rather than only ‘hear’ my shame (influencing my blaming behaviors).

Around the time my list was somewhat complete, I had dinner with friends and we began talking about psychology as one of the friends is interested in the subject as well.  I explained Brown’s shame trigger exercise.  She then asked if I could give her an example.  I told her a few of my shame triggers and briefly the origin and she said after hearing me: Wow, those shame triggers are ones that you deal with when you first meet someone, those subjects come up usually in a first interaction.

Her comment floored me and I am so grateful for it.  I hadn’t looked at my shame triggers like that.  How they factor into social interactions and how I face shame a majority of the time when I first meet someone.  It changed how I viewed my vulnerabilities.  And maybe why I am drained from social interactions especially when it involves meeting new people.

After this discussion, I spent quite a bit of time focusing on what happens when I first meet someone.  It was so weird to ‘tally’ how many new people I actually met over the course of one year and I’m an introvert!  From new students/professors at language class to social groups to new friends of old friends, the number was enough to see a pattern.

I felt shame, in different degrees, in almost every single situation where I met someone for the first time.  I can imagine that that emotion could be read across my face and communicated subconsciously to the other person.  Thus, helping narcissists hone in on me as a potential target.  It is exactly like PWC (@Polly Want a Narcissist?) said:

“Do I gravitate towards them? Yes, it’s as simple as that. I could walk across a crowded room and collect three Narcissists on my way, I’m that good at finding the N in the room.”

I finally get why!

2013: The Year of Shame

A closing to my “Year of Shame” (as DH likes to label 2013) included what I now consider (hindsight) a ‘pop quiz’ to the work I had done prior.  During our FOO visit in December (2013), we met up with an old group of friends where one of them had a new fiancée whom I had never met.

When we shook hands, she said to me, “I’ve heard a lot about you.” and that would begin the long evening ahead and my battle with shame.

She managed to touch on every single shame trigger that could come up in a first encounter and then some.  What initially seemed unintentional became intentional when ‘weird’ questions were directed towards me to dig for more information – not to get to know me but more like an interrogation.  It felt like I was being suckered punched and the only thing saving me was the fact I decided I wasn’t going to drink alcohol that night.  As her words gravely affected me, I remembered that I don’t have to stand here and take ‘getting to know me’ as chiseling away at my self-worth.  I left and went to the bathroom several times (albeit hardly drinking my coffee).

It was in the sanctity of a bar restroom that I was able to lock myself in a stall and let myself feel shame, allow myself time to regroup.  It was my escape for a few minutes from a woman who seemed to know how to touch my shame triggers exactly like my mother.  She was smooth.

It is situations like these that I fear (anxiety).  It is someone taking an ‘innocent’ question and going too far in the guise of ‘small talk’ or ‘friendliness’.  Sending me into a spiral of self-loathing.  It is why I talk myself out of social situations.  I can see the shame coming from a mile away.  And I still run in the other direction.

After what felt like a long night, I walked back to the car in my fabulous shoes understanding a lot more about myself – not all great but more conscious of it, more aware and alive.  The cold, winter night air hit my face, awakening me in a way, reminding me that I was still holding on to the one important thing – my self-worth.

Something I need to remember as I continue facing shame:

“Every time you meet a situation, though you think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you were before.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Further Reading about Shame

Caliban’s Sisters: Shame and the Decisions We Make

Related posts @IBC: Worth (part 1); Worth (part 2)

Footnotes

¹Brown, Brené, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. (2007). I Thought it Was Just Me (but it isn’t). New York: Gotham Books.

Book Review: The Dance of Anger

I recently finished the book, The Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner Ph.D. and at the same time it is celebrating hitting 3 million copies sold – Lerner discusses the book that took her five years to get published in a recent interview.

Overall, I found the book slow to read but full of necessary learning points about anger.  She does not focus on the psychology of the emotion and instead each chapter focuses on a clinical example to illustrate the message anger tells us.  Her lens is one of a woman and focuses primarily on the family (of origin and choice) and in the later section addresses anger in triangulation.

anger

“Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.” ~Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Her opening line is her most quoted and one in which she illustrates how society, especially women, has subtly taught us to ignore this signal.  Often, with women, anger is met with rejection and disapproval from others.  Her stance is:

“Anger is neither legitimate nor illegitimate, meaningful nor pointless.  Anger simply is.” ~Lerner

To say anger is good or bad is not the point.  The point, like all other emotions, is that it exists and it has a purpose.  Therefore, it deserves our respect and attention.  The book’s main purpose is to understand and gain more clarity about its source.

“It is amazing how frequently we march off to battle without knowing what the war is all about.” ~Lerner

Gaining a clarity of ‘what the battle is’ is often the most challenging aspect of anger.  Anger is a powerful signal that is often unclear and requires further investigation.  We can spend enormous amounts of time and energy in endless cycles that won’t help us move forward.

“If feeling angry signals a problem, venting anger does not solve it.” ~Lerner

This was a hard pill to swallow.  I have often vented anger to my husband and here on this blog.  If venting allows one to reveal the source of the anger and gain clarity about why we are feeling it then, yes, venting can help.  Venting to vent will help maintain the status quo and perpetuate an endless cycle that will not bring about more clarification about the self.

“Anger and guilt are just about incompatible.” ~Lerner

In some dysfunctional families, guilt is the main currency and it is no wonder anger takes a back burner.  Lerner adds that guilt has to do with not giving or doing enough while anger is about not getting enough.  Guilt and self-doubt are blockers to being aware of our anger.

“Anger is a tool for change when it challenges us to become more of an expert on the self and less of an expert on others.” ~Lerner

This one sentence addresses a lot of what I took away from this book.  First, anger is the emotion that can lead us to make a change.  It can, when managed appropriately, be a powerful agent for personal growth.

The second message goes back to identifying the ‘battle’ we are actually fighting.  Anger often leads us to focus on the other person.  “She attacked me, she wasn’t empathetic, he wasn’t listening.”  But the source of the anger and the ‘battle’ we are fighting is about the ‘self’.  It is about taking responsibility for ourselves and often assuming less of the other person’s.

In any type of relationship anger becomes a struggle for the ‘self’ (the “I”) versus the ‘we’.  Anger is about my needs, feelings, thoughts, opinions, etc. not being addressed.  Disrupting the status quo of pushing my needs down while another’s is met brings about the conflict of honouring myself while having a relationship with another (the Narcissistic Dilemma).

Obtaining clarification of why we are angry (its source) has to do with the ‘self’ and our protection of our sense of self.  It is about understanding what our needs are in a relationship – not always evident right away.  Anger can be useful even if it only helps us take a step back to find that clarification about the self.

He doesn’t listen ⇒ I need to be seen and heard

She attacked me ⇒ I need to be respected and valued

She’s not empathising ⇒ I need understanding and comfort

So, when I wrote the ‘fake’ letter to my friend in anger (see post), it was all about her and her behaviours.  Instead of saying ‘she wasn’t empathetic’, I realised that ‘I needed my story considered, I needed my feelings and situation to be heard.’  This is what I needed from our friendship.  It may very well be an expectation that she doesn’t agree with and that tells me what my bottom line is.

After finishing The Dance of Anger, I read another book by Lerner entitled The Dance of Connection.  I found this book to be a nice complement and one where there were some practical ways in which to deal with someone when angry, hurt, etc. (more focused on romantic relationships but still applicable to other types).

The quote that best summarises Lerner’s The Dance of Anger:

“Many of our problems with anger occur when we choose between having a relationship and having a self.  This book is about having both.” ~Lerner

Further Reading & References

Lerner, Harriet Ph.D., The Dance of Anger;  Harper Collins Publishers; 2005.

Lerner, Harriet Ph.D., The Dance of Connection; Harper Collins Publishers; 2002.

For a bit of humour Karla McLaren shared this video.