Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shame and How it Immobilizes You

Shame, what is it? How does it immobilize you?

Shame is an interesting creature that moves into our souls unannounced at a very young age. Shame begins early in our lives creating feelings that hurt, ache and scream messages like, “Something is incredibly wrong with me.”

Do you remember the first time that you accidently broke something?

Do remember when you spilled your milk on the floor or soiled your pants when you were supposed to be potty trained?

Do you remember how sad you felt when kids made fun of you at school or on the playground?

Do you remember how red your face turned when a teacher attacked you for answering a question wrong?

All of us have experienced situations like these plus many more. In addition, all of those experiences have one thing in common. Each of those experiences was events that interrupted our positive joy or interest. These experiences are the beginning of shame, toxic shame. None of the above experiences is enough in and of itself, severe enough to create toxic shame, but all of that depends on what type of environment we had consistently at home or at school.

If our home environment was safe, then we learned we could survive just about anything that happens to us, because we know what to expect. One of the definitions of a safe environment is knowing what to expect, a consistent environment. An environment where we can depend on our parents or caregivers to be there for us when the chips are down, even when it is our fault. We knew we could count on mom or dad to get over their anger with us and be okay with us again. Alternatively, we could tell our safe caregiver how awful it was at school when the other kids made fun of us or that we didn't have someone to sit with at lunchtime. In addition, we could depend on our parents to stick up for us when a teacher or other adult treated us unfairly. Those are healthy experiences and we learn to develop inner confidence when we have a dependable and safe environment.

However, if our environment was not dependable or if it was consistently chaotic or abusive then what we learn from the above situations, is that there really is something incredibly wrong with us. We learn that when accidents happen it is our fault and that something bad is going to happen to us because of the accident. We learn we to hide our feelings and never tell anyone at home how it felt at school today. We learn that people don't like us or love us and we believe that is because we are bad and unlovable. As those things happen and pile on, one after another, we develop an open wound in our soul, a place where it aches all of the time and where hateful messages are stored. Those messages turn into scripts and then we act them out in "bad" ways in our daily adult lives.

When we have internalized our shame, it becomes toxic to us, just like living in a house full of mold, or sewage seeping into our drinking water. It effects us all of the time and we don't even know it until the symptoms become severe. We act our internalized shame in one of four ways. We attack our self (self-hatred); we attack others (hurt someone else); we avoid (addictions) or we withdraw (atypical depression). By adapting to our shame by doing any of the above, we become immobilized into our little quadrant of the world all by ourselves. Our resources rot around us and we develop a lifestyle that in every way is keeping us bound by scripts, messages, and behavior that keep us repeating old destructive patterns.

So what do we do? That answer of course, is too long for this article, but here are some starting points. First, write down your childhood story in journal form. Look for the times that you cut-off from yourself because it became too painful to by you. We call those cut-offs, parts, disowned parts. Sometimes those cut-off parts are complete developmental stages that we just by-pass and then end up in our adult lives wondering why everyone else seems so confident, and we feel so insecure. Thus, the first step is to identify our cut-off parts.

Second, we find creative ways to work with those cut off parts. We can journal to those young parts of ourselves; we can have those parts journal back to us. Sometimes it is a good exercise to write with our non-dominant hand. It is not important that we are able to read it later, it is important to write with our non-dominant hand because feelings come up that won’t come up otherwise. If journaling is not your gig, you can use guided imagery and internal dialogue to talk to those parts that are cut-off.

Third it is important to find someone to tell your story too, so that you don’t have to keep hiding. It is imperative that the person you tell your story to is safe or you risk re-traumatizing yourself. It is usually best that the person has training, like a psychotherapist, social worker, or a clergy trained in psychotherapy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Cognitive Interweave of Shame


Search of memory from previous similar experiences.

In shame theory, eight specific areas are interwoven into our stories, associations, and memories. Our bodies carry all of these interwoven stories inside of us producing tightness and tension. Every time I think about the body-mind connection, I am reminded of Peter Levine’s important work that he labels, “Somatic Experiencing. In SE, Dr. Levine empowers clients to focus on the internal experience of the body. By turning our awareness to our body, we learn to let go of those old story lines and create new ones. As you review the list below, allow yourself to ponder and write about an experience in each of the eight categories. As you recall the specific experience, journal the experience in as much detail as possible, and as the details return to your memory, notice what happens inside of your body. Notice what part of your body tightens or feels nauseated. Notice your breathing and your heart rate. Notice your fearful or shameful thoughts. Once those thoughts come to your awareness, use your gentle breath to allow the shameful and fearful thoughts float out of your body and into never – never land. Begin to observe what you need, and gently breath it in from never-never land allowing the peace, comfort, gentleness to begin to fill your body. Notice the difference now as compared to twenty minutes ago when you started with the shameful –fearful feelings. Just keep experimenting with your breath until your body feels different in a better sort of way.

Layered associations of shame:

1. Matters of size, shape, ability, skill. (I am weak, incompetent, stupid.)

2. Dependence/Independence. (Sense of helplessness.)

3. Competition. (I am a loser.)

4. Sense of self. (I am unique only to the extent that I am defective.)

5. Personal attractiveness. (I am ugly or deformed. The blush stains my features and makes me even more a target of contempt.)

6. Sexuality. (There is something wrong with me sexually.)

7. Issues of seeing and being seen. (The urge to escape from the eyes before which we have been exposed. The wish for a hole to open up and swallow me.)

8. Wishes and fears about closeness. (The sense of being shorn from all humanity. A feeling that one is unlovable. The wish to be left alone forever.)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Reflections on Hope

Hope is a word that I have been reflecting on quite a bit over these past few weeks. I have been pondering what it means to have hope. Is it useful to have hope? Does hope require any action from us? If we have hope, how are we different from when we don’t have hope? What is the difference between hope and denial or dreaming?

It appears that philosophers and writers have pondered this word too and I did not remember until writing this article that in Greek Mythology, when Pandora opened the box she let out all of the evils, except one, hope. There are many versions of this Greek myth, however, regardless of the versions; the bottom line is that without hope humanity fell into total despair. How, does hope help in the midst of hopelessness and what are our personal scripts around hope?

In Anthony Scioli’s book, The Power of Hope, he states that hope consists of four elements, the first being that of attachment. Then there is mastery, survival, and spirituality. I have written on and off about attachment theory and it makes perfect sense to me that people I see in my office that have the most difficult time with this nebulous word hope, are those who have attachment issues.

I will not go into attachment here, but offer some ponderings about how to hope even when your attachment style did not come from a secure base.

Pondering 1: Turn your attention to the ant. As far as we know, the ant does not fret about all of the travesties in front of it. It does not worry about your big foot that is about to take it out, nor does it focus on the fumes from the anti-bug killer. The ant continues to do what it does until it cannot do it anymore. Practice being an ant today, focus on the things in front of you that you can do something about, not those things that you have no control over.

Pondering 2: Think about the stars. According to Wikipedia, a star is a luminous mass of plasma held together by gravity. The sun is the brightest of them all. Stars shine all day but the sun out shines them, therefore we cannot see them. A star does not seem to care. Most of us do not walk out of our doors to look up at the sun. We may enjoy the sunset and the sunrise and make special efforts to gaze into the magic of the sun’s display of colors. However, at nighttime, we do go outside and look up, search and marvel at the magic of the evening. We marvel at the mystery of it all and make a wish on the first star that we see. . A star does what it does. Today focus on what you do. You breathe. Focus on breathing. Let the air around you all the way in. Fill up your lungs and slowly exhale as if you are blowing out a candle. Let your worries move further and further away as you breathe in and out. That is hope.

Pondering 3: Think about the rain. It comes and it goes. Sometimes it comes too much. Sometime it comes too hard. Sometimes it does not come hard enough. Most of us enjoy a good springtime rain when everything becomes clean and cool. Even concrete seems to let go of its dullness and sings along with the pacing of the rain. The grass glitters, the cactus smile, and if you allow yourself you can hear the rain saying, “All is well.”

To me, hope does not seem to something that we can command, but that we can experience when we stop, focus on the task at hand, and do what we can.

I hope that you have enjoyed these ponderings on hope and as you move into this Fourth of July Weekend may you ponder being present like the ant, and enjoy the gift of who you are and the gift this country is to us. Be thankful for all that you are and thankful for all you have.

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