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.

Sister Act

Thank you so much for the all the comments and thoughts of support regarding the visit of my SiL and BiL.  Your comments helped me get through the aftermath of dealing with all of it that much easier.  Hugs to you all.

The past few weeks have been difficult.  I sat in shame immediately after the visit.  I had to forget that emotion to get ready for my language exam and thereafter, a holiday break.  When I came back I relived the events, played the tapes.  After some distance it is amazing on what you pick up, what you now see so clearly.  As I peeled the layers of shame I meet anger and grief (for not having a sister within SiL).  I was alone at home (DH was traveling for work) and they were my companions this past week.

Although shame is a more recent emotion for me, I move through it a lot faster than grief and anger.  I don’t know why?  Maybe grief feels more raw to me because I think I have always had shame along side me – I think I have been able to ‘handle’ it because that was a common emotion my mother tried to instil in me.  Grief and anger were not allowed to be expressed at home.

And for me, grief and anger seem to be a more outward emotion.  Whereas shame, although a release, feels more internal and more of an exhale in the end.  Grief, for me, I need to cry, let the tears out and anger, I need to vocalise it, yell a bit (not at anyone) just get the words out of my mouth.

And it was nice to be alone to deal with my shame and grief but anger didn’t erupt until DH came home.  I needed a person in front of me to hear my story, hear my anger.  It came out at once and I was surprised at what came out of me.  Well, as one can imagine, it wasn’t pretty.

Among the name calling, I found myself saying things that really surprised me.  This one, in particular, took me and DH by surprise:

She is so dangerous, she is the danger that you don’t see coming.

Not that danger has signs but there are some dangers that have some warning signs.  And in my SiL’s case she is one that we don’t expect there to be a danger just from her presentation of herself.

DH asked me why I thought she was dangerous.  It would be easy to say that she is dangerous to my emotional well-being but I don’t believe that to be the case, nor do I suspect others reading this do either.  And the danger I meant had everything to do in the physical state of being.

I retold DH about our trip home for MiL’s funeral and when we were visiting with DH’s aunt and uncle and cousins.  We were all in the living room of FiL’s apartment and SiL was sitting in MiL’s chair (ironically) and she found a small pill bottle tucked between the cushion and the arm rest.  She read the medicine label (she’s an MD) and looked at it and said across the room to FiL – what are you taking this for?

I could already tell FiL did not want to get into this discussion in front of the family by his response – He said it was for high blood pressure.  SiL said that this is not the medicine he should be taking and that this has the opposite effect.  FiL asked for the capsule and she brought it over.  He looked at it and put it in his pocket.  SiL continues to tell him he should go talk to his doctor to make sure he is getting the right medication and that he should in no way be taking this medicine if he is having high blood pressure.  FiL just shrugged and didn’t respond.  There was silence and I looked straight at SiL and I saw her eyes look around the room.

I remember the only thing I could do was watch SiL because she was the one behaving in such a way that initially had scared me.  There were many things I am now taking away from this and one of those things is danger.

Kara and CS and in the comments have started insightful discussions in their recent posts on the relationship between emotions and our physical health.  And the emotional distress unhealthy people have on us is not spoken about often in terms of specific physical repercussions or root problems.  I only wonder now, if Ns have more of a direct impact on our physical health when dealing with Dr. Narcissistic SiL.

xxoo TR