The Year of the (Scape)Goat

The 19th of February will mark the beginning of the year of the goat/sheep according to the Chinese calendar.  Astrology (and the internet) reveal these common traits:

Goats are kind-hearted, trustful and are not fond of change.

And I also read they are very sensitive.  Hah!  It was listed as a weakness.  I think, for only a moment, the universe is part of the ‘joke’ that took me a while to figure out – that humans can’t be goats!

Well, whether it is Chinese astrology or your very dysfunctional family, Scapegoats make the universe and the dysfunction go round and round.  It never stops.  Until the Scapegoat sees that there is a problem (other than themselves) and actually wants to change.  It can happen even when the stars are not aligned.  Go Goats!

Domesticating Molding a Scapegoat in a family involves placing blame until the child  automatically does so herself, on cue.  The only thing required to keep the goat contained is control.   Control keeps the universe from collapsing (or in this case, the system).  Usually, someone literally collapses because it is exhausting to keep a fragile system spinning in orbit.

Goat

Playing the Scapegoat is like an actual goat in the pasture eating unwanted vegetation.  When you think you have tamed the pasture, new weeds have already sprouted up elsewhere.  It works because the Scapegoat can be trusted to do the repetitive job, even our strengths are weaknesses!

As a Scapegoat, you can make all the noise you want but it isn’t until your duties get neglected that everyone pays attention.  Everyone starts to react to the uncontrollable weeds in the backyard (but not actually doing anything about it).  The only thing more off putting than looking at all the weeds is the neighbors commenting on the unkept yard.  Oh my!  Surely something’s wrong with the goat, what shall they do?  Weed killer and mulch, although acceptable alternatives, require too much work, unlike a peaceful goat grazing.

And unlike a peaceful goat, I started to become angry and then, a lot of stuff became uncomfortable around me.  The past years in recovery I felt changes even when no one around me could see them.  I was a human dressed in a goat costume and it was getting really itchy.  I still have a long way to go to get that darn costume off – it was sewn on with love and care intricate stitching.  However, parts are beginning to fray.

Astrology and the goat’s early domestication by humans have led us astray from the true nature of the goat.  The goat will readily return to its wild (feral) state and she is an intelligent, curious creature willing to explore unfamiliar territory (contradictory to the notion she is not fond of change).  Goats live symbiotic with man, serving purposes like milk, butter, cheese, clothing and removal of unwanted vegetation.  But with any symbiotic situation, some basic principles must be remembered to maintain harmony – the weeds are NOT the goat’s fault!

Happy New Year!  All the best to everyone for a healthy 2015!

Footnote to the New Year

I found this article revealing about the trait of procrastination as I try to move forward this year.  A timely article.  😉

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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.