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)


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

Fatal Attraction

Why I am so attracted to Ns?  PWC (Polly Want a Narcissist) said in her post:

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 still laugh when I think of this post – how eloquently she states the truth.  I use this early warning sign when I meet new people.  When I am instantly attracted to someone or like someone I proceed with caution now.  But I wanted to know why?

And for the most part I would tell myself: you’re attracted to the familiar.  But sometimes they are attracted to me and in some way hone in on me.  Why is that so?  Why am I attracted to them and they to me?

I’ve thought about this for a very, very long time since writing about early signs of an N in January of 2012.

And on my recent summer holiday I realized something about myself.  I was in a major tourist area and it was a busy day.  Crowded, hot and sticky.  I was standing at a view point – looking over the town that led down to the sea.  It was breathtaking.  I was standing there looking at it, not taking a picture but just enjoying it.  My simple enjoyment was interrupted by a guy who nudged me to take a photo.  I didn’t think anything of it.  I wasn’t in his way and so he stood right next me to take the photo of the scene.  And as I tried to enjoy the scene before me I felt oddly annoyed.  It made me turn around.  And a woman was standing right behind me with her child.  She was so close to me – not touching but really close I could feel her breath despite the heat.  She stared at me.  And I reacted quickly.  I moved over so she could stand next to what I presumed to be her husband.  When I moved over I noticed the emptiness to my right side.  How there was nobody along the railing and it was the same exact view from where I was standing.  And yet this man and woman needed to stand on my left side and in my spot instead my right side.  I had moved for them even though it was absolutely not necessary.

It was a nuance that only an N would notice.  And I realised that that is how I have so subtly behaved to people in general and even to my friends.  Thinking I’m the inconvenience when in fact I am NOT.  I am not in their way a majority of the time.  And for some reason the N can pick up those nuances quickly and that is how they maybe can be attracted to me?

And the flip side of it, I came to the realisation that I am attracted to them out of familiarity.  I still had one question lingering.  All the Ns are different on the outside.  The Ns that are friends don’t behave like my NM.  They don’t use fear like she did so how can I be attracted to someone who seems very different from my NM.  And after writing my recent posts on Worth I found something that seemed to make sense with all my N friends.

They defined my Worth.

That is what I was attracted to.  That was familiar.  At times it can be very mesmerising to have someone define Worth.  It gave me something to hold onto, a sense of structure.  I didn’t have my mom’s definition around after moving out so another person’s was a good replacement.  The ones that do (even subtly) seem to have a self-confidence, seem to have figured life out.  All the Ns came across that way at first.  They would in a very sneaky way define Worth and then show or assert the fact that they measured up to their own definition that was, of course, universal in their eyes.

And even if non-Ns define Worth it can be an attractive quality.  I am in admiration sometimes.  It seems so reassuring at first.  Later on it is a different story about how together they really are but that initial attraction, I get.

I’m just feeling out some thoughts on this and was wondering if anyone else seemed to understand the initial attraction?

xx T Reddy