Has perfectionism ever kept you from doing something you really want to do? Let's give it another name: SHAME. What is it and how do we keep it from sabotaging us? (SPOILER: Shame almost kept me from making this video!!) If you like this video, please subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more videos like this one :)
1. Say no. No is a good word, not a bad one. When you say 'no' you are simply acknowledging that you have met a limit or capacity. We have a capacity for giving, being awake, running, eating, and everything else that we do. When you say 'yes' and mean 'no', you may feel resentful, angry, numb, overworked, and used, among other painful emotions.
3. Connect with other people. We were built to connect and wired to be with one another. Like a car without an engine, we do not work if we do not share ourselves with others.
4. Chose wisely when sharing yourself with others. Trust yourself when you are with another person. The voice that says, “dislike” or “run” is there for a reason. If you find yourself running from everyone, return to number 3.
5. You will never be one thing, so accept that you will be many things. Behaviors do not define us but are temporary. It is incredibly difficult to be a feeling, intelligent, complex human being because contradictory feelings co-exist with one another within all of us (e.g. love & anger, resentment & longing, desire & fear, fatigue & happiness). You are not how you feel or what you are doing. You are you. As complicated as it is to be you, it is far more rewarding than being chained to any label that has been thrust upon you. And since you are you, you do not have to think, feel, or act like anyone else.
6. Be kind to yourself and then be kind to others when you can. Say nice things to yourself in your head. Take it easy on yourself. Only good things come from this. You will not get more done if you are mean to yourself or others. It does not make you a “bad” or “selfish” person to show kindness to yourself. Ultimately, you cannot offer more kindness to others than you extend to yourself so you must practice on yourself first.
7. Be honest with yourself. Honesty is not universally the “best policy” with others, but it is necessary to know your own truth to live a conscious, connected life. Never use honesty to hurt or belittle someone. Rather than hiding behind honesty and moral platitudes, use honesty first and foremost as a gauge for yourself. How do you honestly feel, even if it is confusing? What defense mechanisms may be in place that keep you from accessing honest feelings or truths about yourself?
8. Accept that anger is a normal, acceptable and useful emotion. Anger gets a bad reputation because we associate it with scary, violent, or unhealthy expressions of anger. Expressing healthy anger should not frighten or intimidate. It may feel uncomfortable to talk about feeling angry, but it might set you free from anger.
Example of expressing anger in a healthy way: "I felt angry when you said I was slow because I am self-conscious about my speed. It makes me feel like you don't know me (or: misunderstood, unimportant, invisible) when you say things that I'm sensitive about in such an insensitive way." You may tack on, "it makes it hard for me to trust our friendship when you are insensitive toward my feelings." And if it is true, "I'm telling you this because I want us to be friends and I want to be able to trust each other. Next time this comes up, can you treat me with sensitivity by being supportive?"
9. All feelings and thoughts are acceptable. It is only ACTION that can hurt you and/or other people. Actions like yelling at someone or punching someone in the face hurt others and you. The hurt is fairly obvious to the recipient of acting out in anger, but the angry person can face a range of consequences as well. The person who acts out in anger may feel deep shame after yelling at someone and have no relief from anger, he or she might break a hand, or there may be legal consequences for physically harming someone. In this scenario, we have a perfect example of how acting out can end up harming the person who was initially hurt and angry instead of the intended target or aggressor.
10. What to do with the feelings and thoughts if not act them out? Process them with someone you trust. I'll continue to use anger as an example but any feeling can be inserted in it's place. Be clear that you have no intention of harming anyone but your feelings of anger and thoughts of punching someone in the face are bothersome. What caused the anger? What feelings did you experience as a result of the incident(s) that made you angry? Going forward, how can you talk about your feelings that lead to anger instead of bottling them up? Expressing these feelings allows you to place them where they belong and prevents them from hurting you. The feelings of hurt and anger can become powerful motivators to assertively set boundaries when faced with the choice of acting out or speaking up in the future. Connecting the dots between how our interactions and behaviors influence our relationships is a crucial part of growth and connection.
Final words: do all of these steps imperfectly and seek help along the way. Practice is the only way we learn to change habits and form better relationships. You will not get it right every time, but you can apologize when you have regrets and behave differently and consciously next time.
If you have never read Brain Pickings, I highly recommend this thoughtful, well-done, search for "interestingness" spear-headed by Maria Popova (@brainpicker) and the occasional guest writer. The writing at first glance often appears outside my comfort zone, but I'm usually drawn in to subjects that I might naturally toss aside as too lofty or inapplicable to my daily life (i.e. too daunting/time-consuming/intellectual for moi). I love Popova's style; she can take a subject that is over my head and make it tangible and fascinating. Many times I find that these subjects intertwine with my own life, as a therapist and a person, more than I would have imagined upon reading the title. Cue my interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald on the Secret of Great Writing, a.k.a. 'how to be a great writer by one of the most famous writers of all time,' as my self-valuation interprets.I love to write, I aspire to reach other and connect through writing, so naturally this title both titillates and terrifies me. It triggers the immediate, vulnerable, knee-jerk, "am I good enough?" reaction that is the inevitable cost of putting ourselves "out there" for the world to see. Popova references a letter written by Fitzgerald to a young woman, a college sophomore, and family friend who sent her writing to him, presumably for critique and guidance. I don't know if this young person, Frances, was expecting honesty or fluff... but she got honesty. In Fitzgerald's response he references the "price of admission," or the cost of great writing quite harshly to an aspiring young writer. An excerpt:
"November 9, 1938
I've read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.
This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile...
That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.
In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,
Your old friend,
F. Scott Fitzgerald
P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent — which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point."
Ouch, Frances. Ouch.
You may be wondering, as was I, why I felt as we may say in the therapy world over-identified with the recipient of this letter. Why would I focus on the potential hurt feelings of a stranger who aspired to write over seventy years ago and was given such a harsh critique? The obvious answer is that I'm focused on emotions in general. I did not accidentally arrive in the field of social work and therapy. A natural draw toward and affinity for emotional care and compassion led me here. The not-so-obvious answer is that I too fear judgment, harsh criticism, and critique as a writer, as a therapist, and as a person.
The vulnerability of writing, especially about matters of the heart weighs on me as much as it enriches my life. I write because it allows me to make sense of the pain, elation, and all feelings in between in the human experience. Rarely do I write of my own feelings because it is challenging, less comfortable, and scary. I could blame some lofty principles of maintaining my role as a therapist (which is a very important and entirely different discussion), but it is the feelings of vulnerability that usually hold me back. When I do share parts of myself and write about things that are subversive, I feel exposed, anxious, and at times, irrelevant. I worry that I've said 'too much,' gone 'too far,' or have been 'self-indulgent,' all judgments that I have made up in my head based on my own anxiety, experiences, and elaborations...
Writing can be a gut-wrenching process of displaying your inner-world, word by word, and opening oneself to strangers much like the courageous work of therapy participants. In many ways, I write to experience this vulnerability, risk, and potential benefit of exposure as a constant reminder of the risks that clients take. It is a reminder of the emotional cost paid by the brave people who sit in the chair and share their inner-selves and the respect, kindness, and admiration that is deserved for such an endeavor. There is a monetary investment for therapy as well which is a valuable topic of exploration, but they also pay with their honesty, their fear, their vulnerability, and the spoken or unspoken hopes and disappointments. At times, this is a high cost, more so than money.
Without hiding behind principles of "being a therapist," I'll share a specific fear that edits my writing, words, and thoughts. It is the fear of not being liked. There are variations of this fear, such as not being nice, agreeable, palatable, competent, or pleasant. Talking about things that are hard to talk about, uncomfortable, opinionated, or divisive also scare me. These fears are all bi-products of my upbringing and training as a woman, a social worker, and a therapist but to what end? These are questions that my clients ask of themselves and usually end up with a resounding sense of entitlement to feel, express, and be who they are. Undoubtedly being yourself is hard, and I'm not immune.
Lately, my reflections on this topic have turned toward a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to share myself with others and receive the kindness, accolades, and positive feedback that I've received as a result of writing, speaking, and being myself. In hindsight, when I am met with "negative" emotions from someone - disagreement, anger, and even contempt at times - the hurt feelings and vulnerabilities that I'm forced to acknowledge are far outweighed by the learning, the growth, the opportunity to practice compassion toward myself and others, and the disarming of my own defenses. These are valuable and sometimes priceless experiences.
As always, take care of yourself (while also stretching and growing when the time is right.)
Do you ever have an argument or discussion with your partner and think, 'I have no idea what to say right now' or 'I'm so mad that I can't even hear you'? This post is meant to help guide you through a difficult conversation and manage feelings between you and your loved ones. I will use the word "partner" because communication between couples can be particularly difficult, but it could apply to a family member, a colleague, or a friend. Step 1: Put yourself on hold, temporarily
When you're in the heat of the moment or don't understand your partner or loved one, it can be difficult to step outside yourself and hear your partner's needs. It is particularly difficult to hear those needs if you feel criticized, blamed, or inadequate because of the language they are using (which we will discuss at length later). In short, many people talk about their needs and desires by criticizing what the other is doing rather than asking for what they would like for their partner to do. This can be an easy way to trigger feelings of inadequacy and lead to the other partner shutting down.
I would encourage you to momentarily try to put your feelings aside next time your partner complains or criticizes in order to find the need behind the complaint. This shift alone can defuse relationship bombs instantly and can lead to fuller understanding of one another.
Step 2: Inquire about the problem or need of your partner.
After taking a breath, here are some suggestions that can help clarify and deescalate the conversation:
a) "I can see that you are [insert adjective - angry, sad, etc.]. Can you tell me more about what you need from me?"
b) Ask your partner how he or she is feeling. After an "I feel..." statement. "Tell me more about how you feel." Explore what it is like for your partner and trade places in your mind. Focus on his or her experience of the problem.
c) Repeat feelings back to your partner. "So you felt lonely when I left and went to the party without you." Be open to correction or elaboration.
d) Have an attitude of curiosity and openness. "I want to understand how you're feeling."
e) Avoid talking about how you feel or perceive the situation until your partner is finished explaining his or her side. Avoid at all cost becoming defensive - "you do the same thing," "I only did that because you told me to," etc. Just listen and take it in, not as a criticism of you, but as an unmet need of your partner.
Step 3: Address the need
By this point, hopefully your partner has been able to articulate what need is driving his or her feelings. Address the need in the relationship head on by talking about how he or she can have that need met in the future.
Your partner may say "I need for you to be here more often," but get more specific. "I'm hearing that you want to spend more time together. What would you like to do during that time? When would you like to spend that time together?"
Underlying most complaints is the need for companionship, love, or support. Try to get to the underlying need, not just the complaint. Vague complaints like, "I want you to care more," or "I want you to want to be with me," leave no room for specific adjustment. Ask for a concrete solution to the problem like going to a movie together, snuggling on the couch, hugging, touching, or spending time with family. Ask how often your partner needs those things.
Step 4: Make an agreement
Agree to meet the needs of your partner in a way that feels good to both of you. Again, make the agreement specific and realistic.
Step 5: Taking care of your needs
Through this process of communicating about your partner's needs, you may find that you have unmet needs as well. After you have resolved your partner's issue, approach your needs in a way that models healthy communication to your partner.
"When we disagree, I often feel badly about myself when I hear statements like 'you do this all the time' or 'you never do this.' I would appreciate it in the future if you could just tell me what you are needing from me in the moment rather than telling me that I do things wrong all the time. It just makes me feel [insert feeling]."
"I'm happy to give you the time that you are asking for and agree that we should spend quality time together. I also think that we need time apart and with our friends. Can we have an agreement that on Mondays that I go out with the guys/girls and we do our own thing?"
Relationships are not easy and communicating is a learned skill. Be patient with yourself and your partner.
In the presence of darkness, we break, we wound, and we crumble inside; in the presence of kindness, openness, and love we heal with one another. When asked what my "style" of therapy is, I spout an eclectic mixture of therapies like "psychodynamic, supportive, and relational psychotherapy," but I truly believe that the most important element that can lead to healing in a therapeutic relationship is the connection between the therapist and client. This is not a typical connection, because it is not reciprocal; it is only intended to serve the client's interest. But it can be even more powerful in healing broken hearts and wounded souls because of the commitment of the therapist to the client.
Many esteemed researchers have come to the same conclusion through different avenues. Scholars like John Bowlby, Alan Schore, Daniel Siegel, and Robert Karen would liken this connection in therapy to healing wounds from lost or ruptured attachments in childhood and adulthood. There is neurological research proving that being in connection with another person can actually create new neurocircuitry, or pathways, in the brain in order to form new attachments to others (Schore, 2003). The authors of Relational-Cultural theory discuss connection as a "growth fostering relationship" leading to a fuller, happier life, as opposed to disconnection as "empathic failures" and missed opportunities (Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991; Jordan, 1997; Miller & Stiver, 1997). The arrival at this conclusion, that people heal in relationship with one another, is empirically undeniable.
But what does this look like in the therapy room? Many will experience it as discomfort at first because it feels unusual to have someone in front of you who needs nothing from you and is there to openly explore your psyche. I hope to alleviate some of that discomfort for those of you who are reading because therapists are humans too and we are both engaged in the process of relationship building the moment you walk in the door.
The experience "in the chair" can be enlightening for some in that it brings up feelings that are universal throughout the person's life. For example, a person comes to therapy with severe social anxiety. He tells the therapist this piece of information and the therapist responds by saying, "what a brave move you have made coming here since you are so scared to leave the house." The client may feel discomfort, vulnerability, and like he is being seen and heard, feelings he is uncomfortable with in the outside world and in the therapy room. The question is, what do you do with those feelings? Is the therapy room safe enough to explore those feelings of discomfort?
It is the therapist's job to make sure there is as much safety as possible for the client. In order for there to be safety, the client must understand that the therapist will be non-judgmental and genuinely caring. She must also know that the things she says are confidential and will be kept safe with the therapist. The client must also know that the therapist is taking care of herself and will continue to do so throughout the relationship. For example, the client must know that his therapist will show up on time, will hold to their agreements, will have taken care of her own needs so that she is present, follows her code of ethics in order to maintain a practice, and is working in the best interest of the client.
This is not to suggest that the skills therapists learn from other empirical research is useless. There is skill involved in exploration and presence while witnessing such important work. However, we heal through one another and it should be known that if you are experiencing emotions like discomfort, tension, frustration, resentment, happiness, or any other feeling, especially toward the therapist, they should be welcomed in the therapy room. They are incredibly helpful keys to unlocking closed doors in our minds and discovering how we behave in the outside world. They can also lead to healing old wounds and finding new ways to open one's heart to others.
Let me just start by saying I'm a HUGE fan of listening instead of reading if I have the choice. I love podcasts, audio-books, music, and I probably chose a career that requires listening because it's how I prefer to spend my days. Don't get me wrong; reading is very important and is a daily requirement for most of us. But if reading is not your preferred style of learning, it can be taxing and limiting... a daily strain on your patience and capacity for engagement. I received messages through high school and college that listening instead of reading is "lazy" or even "cheating," (just a small contributing factor to my academic shame spiral/temporary drop out) but I later realized that my learning style and way of being engaged with material is different than others. What a concept!
Some love to create, some love to watch a creation. Some listen, talk, or feel with their hands. Some love history or biology or astronomy or numbers. I love to listen. Particularly, I love to listen to people talk about things that are essential to their existence. I love to listen to and try to grasp people's most important, sacred, and human experiences. And I love to be in touch with my own human experience.
While writing this, I'm reminded of times when I was a teen or in my early twenties and someone much older and seemingly wiser would ask me a terrifying, daunting question about my "life goals," "career interests," or "hobbies." (No wonder we feel such pressure to do something grand at such a young age.) When I was a child, I said, "veterinarian and animals." Then at some point in my early teens I picked up on the idea that being a lawyer was an acceptable answer. Leading up to my shame spiral/temporary college drop out/academic hiatus, I collapsed under the idea that I didn't know. I had NO idea where I fit into this life, career, hobby, goal-oriented world. I felt worthless and confused. In reality, my passion/career/goal/hobby didn't fit into one of the common categories. I felt as though there was something wrong with me until I realized that I could make my own category. This process was not without many doubts, breakdowns, and wondering if I was crazy, but it led me to my pot of gold.
Looking back, I wonder what those caring, well-meaning adults would have said if I answered their questions of grandeur with a frank demeanor and straight face, 'I want to engage with people by listening, talking, and connecting on an emotional level in order to heal wounds, create shared human experiences, and feel inspired along-side others on a daily basis.'
It's a funny thought but I had no way of verbalizing it when I was young. I'm surprised, however, that even now it is not often well-received or understood by the casual, polite yet invasive party conversationalist. "What do you do?" can turn into a lengthy discussion or a very short one. This is not meant to be judgmental or downplay the importance of a variety of interests, passions, careers, and life goals, but rather to highlight the difficulty of feeling like an outsider, especially in our younger, most formative years to the more common life passions and career goals.
I can say with qualitative certainty that even those who fit into one box (career: engineer), do not fit into others (passion: unknown). It can also go something like this: 'Goal/passion/spirituality/meaning/purpose: to make art. Career: ohmygawdimsuchafailure!!! Shame spiral!!' Or, 'Goal: find a partner who loves me. Objectives: overcome terror of being loved, improve self-esteem, find passion in life, heal old wounds. Hobbies: therapy and books about self-esteem that I hide in a newspaper when in public.' These can all be very legitimate, difficult, and growth-producing scenarios with support and the knowledge that you are good, just as you are, without accomplishing any goals or figuring anything out.
A final piece of advice that I learned from a pre-school teacher years ago. She asked her class on a daily basis, "what do you LOVE?" They would talk about the things they love, in the moment, with no consequences or right answers. I try to ask young people (myself included) variations of this question: What do you LOVE? What does it mean to love someone or something? How does it feel to love? What does love sound like? What does love look like? If love were a poem or book, what would it say?
If you are wondering what I listen to or how I get it, I'll try to share more often. I use Audible.com to buy audio-books and it has an iphone and Android app so you can take it on a walk or in the car. Currently listening to Brené Brown's third book, "Daring Greatly" which can be accompanied with the Daring Greatly podcast in which Brené Brown answers questions about the book from readers/listeners. I use the Downcast app for podcasts. Current favorite: "Stuff You Missed in History Class" with Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty (one of many fascinating HowStuffWorks.com podcasts).
In searching for inspiration this morning, I stumbled upon a quote by Maya Angelou, one of my personal heroes. In an effort to "throw something back," I've shared it today. This is my reminder that nothing is permanent, to live with an open heart and an open mind, to hug someone every day, and to treat others and myself with kindness and compassion.
“I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life. I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life." I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one. I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I've learned that I still have a lot to learn. I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
One of the most common questions asked in therapy is, "why should I be sad when I can be happy?" There are variations to this question like, "why would I want to focus on my difficult past when I can move forward and not be in pain?" Or, "I don't want to suffer anymore. I came to relieve my pain, not feel it all over again."
I empathize deeply with the idea that revisiting painful memories, events, and feelings can be overwhelming and seems an undue punishment on the path to healing. However, I also know that the healing process rarely takes place without returning to the old (or fresh) wounds in order to tend to them. As a therapist, I try to create an emotionally safe environment in which people can explore their feelings and leave knowing that they are cared for and perhaps even feeling better. This Pollyanna version of therapy occurs occasionally, but the reality is that emotions are messy, complex, and can be very overwhelming. Sometimes digging up hard feelings can make things worse before they get better. The process of unearthing pain and fear is courageous and facing an unknown process like therapy, while life-enhancing, is hard work.
One of my favorite authors/researchers/story tellers, Brené Brown, discusses the importance of dealing with "the things that get in the way of joy, meaning, and connection" in her 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection, which I highly recommend to everyone reading this post. Brené Brown is a fellow social worker (LMSW, PhD) who studies people and their experiences with shame, vulnerability, courage, and worthiness. Her thorough, evidence-based approach to the study of shame and other human emotions allows me to unequivocally recommend her work as an unbiased clinician. My status as a total Brené-Brown-ophile lends me to speak from a vulnerable, human place of admiration and to share that her work has changed my life, my work, and my connections with the people I love. If Brené Brown were Elvis, I would be the screaming, crying teenager watching her TED Talks. The following quotation caught my attention while reading The Gifts of Imperfection:
"If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way - especially shame, fear, and vulnerability."
We have to talk about, process, feel, and share the things that get in the way of worthiness, connection, and happiness in order to define, look for, and live a life or worthiness, connection, and happiness. Brené (yes, we're on a first name basis) would call this way of living "wholehearted" and others may call it conscious, purposeful, connected, or self-aware. Whatever you call it, the sentiment is the same: in order to experience joy and have meaningful relationships we must sort through the pain, hurt, and fear.
You are not alone if this sounds like a daunting, horrifying, or completely foreign concept. I too was among the horrified before finding the safety, patience, and motivation to endure this process. A good therapist was instrumental in this process for me - the safety of a warm, non-judgmental person who was dedicated to my care was extremely powerful through some of my most difficult growth. In fact, it is what drew me into the field of psychotherapy and guides me in my practice of empathy, compassion, and gentle exploration with my own clients. Pretty powerful stuff.
After reading that paragraph you may be thinking, "ahem. I don't want to BE a therapist. Why, again, would any NORMAL person want to go through pain, terror, and negative feelings?" I get it. What makes it worth it? And furthermore, why do we need someone else to witness, support, and be there for us through the vulnerable, life-altering process of healing? This is my best shot at answering that question:
People are not emotionally wounded alone, they are wounded by and among other people. The most powerful way to heal wounds is by vulnerably, bravely sharing the pain with another person(s) and receiving a corrective, kind response like empathy, compassion, protection, and care.You may find something more powerful than pain after experiencing it, knowing it, and moving through it. Over time, you may find that pain is no longer terrifying, but tolerable after working your emotional muscles. You may find that you are your own courageous, badass, superhero. You might, at last, love yourself not despite imperfection, but because of imperfection. You might find that you are good enough, just the way you are.
Take care of yourselves and others.
Visit Brené Brown's blog to learn more about vulnerability, courage, and wholehearted living: www.ordinarycourage.com
Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden.