Tag Archives: empathy

The Emergency Shame Toolkit.

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The response most needed by those in a downward shame spiral is empathy.

As a survivor of childhood abuse, even at my old age, I still get new, devastating memories that show up sometimes, seemingly out of the proverbial blue. I know, from my own personal experience, from my hypnotherapy training, and from working with clients, that the subconscious will only serve up what the conscious mind is ready to know, deal with, and heal.

I’ve seen it time and again with clients. It’s just how the subconscious works. The client and I talk awhile and then agree on their healing path. I hypnotize them and start down that agreed-upon path, and then their subconscious will take us down another path, expertly and easily—with perfect timing and to a perfect “ending” (which is really a beginning)—circumventing our original path.

The subconscious always knows what it’s doing and where it’s going. I have learned to simply trust the client’s subconscious and follow where it wants to lead, letting it reveal itself and its secrets in exactly the perfect way. I am just the mental Sherpa, in a way, outside the client’s mind and able to keep them moving toward their own resolution.

It is a fascinating journey—always—and I have the utmost respect and admiration for the subconscious and the pathways it takes to healing.

So I must respect my own subconscious’ journeys too—even when those journeys are seemingly unexpected and initially seem way too difficult to be navigated, even when I don’t want to respect them, and even when I am dragging my proverbial mental heels, the brakes fully on.

Every memory that has presented itself this way—seemingly spontaneously—is more than difficult. When first presented, they are overwhelmingly devastating. The shame they produce feels like more than I am able to shoulder.

Afterward, I usually spend the first day or two in hiding, too ashamed to speak, wondering if I can live with the shame of it. Yes, I know the shame is not really mine—that it belongs to the abuser. Nevertheless, there it is, and shame is shame, no matter its origins.

This last memory was no different for me. It seems to be the worst memory I’ve ever recovered, but they all seem like that to me. I suppose my subconscious is slicing off and serving up the really bad ones—now that I’ve years of coping skills and tools to heal myself at their appearance. The subconscious is brilliant like that.

This time, however, instead of swallowing and holding on to the shame, I took Dr. Brené Brown’s advice, and a few minutes after the memory’s surface, I called a trusted girlfriend.

Brené Brown compiled a shame resilience model that she learned from years of interviewing people that handle shame well.

First:

The first task is to recognize shame. Hopefully, I will have done my homework ahead of time and know what shame looks and feels like for me. I need to know what my personal shame triggers are. Most importantly, I need to recognize my own shame signs, so that when it happens, I can get myself back down into my body and start moving through it by saying to myself something like, “This is shame. It hurts. It is horrible.”

Second:

The second step is to not react, in that moment, toward the person or incident that started my spiral down into shame. It does not matter, at this point, whether they deliberately tried to shame me or not—just get away from them. Don’t stay in the conversation. Don’t make that call. Don’t send that email. Don’t allow the instant reaction. Don’t let the shame talk me into blasting someone with a shame screen: anger, rage, guilt, posturing. Walk away.

Third:

The next step is to share the shame. From her research/interviews, she found that shame thrives in an environment of secrecy and judgment. So call a trusted friend and confide in them.

Important!

Only share shame stories with someone you trust completely, those who have earned the right to hear your shame. Hopefully you have this someone. If you are blessed/lucky, you have more than one person you could call.

Brené stresses that there are six types of folks to not confide in:

  1. The friend who actually feels shame for you, gasps and confirms how horrified you should be.
  2. The friend who responds with sympathy (“I feel so sorry for you.”) rather than empathy. (“I get it, I feel with you and I’ve been there.”)
  3. The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity, who can’t help because she’s too disappointed in your imperfections.
  4. The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds, “How did you let this happen?”
  5. The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually make terrible choices. (“You’re exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad.”)
  6. The friend who confuses connection with the opportunity to one-up you. (“Well, that’s nothing. Listen what happened to me…”)

And if you are the recipient of a shame call from a friend? The response most needed by those in shame is empathy: “I feel you. I’ve been there too. I’m here for you. Let’s get through this together.” And those comments like, “Well at least… ” don’t help at all. In fact, those type of comments shut people down rather than help.

So, at 6:30 a.m. in the morning, I called a trusted friend—and barely able to get out the words because of the crying and extreme shame, I began, “I don’t want to be talking about this at all, but I know that shame thrives in an environment of secrecy and that I should tell someone, so here it is…”

The elephant journal version.

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I Have Boundary Issues.

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I’ve been having boundary issues in the last few months.

I began looking at boundaries when, a few weeks ago, I was preparing myself to spend an evening with a group of folks that included a person I don’t really like.

I don’t have a good, solid, logical reason for not liking this person. I just know I don’t. And I am hopefully learning to simply honor that gut instinct and let it be what it is—without questioning myself, without beating myself up for not having a good, ready reason.

Before that evening, I was trying to figure out why I don’t like that person. In my musings, I came across this: They want to be too friendly too quickly. Their questions are too personal. From there—and via a long, difficult trail—I hiked over to: They lack boundaries.

The problem was put before me again when an acquaintance very kindly told me I had offended and embarrassed her in front of some other people by something I had said. I was most impressed with the kind, sweet—and yet very assertive—way she started the confrontation. I thanked her for being honest, kind and assertive in telling me; I sincerely apologized for my mistake.

But after my apology, I could tell from what she continued to say that she assumed I was a careless person without respect for other people’s boundaries. She seemed to think it necessary to point out why it was rude, careless, etc. She went into some detail, making it clear that she had put much thought (and drawn many, perhaps false, conclusions) into the matter.

I really wanted to take offense, and I was hurt by her assumption. I found myself unable to be offended, though, when I looked at it from her side. She had drawn an incorrect conclusion (in my opinion) from my innocent mistake. We did not—and still do not—know each other.

Indeed, I consider myself to be very aware and careful when it comes to other people. Then I made an assumption (in my own mind only) about her: Well, she’s just too uptight. I quickly and easily recognized this assumption as knee-jerk and defensive on my part, and it did not last long, thank goodness.

But after a lot more thought on the subject, I realize that the problem is that we all have very different ideas about what constitutes healthy boundaries. And there is a really broad and relative idea of what constitutes right and wrong in this category.

Brene Brown points out that her research has shown that boundaries are simple to define, but not so easy to enforce. In explaining them, she says boundaries defined are when we know what we can and will tolerate and what he can’t and won’t tolerate: “This is okay. That is not okay.”

The problem comes when we need to enforce what’s okay and not okay for us, she expounded. And we do need to. No one wants to seem unkind and bossy by clearly pointing out what is okay and what is not—especially in that moment when someone has just done something that is not okay. It can get tense.

But she goes on to point out that empathy, compassion and vulnerability are not possible without well established and enforced boundaries.

When we let someone breach a boundary (do or say something that is not okay with us) and then try to silently pretend it is okay, we often become bitter and resentful—and then blame the other person for stepping on our boundaries.

But how can they know they’ve crossed a boundary—and where those boundaries are—if we don’t clue them in and show them our boundary maps?

As I think more about it, it seems kind of disrespectful to not make our boundaries clear. It would be like forcing someone to take on an expedition in a new, uncharted land—and glibly and condescendingly telling them they have to do it without any maps.

And oh yeah, the maps exist, but you can’t have them.

We’ve probably all commented at one time or another—whether out loud or to ourselves—about some person we are having difficulties with: “They have no boundaries.” Or, “They have boundary issues.” Or, “They have uptight/rigid boundaries.”

All we’re really saying is that everyone has their own, specific ideas about what is okay for them and what is not. Which seems reasonable to me. It also seems reasonable for everyone, including me, to have the right to enforce them—in non-violent ways.

And having come to that conclusion, it is also a good idea, I think, to point out that there does seem to be some folks who are not very aware or respectful of boundaries—even when those boundaries have been clearly pointed out—and who don’t seem to have or enforce any boundaries for themselves. In my introversion and privacy, I find these folks difficult to be around.

So really, my problem seems to be two-fold:

  1. The problem is not that anyone else has boundary issues and is asking me too-personal questions, for instance; the problem is that I don’t make my boundaries clear and then enforce them.
  2. I need to avoid those folks who choose to trample boundaries that have been clearly defined, who choose (for whatever reason) to ignore them.

My solution seems really clear to me right now: Establish and maintain my own boundaries—kindly—and let other folks do the same.

At elephant journal:  Do You Have Boundary Issues?