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.

How Not to Be Wrong

I am good at being wrong.  My mother often tells me I am, I have to be wrong so she could be right.  She criticises me every chance she gets and loves to tell me that I’m wrong and I learned how to be wrong – to her advantage.

Her harshness and black and white approach to right and wrong taught me a lesson – how to take feedback.  I take it well, yes, it initially stings but I consider the feedback and try and make an improvement.  The opposite is also true, I take it so well even when someone is being cruel and doing so for narcissistic supply, like my mother.  This is why I’ve always gotten the feedback from my managers that I take it well – I totally get that now.

What happens to me when I know I did something wrong (hurtful, etc.) – I feel bad and then, I self-destruct.  I decide, myself, that I should be punished for doing/saying/thinking something horribly.  Like Tori Amos, I crucify myself.

Recently, I was wrong about an old university friend of mine, a good friend and roommate.  She contacted me after an 8 year period of not being in contact with each other (see post: When They Come Back).  To sum up, her e-mails have been sporadic with no real dialogue or exchange and she blew me off when we tried to meet up during a visit home last year.

On my birthday in October, I received an e-mail from my aunt and my old friend, Cari.  This sparked a huge amount of anger.  I was sick and tired of this.  E-mails that are nothing, no substance at all.  I would walk away from an exchange thinking WTF!  I was pissed, I had just started to enjoy celebrating my birthdays.  Ns have ruined my birthdays in the past – my mother, my friends and just when I found joy again in this celebration – here were two e-mails that sent me through the roof.

It lead to an explosion, okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration.  I swore a little, okay, a lot and there was some name-calling.  I mostly spoke out loud all the thoughts in my head, DH was present but he was a sounding broad letting me talk until I was tired.  Here is a paraphrasing of what I said –

Why the FCK is she e-mailing me?  Seriously, she doesn’t know one single thing about me, she doesn’t ask, it isn’t a dialogue, there is no FCKing point to this, is there? (DH responds – No).  I ask: Why do they bother?  Wasn’t it better when we didn’t talk to each other?  What is the point?  What do you think the point is? (DH: I have no clue.)  Either do I, I should FCKing ask them.

And that was it, right there, in that moment of me swearing was my answer: I should ask them.

And that is exactly what I did with my aunt and Cari.  The e-mails to my aunt were posted in The Sport of Paradoxing and for those following the e-mails I added her follow-up.

Here is the e-mail exchange with Cari:

Dear Cari,

Based on our sporadic e-mails since August of 2011, I am interested in better understanding what the purpose is of our interactions in an effort to have healthier relationships with family and friends.  I would like to clarify and better understand your intentions with regard to our contact since August 2011.  What has been your purpose of our e-mails?

Kind regards,

TR

Hi TR,

Over the years I have missed hearing from you and seeing you. We had been such great friends and it ended so strangely. I was excited when I found you were on LinkedIn and surprised to learn you moved so far away. Life gets so busy so it is hard to keep up the emailing, but I would like to stay in touch and maybe visit with each other at some point. If you have moved on from our friendship, I can respect that and will stop emailing you. If you’d like to keep in touch, I would like that.

Cari

Cari’s e-mail was thoughtful and I appreciated her response – it was a contrast to my aunt’s response.  DH found it so interesting to see the two responses side by side.

After taking in Cari’s words I started to feel awful about my feelings from our e-mails since August of 2011.  I had misjudged her intention and that was wrong.  My natural default setting* in this situation is to try and make it up to the person for how I felt initially.  This translated to giving too much and letting someone walk all over me because I deserved this because I judged someone harshly.  I was wrong and I needed to pay for it.  I learned how to be wrong – to everyone else’s advantage.

What was surprising is that my natural default setting didn’t kick-in right away.  I had some moments to breathe.

Perhaps, the second best part of this was the fact that after I listened to Cari’s words, I then listened to how I felt about the e-mail.  I did appreciate what she said and how she felt.  It meant a lot.  However, it didn’t nullify her past behaviours.  Her actions don’t reflect her words.  I understand she is busy and e-mails can get dropped.  It happens.  It doesn’t happen that consistently over and over again over a two year time span.

The single best part of this was I learned How Not to Be Wrong.  Before, I would let my boundaries get crossed and allow myself to be taken advantage of as punishment for my bad behaviours or inappropriate thoughts.  Being wrong does not mean that Cari has a free-pass to cross my boundaries or not listen to my voice.  Even when I have behaved terribly towards someone or misjudged them initially – this is not a way for me to cancel out my own bad behaviours or thoughts.  Punishing myself for behaving in a way I don’t value means: I apologise and then Mind the Gap more carefully next time.

I went back to her e-mail after a few hours and looked closer.  My intention is not to pick apart her words and dissect it further because overall it was a thoughtful e-mail.  I tried to find how I felt about it and in the end, I felt “I’m still a little cautious”.

I am no where near ready to meet her face to face like before.  To re-establish this connection, there needs to be authenticity behind it.  I do not feel that a connection has been established through our e-mails.  The next part is letting her know that this is my voice – we are building a new connection regardless of having had a 10 year friendship.  Our friendship was unhealthy (‘strangely’ is a euphemism for unhealthy), we were cruel to each other and I needed to share with her my feelings – ultimately, my voice in all this.

I thought about a million ways to word it.  This is how I responded:

Hi Cari,

Thank you for responding.  We were good friends and I have missed our friendship and it did end strangely.  In a way, since 2011, we are starting over – not from scratch but nonetheless where we are getting to know each other all over again.  I would like to continue to stay in touch and re-connect with you and learn more about each other and our new stories as I can imagine we have changed and a lot has happened in 10 years.  I welcome your e-mails and I hope to be able to exchange more of our stories in the coming time.

Have a great Halloween with the family.

xxTR

After this Cari responded with what they were up to for Halloween and she asked me what I was doing for it.  I will send her an e-mail during Thanskgiving and see how it goes from there.

After dealing with both my aunt and Cari my body reacted.  I was uneasy and anxious and not able to sleep well.  When I was writing this post and connecting the links I saw that the song Crucify by Tori Amos was from her album: Little Earthquakes.  That is exactly what it feels like when disrupting the pattern that is automatic for me – my natural default setting*.  They are like little earthquakes.

xxoo TR
*Please note the term natural default setting is a term David Foster Wallace used in his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College in Ohio.  I enjoyed the speech, click here to view.