Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Exploring Shame Series #3

Beginning to Understand the Compass of Shame
Often as adults, you think that you should be all grown up now.  You might even believe that somehow you should know what to do, to say, and how to be in any situation you encounter.  In our culture, we are often led to believe that feelings are wrong or bad and need to be eliminated from our adult state of being.  If that were the case, you would act very robotic.  Maybe you can look at some of the ways we have acted in the past and wish you had been robotic, that you had not blown up, walked out, or cried in a situation that became uncomfortable or too distressful to you..  In reality, most of you have scenes like that that have embarrassed you and made you wish you had shriveled up and disappeared into the floor. 

This introduction leads to several questions and observations.  Think back over the past few months and recall a situation that you wish you could erase from your history, your memory, and the memory of others.  Now, that you have brought that memory to the foreground, what happens when I say to you, “Are you aware that most adults have situations like that in their lives?”  More often than not, you probably go toward a defensive state that says, “Maybe so, but Joey, Jerry, Jean, and Jessica did not ever do what I did.”  It is true that perhaps you have never observed those people doing those things, but just because you did not observe them does not mean that they did not happen. 

The example, just listed, is an example of comparison making, or comparison scripts. It is natural in your inner self to compare yourself to those around you. However, if that is your only reference point (others) then you need to discover your inner reference point.  Think for a moment.  What happened in that recalled memory just before you got angry?   Who said what? Who did what?  What did you do right before you exploded?  What did you do after you exploded? Now,  back up one more time and recall what you were feeling.  When someone said to you, “What makes you believe that is true?”  What did you feel?   Did you feel self-doubt?  Did you think, “Oh no, I am wrong.”  Did you want to run or hide or perhaps that statement inflamed you and you were ready for battle?  Regardless of your reactions, thoughts, feelings in any of the above situations, your reaction will fall somewhere on the compass of shame.
When we experience shame we do one of four things: Withdraw, Avoid, Attack Other, Attack Self.  We often are not aware of what we are doing, but withdrawal leads to depression while avoidance leads to addiction.  If we find that we have to blame someone else for how we are then we attack using judgement, anger, intimidation, or criticism.  If we attack our self that can be anything from self-abuse to constant self degrading chatter in our head.  What is it that you do? 


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Part Two of Shame Series- FInding Your Voice


A Beginning Journey of Overcoming the Darkness of Shame
Part Two

You may want to read Part I in the Archives to refresh your memory for what I said last week.  I began to introduce the key theorists on Shame Theory and also began to look at scenarios of how our positve situations are turned to shame in just a matter of seconds.  Enjoy this Blog.  Pass it on to your friends and they can sign up to follow too. 

 In addition to providing a theory for how shame impacts our lives, Nathanson offers strategies for dealing with shame.  Nathanson helps us understand shame by reducing to a simple definition, that shame is the interruption of positive affect.  The two positive affects, interest - excitement and joy-enthusiasm are powerful affective responses.  When a person is in the process of enjoyment or interest and something negative or bad happens to them, it interrupts those positive affects and shame sets in.  Over time, a person might even stop moving toward something they enjoy or are interested in because of the fear of failure and defeat. Thus, the negative possibilities immobilize them from moving toward something they enjoy.  This recurring issue can cause someone to give up their voice, their desire, or their ambition toward something they so desire. 

Now, let us look at the practical issues involving shame and how those issues affect us on a daily basis.

            It is common to believe that when we turn eighteen or twenty-one that we will somehow magically know how to be an adult.  We dream that we will know the right things to say and always do the right things just as we believed our parents were always right.  Even when we were fighting with our parents as adolescents, often there was that secret sense that we hoped they were right.   Because if they were not right then how could we ever really trust anyone?   They raised us and we were completely dependent upon their worldview. 

For instance, when was the last time you were out to coffee with a friend and the topic of discussion turned to politics, religion, or just an opinion about a TV show.  For instance, let us say you like Dancing with the Stars. 

And your friend says, “I don’t understand how anyone can get caught up in these reality TV shows, especially something as ditzy as Dancing with the Stars.

 You think to yourself. “Ouch, I thought that was an okay show to watch.  I must be stupid for wasting my time doing that.” 

However, in the conversation you say nothing, agree with your friend, or find a quick excuse to go to the restroom.  What would it have taken you to say, “I disagree with that?  I find Dancing with Stars very relaxing and by the end of the season, I can see how each dancer has progressed.  I really enjoy it.”

Somewhere along your life’s journey, you have lost your voice.  Now, you are at a deciding point, you either have to decide to stay inside of your cocoon and feel silently miserable about your secret opinions and enjoyments or to put your toes into the river of life and learn how to voice your opinion to others.  Your opinion is who you are.  You have a right to like the things you like and enjoy things that bring you relaxation, hope, and positive feelings.  You are uniquely you and that is okay.  Not only is it okay, but you need to celebrate who you are. Find one way today to celebrate yourself.

Voice is one of the most important aspects of who we are.  Voice allows others to get to know us and to engage us in their lives.  Without voice, we are invisible. 

  So, what do I mean by finding your voice?

I am inviting you along with myself to pull the magic into your daily life and stop being invisible.  I am asking you to look at the number of times each day that you defer to someone else because you assume they are smarter, know better, or have earned the right to override your needs and wants.  Often this behavior of not having a voice has been called co-dependency but I believe it is more than that.  I believe we take care of others in a situation because we are ashamed to take care of ourselves.  We are ashamed to be seen.  It is easier in the short run to be invisible.  However, in the long run none of us wants to be invisible forever.  Invisibility and voicelessness takes its toll on us.  We can become very angry and bitter about it by blaming others for the fact we did not stand up for ourselves.  It seems to me that the less we use our voice the larger our internal victim becomes and pretty soon it is everyone else’s fault that we are not getting what we  want out of life.  We become one of those people who always complain about what an awful lot in life we have.  Our comparison scripts are in the negative.  In the end, we have no one else to blame except ourselves for not standing up for ourselves.  Often in the beginning of our adult hood in may not even occur to us that we are not using our voice.  It may not occur to us until our kids are grown or we are in mid-life and we go, what happened to me?  It is never too late to change.  It is never too late to bring the magic to our lives.  Yes, it is usually always uncomfortable to stir up a potion of different, because we have spent most of our life being accommodating, nice, and easy going.  Now, all of a sudden we are saying things to our partners like, “No, I am not willing to go there.”  “No, I don’t want to put my money into that.”  “Oh, I need to take some time to myself.”  “I have a new friend.”  “I am going to look for a new job.”  “I am not happy.”  “I need a change.”  “I don’t like that anymore.”   “I want to take skydiving lessons.”  Anything you have chosen not to pursue, do, act on or say because of having to defend yourself and your position for choosing something out of the ordinary is an example of how you have not been using your voice and as a result, losing yourself piece by piece to the creeping in of age.  Soon the days left to live are less than the days lived and then depression can take over.  When depression takes over then you might find yourself saying, “Why bother, now?”  Depression becomes a comfortable blanket and soon the idea of magic is long gone from your memory.  Possibilities and potentials are drowned out by the daily lowering of the serotonin and one day turns into the next.  Where are you?  Where have you gone? 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Exploring Shame Series - Tuesdays with Dr.Dilley


A Beginning Journey of Overcoming the Darkness of Shame.


            Shame has been consistently the stepchild of psychotherapy because it seems that we have found it shameful and uncomfortable to talk about shame and shaming events.  Often, even well trained psychologists brush the surface of shame in sessions. An example of that might be a situation where a client is talking about peeing or pooping their pants in school.  If the psychologist is uncomfortable with that topic, the psychologist may not inquire for further information by asking questions like, “What was that like for you or what happened when you did that?”  As the stepchild of psychology, shame has been pushed into the closet and not openly investigated.  Recently, our field of psychology we have moved into a “fix-it” or “educational” modality.  It is my opinion that keeps the psychotherapy office rather sterile.  By an educational modality, I mean often times the therapist will lapse into explaining what happened for the client when they were shamed or telling the client, what they can do about it.  The art of exploration from therapist to client can often feel uncomfortable.  Therapists must undergo a certain amount of training “unlearning” social standards of appropriate communication.  For example, as a Southern girl I learned it is impolite to ask questions, any question, and much less questions about sex, bodily functions, or money.   

Theories of shame have been proposed by Silvan Tomkins, Helen Block Lewis, Gershen Kaufman and Donald Nathanson since the early 1960’s. Before that, the only real mention of shame was by developmental psychiatrist, Erik Erickson.  He speaks of shame in the second developmental stage of life: autonomy vs. shame and doubt.  Toddlers of eighteen months are learning how to do things on their own.  It is important that they learn to master their environment, bodily functions, and acquire a sense of self.  The more the toddler learns to do master his/her environment, the more autonomous the toddler becomes.  Autonomy is equated with a good sense of self.   The more a toddler fails at achieving and mastering his/her environment, the more the toddler develops a sense of shame and self-doubt.  Self-doubt sets us up to operate our life from an external locus of control which means  looking to others for approval as well as trying to figure out what are the right and wrong things for us to do.  

Silvan Tomkins’ (1963) work on Shame and Shame Theory conceptualizes shame from an evolutionary perspective introducing into literature the nine biological affects.  According to Tomkins, we are all wired with nine biological affects. We become aware of our nine affects when we become aware of our facial, skeletal, and inner visceral behaviors.   Affect is primarily facial behavior and secondarily bodily skeletal and inner visceral behavior. Shame is one of our nine biological affects that we are pre-wired to express. 

            Kaufman (1989) speaks more clearly about shame, speaking of it in terms most of us can identify, such as feeling exposed, diminished, imperfect, and defective. 


“Shame reveals the inner self, exposing it to view. The self feels exposed both to itself and to anyone else present.” (Kaufman 1989) So, perhaps you felt exposed.  Perhaps, afraid someone was going to point out to you that something was wrong with you, how you thought, believed or acted.   Perhaps that fear comes from a history of self-doubt because your memory tells you that your parents were always pointing out what you were saying or doing wrong.  It is even possible that you keep remembering a scene that was particularly embarrassing to you as a child. Because of the negative impact of that one situation, that memory might continue to cause you to feel a phenomenological sense of feeling seen in a painfully diminished sense. Kaufman (1989) the experience of feeling diminished in front of someone or even in your own headspace is that uncomfortable affect of shame. Donald Nathanson (1992) tells us that when humans experience shame they respond to that shame from one of four perspectives.  Nathanson calls those four perspectives the compass of shame.  He tells us that we attack others, attack ourselves, and avoid (addictions) or withdraw (depression).  Thus, when we are in situations that trigger old memories of defeat, failures, or rejections the current situation does not need to be actual, only perceived as such, shame envelopes you crippling your ability to respond in ways that might be healthier for you.