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Showing posts with label shame. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shame. Show all posts

Friday, January 10, 2020

#MeAsWell, Part 2 - Trauma: The Wild West of Emotions

Paraphrasing what a counselor once said to me: Trauma doesn't necessarily occur when the incident or event happen, it is when you become aware of or start processing it.  His point was that someone can have a traumatizing experience, but the trauma or the impact isn't necessarily immediate.  What follows includes a deeply personal story and if you aren't ready for that, I don't blame you for stopping here. Anyway, I think for a CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse) survivor, trauma occurs when he or she realizes how wrong and how violated they were.  CSA can occur when an adult or much older kid wins the trust of a young child and groom them in the process, eventually leading to SA.

A groomer can
  • Being a 'good listener' aka 'being there'.
  • Showing 'empathy'.
  • Be seemingly nice and generous.
This gives the CSA survivor trust in their predator who might then
  • Rubbing on a back
  • Patting a leg
  • Putting hand(s) on shoulder(s) 
  • Intense tickling 
As trust is won and the survivor gets used to the 'warm' physical touch, a predator may
  • Show too much affection such as forced kissing
  • Touch/fondle in inappropriate places
  • Engage in sexual abuse at varying levels.
Unfortunately, this wasn't just a theory for me.  In my blog post, #MeAsWell: For What It's Worth, I go into my own experiences with CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse) at the hands of at least two males, one of whom was a church camp counselor. I didn't immediately recognize what was happening even when the groomer(s) took it to from a little inappropriate to an unquestionable violation of my person.  As puberty was descending on me it all started to dawn on me.  I had been sexually abused and the ignorance of my youngest years about what was happening gave way over time to many emotions/cognitions:
  • Confusion: Why did I allow it to happen?  Why did I tolerate it? Did I 'secretly like it'?  I've over time come to the understanding that I didn't:
    • Ask for it.  It was forced upon me.  Not always necessarily physically, but often after by what I realize now emotional blackmail.
    • Appreciate what was happening.  I was nowhere near puberty when it started. So, I realize that (and this disgusts me saying this) any positive feelings from the grooming and inappropriate touch early on were mistaken feelings of acceptance.  That is, if he is comfortable 'touching'*** me and being this close then that must me I be likable.  Little kids value and crave acceptance and I was no different.  Clearly my young child psyche was telling me I wasn't getting appropriate type and level of acceptance where I needed it.  Therefore, when a predator threw 'acceptance' at me, disguised as 'caring', I was unfortunately taken in by it.  Mistaking inappropriate attention for acceptance.
  • Feelings of Weakness/Shame/How could I have let it happen?  Unfortunately, 20/20 hindsight can be brutal
    • As a teenager and beyond I thought to myself how could I let myself be violated like that, especially by other guys.
    • Why didn't I stand up for myself and how the hell could I not have realized it was wrong.  In other words, deep shame.
  • Anger
    • How dare someone use me like that, looking out for themselves. (I believe this is one reason I despise idiot drivers who risk my safety for their own impatience).
    • That someone was able to turn my vulnerability on me and take advantage of me.
    • That I wasn't protected by those who were supposed to be my guardians.
  • Deep distrust
    • Those who purported to have cared about me, really didn't and they were looking out for their own 'fulfillment' (at my expense).  One was in a position of 'religious' leader.
      • It's a pretty easy step step to default distrust of intentions (even subconsciously) if those who were supposed to 'care' about you proved to have deeply selfish, sick and harmful motives.
    • Those who were supposed to be keeping me safe, let me down. So, I have to look out for myself.
      • I realize to some degree now, the world was a more trusting world back then.  Priest/teacher/Hollywood producer/etc. type scandals were not in the news. 
      • Things like this weren't spoken of.  So, parents I think in some ways were 'groomed' to not be able to appreciate and handle these type situations.
      • If there is already dysfunction in the house, it can be distracting from a primary purpose of parents to keep the household (including kids) safe.
  • Disgust
    • I am disgusted by some behaviors now that I might have just overlooked.  Obviously, seeing a grown-up be 'too friendly' with a kid is one of them.
    • In some ways, I am deeply put off by arrogant behavior.  I'm almost in a way disgusted by their behavior.
    • I have struggled at times in my life being comfortable around older men, especially if I sense anything 'off' about them.
  • Anxiety 
    • I'm not going to delve into this one.  I think this one is obvious and it is really in some ways an extension/logical conclusion of all the other feelings/cognitions.
  • Powerlessness
    • I was pressured, bullied, cajoled, and even though I didn't necessarily always realize it at the time, threatened in other's pursuit of their unhealthy/wrong satisfaction/needs.
    • I've heard from other CSA and/or SA survivors that their feelings of powerlessness can get in the way of intimacy.  In other words, if you felt powerless in an area which you should have felt safe--your personhood--that it is hard to give up control or power in that area.  In other words, that's an area which we'd tend to default to trying to 'get back' control.  
      • Seeking control can take the form of 'frigidness'.  This means, I won't allow you or anyone into my intimate space.
      • Seeking control can take the form of promiscuity.  This means, I am taking back control or at leverage of my intimacy for my advantage as opposed to that of others.
*** I mean more than touch but you know, not an easy thing to share with the world.

In this blog post, I am focusing on CSA because that's the one I'm most personally familiar with (being a survivor of it).  However, I'm aware that other traumas can cause a wide range of emotions.  The murder/death of someone close or the sudden and acute health problems are just a couple.  

I refer this this as "The Wild West of Emotions" as we think of the Wild West as being:
  • Tending to be intense
  • Often unpredictable in timing and intensity
  • Raw, especially emotionally.
  • Untamed
I think my own personal list demonstrates this.  I'm sure many others who have experienced significant traumas can relate.  To whomever reads this, I hope you gain a little insight or unfortunately if necessary can relate.  In any case, as always feel free to take what you can use from my post.


* A personal note.  I think my late brother was a CSA survivor.  Unfortunately, I believe effects of this haunted him in some ways for the rest of his life and help lead to his early passing.  RIP Bill.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Caring means sharing: Do Troubled People Care?

In this life, I think everyone has run across people who are troubled or tormented, perhaps maybe even themselves or a close family member or friend. We've all heard the arguments, "pro" and "con", defending and condemning people with hangups and addictions.  By "pro" and "con", I mean arguments that seemingly 'defend the addict' vs. those which seemingly 'condemn the addict', but I digress. These positions boils down to whether you choose to focus on placing blame and culpability on the troubled person OR whether you chose to focus on understanding what is troubling them. I believe it is not an either/or. I believe there is room for both culpability and understanding. One particular perspective that has grated me over the years is this: If he/she cared enough... I will dive into that perspective later, but first let me introduce the culpability/blame vs. understanding model (using arguments I've seen, heard and thought of) and see where I end up.

Culpability/Blame Model
  • If she hadn't taken that first drink...
  • If he hadn't abuses his medicines...
  • If she hadn't gambled away his money at risk at the casino...
  • If he/she cared about his/her family than his or her own 'happiness'...
  • If it (family/friends/job) were important enough for him/her.
  • He is not really trying...
  • She is trying to avoid getting in trouble...
  • He is making excuses...
  • She doesn't care...
  • I've faced adversity and didn't need a crutch....

Understanding Model 
  • She grow up in a rough home...
    • Poor
    • Abusive
    • Addictive/codependent family.
  • He didn't know his dad, mom, ...
  • The 'role models' she did have taught her the wrong lessons...
  • He was taking addictive pain meds for an injury and got hooked...
  • She was just trying to cope with adversity in childhood, young adulthood, etc...
  • He had no way to know or no one to tell him that that the path and/or friends he was choosing were risky...
  • She never meant to hurt anyone...
  • It may seem obvious to us, but to someone his circumstance...

To a 'blamer', the addict is intentionally engaging in destructive behavior for their own selfish desires with callous disregard for how it affects others.  They might see steps taken by the addict to get sober as half-hearted or insincere.  They might view such efforts as a way to avoid having to face punishment.  In short, they believe the addict is totally about themselves.  In short, when others say an addict doesn't care about others, they mean he or she is pretty much a jerk without a conscience. 

To "understanding person", the addict is a person caught up in his or her own personal struggles.  The addict can be in their 'sober' moments is capable of being a compassionate, caring, loving, thoughtful person.  However, the addict, when their addiction takes hold, when they are triggered, are overwhelmed by their 'needs', by withdrawal, by unbearable impulses, it is not necessarily that they don't want to exclude considering others, but they are overwhelmed by their addiction.  In other words, it's not that they wouldn't want to care, but they are not in a good place.  In some ways, it can be a vicious cycle, their addiction has caused harm to themselves and others.  Realizing this in their sober moments can be overwhelming and further push their addiction cycle.


From what I see, it's not always clear-cut like.  It is not always, blame/shame the troubled person or understand them.  We must consider a few things first.

  • Has the person been clinically diagnosed?
    • Is their behavior indicative of a sociopath?
    • Is their behavior indicative of an addict?
    • Is their behavior indicative of having another mental disorder?
  • Has the person tried to get help?
  • Has the person shown in their more lucid moments regret or remorse?
  • Has the person shown a cold, calculating, planning side or do they seem in the grip of something?
  • Has the person ever had a good role model to give them a reference point?
  • Has the person ever been given the tools they needed to help themselves or to deal with damage done?

I guess my take has always is this
  • People, whether their legally/morally/ethically troubling behavior is a result of hurt/addiction or just a callous disregard for others, they still have to face the consequences of it.   You can be understanding of how their behavior or actions were born and what they are driving by, but ultimately it cannot go 'unpunished'.
  • People often have points in their life in which they have a choice and make the wrong choice, like taking the first drink or hanging out with people their better judgment tells them not to.  Choices like this can put us on a bad path and they need to own it. But we should be clear that sometimes the extent of the poor choice is it or wasn't isn't totally clear to them at the time.  I'd venture to guess that many who smoke that first cigarette or joint or take that first bottle, for example, envision the lifelong struggle they are submitting to. 
  • If their behavior is a result damage done to them and/or an addiction born out of coping, consequences should include an intervention by mental health professionals or a program designed to help such people.  If their behavior is born out of a callous disregard for others, no capacity to have any empathy, even when 'sober', then the problem is larger than an addiction.
  • If they were put in a circumstance in which 'they never had a chance', that should be taken into account before deciding they are 'irredeemable'.  That is to say, they never had a chance to develop good coping skills.  Still negative behavior should have consequences regardless.
  • Understand that it is easy to label people troubled by addiction as not caring about others or not wanting to get better bad enough or whatever.   Sometimes that might be true.  Sometimes when given a chance, they do prefer their lifestyle.  Sometimes they just may be too broken to easily help themselves or for that matter help or 'care' about others. In other words, the weakness of their emotional state in conjunction with the nature and strength of their addiction is just too potent a combination to easily rebound or recover from.  

I believe most people have some good in them.  In the movies, Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader) had been a caring young boy and caring young man before he was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.  But as his son Luke had suspected and discovered in The Empire Strikes Back, deep inside his tormented suit, lived a good man who was seduced and addicted.  It took seeing the Emperor attempt to kill his son, to push him to overcome.  So, before we write off those who struggle with and succumb to addiction even to the point destroying themselves let's look a little deeper.  Like the Emperor, they truly may not care and love that which it brings them. Then again they may be the tormented soul that is Anakin, who wanted to do the right thing but caught up as a result of his struggle and fears and ended up doing the wrong thing.

Just my some thoughts.  Apply them as needed.

Yours truly,


It's true I did extend the invitation
I never knew how long you'd stay
When you hear temptation call
It's your heart that takes

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Shame: A place we visit, but an unhealthy place to live.

I was talking to a friend recently who was discussing a personal struggle.  Now, the friend didn't let the struggle get the better of him at that time, but it was close.  So, it occurred to me, the situation was like running on a sidewalk and nearly falling on your face, but putting down your hand to break the fall before your head hit the pavement.  Sure, your hand got roughed up a little and needs some first aid, but you could have very easily fallen on your head and ended up in the ER.

The point was not to minimize to the issue, struggle or near failure, but was to let him know that it could have been much worse and not to dwell on or beat himself up over it.  That is instead appreciate that his Higher Power kept him safe and out of trouble.  In the meantime, he could take the near failure as a warning sign and wake-up call to work on his struggles.

I think, as a people it is easy to operate in black and white thinking.  That is, either to blow failures (or near failures) completely out of proportion OR alternatively blow them off.  I believe God gave us a conscience to be aware of our imperfections and need for Him rather than to be used as a weapon to inflict harm upon ourselves or as a speed-bump to be ignored.

I guess I'd characterize legitimate shame that comes with a healthy conscience as a check and reminder for us to be mindful of our spiritual role in family, society and the world at large, but not as a sledgehammer to destroy ourselves.

To summarize, my take on what my Higher Power (God) has revealed to me and reminded me in this story:

  1. Lean on Him, His wisdom and not my own understanding, I should not take it for granted that I have all the answers or strength.  This includes leaning on Him after I make a mistake. 
  2. I am human and therefore I am bound to struggle from time to time and make mistakes.  Not to condone mistakes, intentional or not, but instead to realize that I am a work in progress.
  3. When I barely avoid a bad choice, mistake or screw-up: I shouldn't pat myself on the back for my ingenuity or 'success', but I shouldn't totally destroy myself either.  I should take it as a learning opportunity and be grateful that my Higher Power was looking out for me.
  4. When I make a bad choice, mistake or screw-up:  I should make amends where necessary and possible and reflect on it with contrition.  I should also seek what led to it and use whatever shame I feel from it not to paralyze me, but to motivate me to do whatever I need to avoid the mistake again and/or to make it right where possible.
Anyway, just my thoughts for the day.  As always, it is sometimes easier to give advice than to follow it, but at least putting it down gives me to opportunity to reflect on it myself.

Yours Truly,

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Pushing through fear: Freedom of letting go

Whether it is interviewing for a dream job, competing for the big prize or in the big race/event, starting out in new city, getting the courage to ask out someone who intrigues you or any other such circumstance, each has at least one aspect in common.   Typically each of these involves some degree of uncertainty or fear.  Each involves stepping outside our comfort zone.   Each involves risking 'failure' or allowing vulnerability of a sort and the shame or discomfort that comes along with it.  We could freeze up, we could fail or perform miserably, we fall on our face, we could face an uncomfortable or awkward rejection, etc.  In short, we could feel a portion or a full measure of shame, discomfort or humiliation when we try.  Just like there are people who seem to enjoy or thrive on pain, I suppose there are people who ride the humiliation train back to the station to 'feel alive'.  However, most people I know don't enjoy those feelings.

I will follow-up this blog with another one called, "It's true: Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose..." as I realized there really is a certain freedom when you hit rock bottom.  But, for the moment, I will focus on when we still have something to lose and how to deal with the fear.  I've learned over the years multiple strategies in dealing with it, some better than others.
  • Self-talk
    • Tell yourself that more often than not, the worse case scenario is just that.  That is to say, highly unlikely to happen.
      • When I tandem sky-dived, I told myself that the instructor wanted to go back home that day too.  That is to say, I wasn't the first anxious person to sky-dive and that he knew what he was doing and was going to do his best to minimize any risk I could pose.
      • I have a bit of fear of drowning. When I snorkeled for the first time in the open water away from the boat, I was nervous.  However, I realized it wasn't as if I struggled too much that the crew would just let me drown.  
    • Talking through and eliminating the unrealistic.
      • When I lose something around the house or in my car, I remind myself that it didn't just fly out the window when I was driving.  In other words, it's not gone forever, but just lost.
      • That even if you think an interview goes poorly, interviewers normally don't ridicule you to your face, take you out back and shoot you or call your current boss and tell him to fire you for being an unmitigated interview disaster. 
    • Tell yourself that people don't die of humiliation and that a lot of time the humiliation you feel is emanating from you than being projected at you. 
  • Studying (or preparing)
    • The more you prepare for a big step, big move or a big competition, the less you leave up to chance.  That is the less uncertainty you have.
      • If you do your research about a company and the role or position you are interviewing for, you go in less likely to get surprised during the interview.
      • If you research the different aspects of a city that you are moving to, you have an better idea what to expect when you actually get there.
      • If you study what is important to the object of your interest and focus on developing a rapport with her, you can better acclimate her to you.  That is to say subconsciously she could picture herself with you.
    • The more you realistic your preparation, the more you can you see yourself with a positive outcome.
      • For example, when racing, I did both speed training and distance training.  Short interval speed training allowed myself to acclimate (and picture) running faster than usual.  Distance training made me confident that I could readily run the race distance.
      • Traveling to and around and staying in a new city before the big move, can help you to picture the daily routine around of it--where to shop, what roads to take, etc.
  • Self-denial
    • This is where in your mind, you minimize the actual risk.
    • Sometimes, if we accepted what the actual risk was, it would keep us from doing what we need to.  Self-deception can move us to a point in which we engage in 'fearful' behavior by pretending there is no reason to be concerned.
    • Ignorance may not be bliss, but in the right circumstance it can be freeing.  If you don't realize the risk until the fact, then you haven't given yourself a chance to worry about it.
  • Slight 'recklessness'
    • Sometimes there is a definitive fear or risk no matter how much you have prepared, tried to reason your way out of the fear or deny the risk.  You just have to make a decision to step out and jump off the diving board, hoping that there is water below.
    • Sometimes you have to jump out of that plane with a parachute, imaging that the chute WILL open just like it always has done without fail, time and time previously.
  • Straitjacket
    • Sometimes boxing yourself into a necessary choice is a painful but effective way of dealing.
    • If the choices that you leave yourself are worse, then you leave yourself 'no choice' but to take the chance.
    • When I sky-dived, I let everyone that mattered to me know that I was going to.  I took someone with me who had done it before and was likely to hold my feet to the fire and think less of me if I chickened.  I drove to a location a few hours out, thereby making a return trip back home too humiliating if I had 'chickened out'.  In short, the cost in shame, humiliation and money was too much for me to stomach.  So, I took the 'easy' way out and did the jump.

I guess my takeaway from this blog post is that sometimes you just have to find a way to push through the fear.  Sometimes you can talk yourself through it, sometimes you can fool your way through it, sometimes prepare your way through it, sometimes you can just decide to do it anyway and some times you can 'shame' yourself through it.  But, ultimately in life sometimes we just have to find a way to push past the fear and let go.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Observations on shame: The Shame Tipping Point

I previously discussed in the "The Shame Cycle", the idea of shame operating in a vicious cycle or keeping us in a rut.  In "Shame and codependence", I discussed how shame can keep us in unhealthy relationships and/or can keep us making poor choices.  In this blog I wanted to go in a slightly different direction and expand a little bit upon what happens when shame reaches a crossroads.

I will first touch on/revisit the consequences of shame that hasn't reached a crossroad. At least as I have seen or come to appreciate it.
  • Poor decisions are often made based on shame, especially hidden shame.  I've heard of couples in which the spouse--usually the husband--gets his wife a new ring, a new car, a fancy vacation, redone room or something similar in an unusual or unusually timed way.  In a sense, it is a compensation for a shame that isn't spoken of.  In some cases, it is an 'understood' payoff, in some cases it is hopeful inoculation against consequences should the shame be discovered.  Often times it is a poor financial choice that wouldn't be done in a more level-headed setting.
  • Taking credit (shame-wise) for something which one shouldn't to overcompensate for known or unknown shame.  Known shame is like a poison that is purposely being bled out.  It can cause us to 'own up' to too much wrong in an attempt to bleed the poison out faster.  For example, taking sole blame for the family vacation that has gone awry can show how 'contrite' we are.  On the other hand, unknown shame is a poison that needs doesn't have an obvious outlet, especially if the unknown shame is too devastating.  The hidden outlet can end up being false humility or taking blame where not due. For example, Rep. Foley couldn't own up to his inappropriate behavior with underage pages.  So, he became the Chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.  This allowed him to feel better about himself by absolving or bleed out some of his shame for his destructive (and hidden) issues without having to own up to them.  In  a sense if he helped many other children, he could atone for or bleed out the poison of his own behavior.

But, to move back to the point at hand, often times shame reaches a crossroads or as I call it a "Shame Tipping Point" in which the dynamics of the shaming relationship or situation change dramatically.  From what I see, the "Shame Tipping Point" ultimately is a "Fight or Flight" response.  Before I go further with this I want to make a disclaimer or two:
  • Some harm or injury to others is so profound--such as murder/child molesting--that it is understood that the offending party has little right to expect the offended party will ever lift the weight of shame from them.
  • Flight, while it can be a self-protective tool, isn't necessarily the right or proper tool, especially if amends are proper to make or the consequences of 'flight' or too devastating.

So, let's take the "fight" response.  Say you've made poor choices along the way that have caused harm to others.  A natural response is to feel shame about it and to act 'hangdog' around the person(s) you've harmed.  There is of course value in showing contriteness and taking steps to make amends.  However, in many cases, the injured party takes it too far.  The injured party continues to use shame as a club to beat down or to extract a pound of flesh and/or concessions from the injuring party.  For example, if I bullied a sibling as a kid, yet realized as I matured how wrong that was and made attempts to make amends for it, it is realistic to expect that my sibling would eventually be forgiving.  However, as we know many times in these cases, the sibling realizes the power in holding the guilt/shame over the head of his/her 'childhood tormentor'.   The sibling will often use continually try to pay back or stick it to his/her 'tormentor' and hold them down in shame.  In other words, the sibling will actively work on shaming his/her 'childhood tormentor' At some point, if the "Shame Tipping Point" is reached, the former 'tormentor' will be pushed too far and realize that he or she is now the 'tormented'.  Once he or she realizes this, they probably will never again accept the dynamics of the relationship.  At this point, the former 'tormentor' will have regained his/her self-respect and will accept whatever consequences of taking his or her power back.

Now, let's take the 'flight' response.  Ultimately, 'flight' can either mean running away from the shameful circumstance/relationship or in worse case scenario, 'checking out' or taking his or her life.  Unfortunately, I believe for my brother Bill, he was living with unchecked 'shame demons' and he took his own life.  For the sake of discussion, I believe most of his 'shame demons' were largely not of his own making, but instead things done to or around him.  Also, I believe he was living with mostly 'illegitimate' shame--that is shame that wasn't his to accept.  But, try and tell someone in that situation that they are off in their thinking.  It's like trying drive halfway across the country in one day.  While it is not always an impossible task, most of the time you end up short of the result you are trying for.  In any case, most of the time, the flight "Shame Tipping Point" results in the other party falling into major if not total retreat.  Rightly or wrongly, when you press someone's shame button too often or too hard, the sting or hurt of the shaming instead of pushing them to change, pushes them to make themselves scarce.  The shamed person may 'deserve' the shaming--such as when they are not doing their part to help take care of an aging parent--but just because they 'deserve' it, doesn't mean they are ready to face up to it.  If they really aren't ready to face the reason for their shame, then it is more likely that they will retreat or take flight from the messenger who delivers the shaming message.

I'm not totally sure what the point of this blog was.  Perhaps it was help people see their role in uncomfortable (and potentially) shameful behaviors, situations or relationships.  If I help one person to step out of the shame cycle, to see that blindly accepting a shaming is wrong, I feel I will have succeeded with the blog.  If I help a party to understand or see the flight response in another and adjust accordingly, I will have succeeded.  After all, a famous hymnal doesn't express that "Shame is the Victory", but instead says "Faith is the Victory (that overcomes the world)".

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Observations on shame: Shame and codependence

In my previous entry on shame, Observations on shame: "The Shame Cycle", I touched upon a destructive force called shame and how it keeps us in a negative rut or cycle.  In this entry, I will again talk about shame, but I will focus on a particular effect of shame in our lives.

We look at this cartoon and we laugh a little bit about how absurd it is.   The kid in this cartoon blows a small mistake--dropping lunchbox on the way to school--out of proportion.  Instead of just accepting that he made a minor flub, he takes on the role of the black sheep of the family over it.  In other words, he makes it about his role in the family.  His own personal shame is causing him to view the situation improperly.   In AA, this would be considered or referred to as a form of "stinking thinking". In other words, he is viewing the situation through the lens of his role in the family due to his own unspecified personal shame.  The irony is that his counselor, Dr. Baer, probably picked up his lunch and is laughing about this small incident has thrown him into a crisis of codependence.

The panel above in black in white we see as absurd codependence based on shame.  However, when we go through our everyday lives without truly having processed our history, are we that much different than the little boy who 'disgraced his family' by losing his lunchbox?  I contend that many of us, if confronted with in black and white with our own words and behaviors would see codependent behavior fueled by shame.

So what exactly is connection between shame and codependency?  I will first digress and differentiate between shame and guilt.  From the May 30, 2013 Psychology Today online article "The Difference Between Guilt and Shame" comes the following:

Guilt: a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
Shame: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.
For the sake of discussion, I will refer to shame and guilt interchangeable as each can be equally disabling.   Anyway, the connection.

Shame --> Damaged Self-Esteem or  Doubt --> Strong Need for Confirmation and Approval  --> Doing What it Takes to Get or Retain that Approval = Codependence which manifests itself in basing some or part of our actions and behaviors on fulfilling that need.

Examples of shame/guilt leading to codependence:

Example 1:
You go through a divorce and in the process, cause pain for the children.  You feel shame or guilt over a failed marriage and the hurt that is causing your kid(s).  This is especially true if your kid(s) are acting out.  You know from your religious/moral background and upbringing what is acceptable behavior for your children.  Also, you know on some level what boundaries they need.  But your guilt or shame bleed into the situation, leading to lowered esteem or doubt and you begin to question what you 'know' or were taught.  Kids are very intuitive and they can sense this and they start probing for weak spots.   When they find the weak spots, they exploit them, often with questioning of authority and misbehavior.  This doubt on the parent's part and adjustment to settle down the situation.  Hence, the divorcing parent becomes embroiled in codependency with his or her kids.

Example 2:
Someone close to you--mom, dad, brother, friend--dies at an early age or commits suicide.  On some level notice he or she was having problems beforehand, but it didn't necessarily click the magnitude of the problems.  In hindsight, it seems as if warning signs were there.  When we are trying to get by everyday, not everything is clear.  Someone says they are unhappy or aren't feeling good.  But, we know like with cold, the appearance of  'symptoms'--such as tiredness or slightly irritated throat--beforehand doesn't always portend a cold.  Similarly, if the loved one had sent such signals beforehand and pulled through, it is easy to see the sickness or depression as just another bump in the road.  Anyway, guilt over "not being there" the way we THINK we should have can be very disabling.  This can spill over into other areas of our lives.  Well-meaning family can give us 'advice' going forward and being in a weakened state and feeling bad, we may seek their validation or approval and it can be easy to slip into a pattern of orienting our actions to please them, rather than doing what we need to for ourselves.  This is especially true if the family member(s) are opinionated and tend to be controlling.  In other words, they use your shame or guilt against you.

Anyway, the keys to keeping shame or guilt from bleeding into codependence can be found in answering the following questions:

  • Do you find yourself extensively stressing over whether the other party(s) approve your choices/actions.  That is to say, are you more focused on whether a choice or action is the best or most logical choice OR are you focused on defending the choice or action to others?
  • If saw this exact situation playing out with strangers would how would you assess or advise in the situation?  If your assessment or advice is different than that which you'd give yourself, then chances are you are blocked by your own self-doubt.
  • Are you willing to do the unpopular thing, which you 'know' to be the right thing, or does the fear of being 'unloved' tend to get in the way?

Shame can keep us from making or repeating bad choices.  Guilt, when not displaced, can also redirect us to doing the right thing in the future.  In and of itself, neither is necessarily a bad thing.   However, each can be a destructive feeling or force if they bleed into our relationship with others.  While each can give us guardrails in our dealings with others, they shouldn't control or interfere with how we interact with others.  It is important to look beyond them and look to what specific circumstances and dealings with others dictate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Living life on E

How many times do we drive oblivious to how full (or empty) our gas tank is only to be abruptly made aware by a quick glance or ding of a low fuel light that we will soon have to refuel.   We have two choices at this point: we can drive on E and hope we can make it to our destination or we can stop and refuel.  Unless we our near our destination, it is generally wisest to stop and refuel.  Presuming we decide to stop and refuel, we have a second decision to make.  Do we put in a partial tank to save money and/or time refueling or do we bite the bullet and top it off?  Unless we are totally strapped for money, in a situation in which literally a minute or two will make a difference, or sure that gas prices will spike, it is best just tank it off at that point.  (As if we continually drive on or near E, we risk eventually getting stranded after running out of gas or causing damage to the engine such as dirt getting into the fuel line or engine. 

Okay, so then why in life when our 'low fuel light' comes on, do we ignore and hope 'we make it' or do we barely 'refuel' . LaMorris Crawford, the chaplain for the Cincinnati Bengals and head of LaMorris Crawford Ministries, spoke this past weekend at the Missouri District Church of the Nazarene 2016 Men's Retreat this past weekend. (April 22-23)  In his Friday night sermon, his larger point was notoriety and what as Christians that we'd be remembered for.  In the process of making that point he observed that in our faith that we tend to run on empty when we should be spiritually refueling.  A friend of mine recently reminded me to make time and find my own space to recharge my batteries--basically another way of saying refueling.  I don't think he was necessarily limiting it to one aspect of my life, but rather all my life--physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually   Anyway, between those two circumstances it got me to thinking: what is refueling and why don't we properly refuel?

What is refueling?

  • Spending time in prayer, study and/or meditation.  (Spiritually refueling)
  • Getting good sleep.
  • Exercising
  • Eating right
  • Finding me time - being nice to ourselves.

In short, it is taking care of our needs.

I believe many live life on or near 'E' for the following reasons:

  1. PRIDE - We mistakenly estimate that we can do it ourselves and that we don't need a break, pause or a lift.  In a way, it is a need for self-validation.   Spiritually, we want to prove to ourselves that we are well-equipped at all times, so we don't spend the time in prayer and study that we need to.  Emotionally, mentally and physically we want to prove to ourselves how 'tough' we are.  So, we don't stop, pause, rest or step away when we need to 'refuel'.                                                   
  2. ARROGANCE - As I see it, arrogance is trying to prove to others about our good/greatness, our intelligence, our toughness and our independence.  It comes from a place of insecurity in relation to others.  That is we NEED to be dominant or not show weakness to prove our worth.  On the spiritual side, we are telling our Higher Power (God) that we don't need him.  In other words, I've got it under control.  In that and other aspects of our life we don't stop, pause, step away or rest until our we are run down.  To us, to do so would show comparative weakness and we can't risk that.                                                                                                                               
  3. IGNORANCE - Sometimes we simply don't really understand how to take care of ourselves or refuel properly.  We may have never really had a good example set for us.  What instead we may have seen was our parents not effectively taking care of their own needs.  Sometimes, it is as simple as not taking any/enough time to pray, meditate, introspect about our needs.  This can be due to laziness, distractions, stubbornness or some other unknown block.  If we aren't really aware of how to effectively take care of ourselves, it is more likely we will just do the minimum we need to go get by.                                                                                                       
  4.  TIME/SPACE - I've heard the quote: "there isn't enough time to do it right, but there is always enough time to do it over." (Jack Bergman)  I think it is fairly common we don't take effective care of ourselves because we don't take/make enough time for our needs.  Time, as we get older, seems like an ever decreasing asset.  In this light, it is common to feel like we don't have enough time to stop, to rest, to eat healthy, exercise, pray/meditate or any of the other things we should do to refuel in the different aspects of our life.  I believe that often we just push forward believing there is enough in the tank to get us to the next point, day, week, crisis moment, etc., believing we don't have time to refuel.  Of course, like the the earlier quote implied, when we do break down--assuming we aren't completely destroyed--we seem to be able to find the time to recover and refuel.  I believe there is often similar issue with space.  We don't find our own personal space--literal or figurative--and ironically after we break down, we are given plenty of space to recover.                                                                                                                               
  5.  SHAME - Interestingly enough, most of the reasons for not taking proper care of ourselves or refueling, revolve around a miscalculation or misunderstanding of how to do so rather than the basic desire to do.  However, shame is different.  One could argue that when we feel too much guilt or shame, there is a conscience or subconscious sense that we don't deserve to take care of ourselves.  In our spiritual life, there is almost a sense that we don't deserve the grace of God (our higher power), but this is really when we need it the most.  In other aspects of our lives, when we feel too much shame and can be paralyzed into effective inaction--a shame crater.  Alternatively, not feeling we deserve to have our needs met, the actions of a person stuck in shame are often mostly focused on others as instead of taking care of basic needs first.  It can be noble to put other's needs first, but not if we are totally neglecting taking care of ourselves in the process.  
I guess the takeaway from this blog is that we need to become aware of what our basic needs are, of when we are not effectively meeting our own basic needs. This can help us to understand why we aren't.  Otherwise, when we continue to live life on E, it will catch up to us and when it does, it will not be pretty.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Observations on shame: "The Shame Cycle"

Tonight (3/31/16) I dealt with what I considered a 'harassment' letter from an attorney for my dad's nursing home.  Long story short: My dad stayed there and ultimately had a lien placed on his house so they could recuperate costs not covered by Medicaid.  Anyway, I as his POA signed an agreement about a year ago which included promissory note giving them the authority to seize the house should his bill not be paid in full by the end of last year.  The attorney has been a real jerk and my attorney who is familiar with him says that he is pushy.  Anyway, thinking this whole matter I realized that I wasn't really fazed by the letter pressing the family for money.  I realized part of my serenity on the matter is that I realize that they will get my dad's house and it is up to them to flip it to get what they are owed.  But, I also realized something else: I have serenity on it because I am no longer caught up in what I call a "shame cycle".   Over the past number of years, I have felt shame over not being able to save my brother and a friend, respectively,  from harming themselves.  I have felt the shame of a failed marriage, a foreclosed house, bankruptcy, underemployment, not being a 24/7 parent of my daughter, not being there enough for my mom before she died and then having to walk away from my dad at times while his health was failing for my own sanity in the face of his insolence/difficult behavior as his health was progressively failing.  My friend Ben refers to a shame based "bottoming out" as a "shame crater".  At times, my "shame crater" seemed to be as large as the volcano crater I walked through in Hawaii.   

As anyone who has stopped to think about it has realized, when you are operating under a cloud of shame, your decision-making and/or confidence is compromised.  It doesn't matter if the shame is justifiable or not, the result is still the same.  I refer to this as a "shame cycle" because I think a lot of times shame has a way of keeping us in a rut or bad cycle. Furthermore, I think circumstances and/or people can wittingly or unwittingly support the continuation of this rut.  I am grateful that God has moved me to a place where I am not stuck in that cycle like I was, but I am well aware that sometimes the cycle is so deeply embedded in one's persona that it takes a/some dramatic event(s) or a dramatic change to shake us out of the rut or cycle.  Unfortunately, for me it took the complete implosion of the marriage to my ex and the suicide of my brother to start to start to put a stop to the cycle.  I think sometimes when we are stuck in a bad cycle, especially a shame one, we know something has to give for us to start feeling healthy or recovering again, but the fear of what it has to be keeps us from going there.

One more quick note, I have found the following are useful in stopping or breaking a shame cycle:
  • Counsel of trusted others - Whether it be a friend, minister or actual counselor.
  • Measuring myself and my worth in God's eyes, rather than my own or the eyes of the  world.
  • Confidence  - Especially when you know it is supported by a sense of honor or propriety.
Anyway, just think of a shame cycle like a wash cycle.  Eventually, it has to end to allow go onto the next the next step in the process.   Just my thoughts for the evening...

Friday, February 20, 2015

98% rule: someone has to take blame...

98% is an excellent percent on a math or spelling test.  It is an out of this world free throw percentage in basketball.  It is an excellent level of purity of gold.  However, in terms of how often one side in a relationship is right, it is a terrible percentage.

A few years ago, I came up with something I call it the 98% rule.  The point of it is that when you find yourself admitting you are wrong most all the time with an occasional concession by your partner, you are likely in an unhealthy relationship.

The way I see it, 98% blame either means one of two things:

  1. Most likely, you are in codependent relationship where someone has to take the shame or blame for the ills of the relationship.  In reality, the blame could/should be split more equally.  Generally speaking, 'blame' won't be shared 50/50.  It might be 60/40 or perhaps 30/70, but still each side has culpability.
  2. One person in the relationship is a real jerk or narcissist.  He or she is actually mean/controlling/abusive.  In this case, he or she is actually wrong most of the time.  If you can look at a relationship honestly and say, this is how I feel about the other person, it's probably time to move on from it. In other words, if the other person is actually a big enough narcissist to be wrong most of the time and let you take the fault instead, it is an unhealthy relationship

Never let another person use your flaws to control you with shame.  I don't mean to avoid talking about the tough subject matter or to shut down another when they speak frankly about you.  What I mean is do not allow yourself to be manipulated to where you seem to boxed into taking the blame or admitting fault where it isn't appropriate.  Guilt over mistakes is a healthy grieving process.  Shame over them is treating yourself as if you are the mistake.  Don't let anyone take a sore point and beat you over the head with it to control you.

The controlling person may win the battle, but they eventually will lose the war.  They will be seen for who they are.  Just don't let yourself be dragged down into their manipulation, their insecurities, their fear.


A friend once said to me that "healthy people don't tend to marry sick people".  I am not sure where he got it, it might have been from AA?  Anyway, he made an excellent point.  This supports my above point.  If, in a relationship, there is a degree of unhealthy in both parties, it is likely that each has the ability to make mistakes and therefore are wrong from time to time. If each person recognizes it and can own up to it, there is hope for the relationship.

Just some thoughts...