Tag Archives: connection

Shame on You!

I’ve been thinking a great deal about shame. It lurks in many of my relationships. I observe it in people around me. I cannot remember a time when I was not deeply ashamed of myself. I’ve written about tribal shaming before, but I’ve never excavated the subject further until now.

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Wikipedia has a lengthy page on shame that summarizes different ways in which it has been studied. Assessment tools exist to measure shame and its effects in our lives. Shame has been divided into categories, and distinctions between shame, guilt and embarrassment teased out.

All this information provided me with a lot of interesting context and background, but the subject is not academic for me. I have a problem with shame that I want to solve. How do I go about identifying and dealing effectively with the painful feeling of humiliation or distress we call shame?

I learned in emotional intelligence training that our feelings are value neutral. Some feelings are painful and others are pleasurable, but that doesn’t make them “good” or “bad.” Feelings just are. We all have them, whether or not we allow ourselves to consciously feel them or admit them to others. If we allow ourselves to feel our feelings, they give us information about how we are. Feelings by themselves can empower and enlighten us, guide our choice-making and help us make strong, healthy connections with others.

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Feelings come and go, like the weather, if we allow them to. Refusing to feel a feeling, however, locks it in place, and then we have forged handcuffs and chains for ourselves. The other tricky aspect of feelings is what our thoughts are about them. Thoughts are what lead us into inappropriate action and expression of our feelings.

An emotionally intelligent person recognizes a feeling like rage and takes responsibility for it. In other words, they don’t blame someone or something externally for their rage. That’s a thought. They don’t seek revenge, payback or to re-establish their power over someone they blame as the cause of their rage. They take responsibility for their feeling of rage and discharging it appropriately, knowing that none of us think well or make effective choices when we’re in the grip of strong feelings. They also don’t turn the perfectly normal feeling of rage inward against themselves.

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After safely discharging rage (hard physical labor, tears, journaling, talking things over, screaming, passionate creative expression, beating up phone books or pillows), the next step is to sit down and have a talk with it. Years ago, when I lived alone, I literally began to sit down and talk with some of my feelings. I’ve written about this previously. I sit in a chair across from an empty chair and imagine myself talking things out with the feeling occupying the other chair. I say something like, “You have my attention. What’s the deal? Why are you so angry?” and then I shut up and listen to my feeling. Feelings have presence. I’ve learned to notice where I experience them in my body, what color they are, their size and shape, their density and texture, their scent and sound. Our feelings are trying to tell us things we need to know, and the more painful, difficult and overwhelming they are the more important their message is.

This is what I have been doing lately with shame. I wait and watch for it, and when it comes I notice and pause. In the middle of a conversation with my partner, I’ll feel shame rise up like a foul smell and I’ll pause and look for what is happening that triggers shame. Something I said? Something I didn’t say? Something he said to me? Something else I’d rather be doing? A subject I don’t want to talk about or don’t care about? What else am I feeling?

After doing this for a couple of weeks, I discover that any honest conversation that makes visible my needs and feelings triggers shame. No wonder I feel so burdened if shame is attached to every need and feeling!

Interestingly, during the in-the-moment pauses while I explore all this, more often than not I realize that I don’t in fact feel shame at all. It’s become a kind of chronic hitchhiker that’s attached to other feelings.

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A good example is driving. I typically go the speed limit or 5 miles over it, and in bad weather much slower than that. I rarely run late. I hate to rush. I enjoy music and audiobooks in the car and am quite happy driving. I love my commute. The world is full of people, however, who are in a hurry, reckless, and, to my way of thinking, rude. Of course, they think I’m rude for not getting out of their way!

I rarely drive without feeling shame, but I realize now that I’m not really ashamed at all of my driving. On the contrary, I think I’m a competent, courteous driver. I’ve also been a lucky driver, because accidents happen to the best drivers out there and I’ve never been involved in more than a fender bender. When someone is crawling up my backside in a snowstorm in the dark on an icy road and I’m blinded by their headlights in my rearview mirrors and have no way to move over and let them by, what I do feel is mad and scared. The shame is about feeling mad and scared, not about my driving choices in that moment. I don’t want some idiot in a big truck to have the power to intimidate me on the road. I resent living in a world where I have to worry about sudden violence and road rage, or being a woman alone at night. I’m furious with people who follow too close, even in good conditions. I hate to be pushed and pressured, and I hate even more to feel I’m in someone else’s way or making someone wait on me. That’s an old trigger for PTSD.

It turns out much of my daily shame is nothing more than a habitual default. A rueful realization, but also good news. Habits can be broken, I’ve had a lot of practice with that.

I’ve never yet successfully broken a habit without replacing a not-so-useful thought or frame with a better one. So, what’s the opposite of shame? If I want to replace shame with something more effective, what would that be?

Shame is akin to contempt. Contempt is the atomic bomb in relationships between two or more people as well as in our relationships with ourselves. Contempt withers love and destroys trust. It’s never constructive. Those who employ it seek power and control over others. Shame and contempt are merciless. Guilt, the recognition of having transgressed against another, can be addressed. We can atone for our actions and words, apologize, take steps to repair the damage we caused. Shame and contempt are without mercy or the possibility of reparation. Guilt says we’ve behaved badly. Shame and contempt say we are bad, we are unworthy, and nothing can ever make us different.

I consulted a thesaurus to look at antonyms for shame and came up with respect. Respect!

Shame: Why are you so stupid and difficult? You’re always in everyone’s way! You don’t belong on the road. Why are you such a goody-two-shoes? No wonder nobody likes you, crawling along like an old lady! Nobody else drives this way.  Joe Blow  (partner, brother, colleagues, the guy at work who said the roads were fine and scoffed at slow drivers) wouldn’t be driving like this. You do everything wrong. People like you cause accidents because you go too slow.

Respect: Don’t let this idiot drive your car! Go as slowly as you need to. You’ve got good judgement and a lot of experience. These are dangerous conditions and feeling fearful is an appropriate response. I trust you. Don’t let this driver intimidate you. His need to go fast is not more important than your need to stay safe. People driving the way he is cause accidents.

Quite a difference, right?

I suppose there are more elegant ways to grapple with feelings like shame and a trained psychologist or psychiatrist would laugh at me, but I’ve found that helping myself is incredibly empowering. My experience of therapy is that having a good guide is invaluable, but even the best guide can’t crawl inside our heads and do the work of staying present and making different choices. That’s all on us. Ditching an ineffective habit is difficult and so is encouraging a new one, but it’s perfectly doable. If I lost my right hand, I would eventually learn to use my left. It would feel clumsy, and no doubt frustrating, and it would take time, but I would learn to do it. Our brains are surprisingly plastic, and we’re learning more all the time about healing and adapting neurologically and emotionally.

We aren’t born with a feeling of shame. We learn to feel it. Anything we learn can be unlearned. Shame stunts our growth and our joy. Respect is like the wind beneath our wings. I’ve made my choice.

My daily crime.

Photo by Yuan Yue on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2019
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Yellow Submarine

At 6:30 a.m. on Monday morning, we park in the dark, empty parking lot and use a combination keypad to enter the building and a key to unlock the door to the pool, re-locking it behind us. We turn on lights, computers and automatic doors. We run a shower in the men’s and women’s locker rooms, as the hot water takes several minutes to reach them and the early swimmers complain of cold showers. We check the temperatures and chemicals in the pools. We peel off our winter layers and put on suits, shorts, emergency fanny packs and whistles. We check the day’s schedule. All the while, a rising chorus of voices and laughter comes from outside the still-locked door where the early water aerobics class is gathering, as though it’s noon and not o-dark-thirty on a cold November morning. The aerobics teacher gets her music ready and checks the wireless headset. This class is large, so she will teach from the pool deck rather than the water.

At 7:00 we unlock the door and they stream in, laughing and talking, tousled heads of grey, white and improbable shades of blonde and brown. Not one of them is under 55. This morning the entire class consists of women. They disappear into the locker room, where the mirth and talk continue as they change and shower. I gather up a rescue tube and get comfortable in the lifeguard chair.

Descending the steps into the pool, the women tease one another and complain about the cold water. Many wear glasses, though they’ve removed their hearing aids . Many wear earrings. A couple of them dispense kickboards, foam buoys and floating foam noodles from plastic laundry baskets on shelves at poolside.

On this morning I count 17 in the class. We know one of them had a birthday over the weekend. The instructor gives her a blue plastic tiara and matching wand from the dollar store while we all sing “Happy Birthday.” She’s informed the tiara must stay on her head during the class. She presses it firmly onto her grey hair, laughing.

The instructor cues the music. I jiggle the dial on the wireless headphones, which never seems to work properly, and the class begins with the announcement of a Beatles soundtrack. “Hard Day’s Night” starts the warm-up to a 45-minute water aerobics workout.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Music is so evocative. I can’t hear The Beatles without thinking of my brother, who owned and played all their albums when we were growing up. These women are a decade older than I am, and they greet each song with delight. They know every word. They bob up and down, kicking, twisting, using the kickboards and buoys for resistance and strengthening in the water. Most are generous-bodied and their bosoms bounce within the confines of their modestly cut suits. I see lime green, pink and black. I see loosened skin and wrinkled cleavage, pink scalp and cellulite while “Revolution” fills the brightly lit, echoing space.

The instructor guides the class from one set of movements to another. They stand in place. They travel back and forth across the pool. They lift, bend and stretch in a circle. We all sing together. They inform each other, soulfully, that “I want to hold your hand.” The water churns with their efforts. “Got to get you into my life!” they shout at one another with hilarious passion.

As I watch, I try to imagine these well-ripened, glorious women as teenagers. I imagine them hearing “Good Day Sunshine” for the first time on radios, records and jukeboxes in diners, in cars and at parties. They were all young once, pretty, idealistic and probably as foolish as most young women are. They had homework and crushes on teachers. They had families and friends and gossiped. The Beatles were part of the soundtrack of their lives. Now, decades later, what old memories, thoughts and feelings do these familiar songs unlock? What stories do they recall, what pleasures, what griefs and disappointments when they hear “All My Loving?”

The very last song is “Yellow Submarine.” By now even I am breathless with laughter. Impossible to hear this music without moving to it, even if confined in a sitting position. The instructor is incapable with mirth. It doesn’t matter. The class guides itself, arms high in the air over their heads, red-faced, panting, dancing in the water. They turn, bump ample hips with one another, gesture flamboyantly, and we all sing at the top of our voices until the music stops and the class ends.

Knowing the routine, the class puts all the equipment away tidily in the sudden quiet. They pull the lane lines back into place and hook them up. They exit the lap pool and move to the 93-degree therapy pool, where they break into groups and chat, some in the shallow end and others floating peacefully in the deep end. The birthday girl is still wearing her blue plastic tiara. Now the talk is more subdued than it was before the class. I hear a discussion about snow shovels, snow blowers, and the performance of various men, hired and otherwise, with these tools. I hear talk of families, grandchildren and plans for the holidays. A group in a corner carries on a low-voiced discussion interspersed with much bawdy laughter. It’s not hard to imagine what they’re talking about. I smile in sympathy. Local news and politics are dealt with, along with the weather, the state of the roads, church gossip, local holiday activities and fund raisers.

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It’s just 8:00 on a Monday morning. These women represent part of the backbone of the community. Seasoned, experienced, humorous and wise in the ways of the world, they know exactly who they are and what they’re made of. They’ve loved and lost, worked, raised families, volunteered, suffered grief, illness and injury. They’re outspoken, earthy and unapologetic. They know how to connect with others. They know how to play and laugh. They are kind and compassionate without being sentimental. They know how to love life.

Monday morning we all lived in a yellow submarine for an hour, and proclaimed it joyfully at the top of our voices.

It was my daily crime.

I wish you all abundance this Thanksgiving.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Toxic Mimics and Other Deceits

I first heard about toxic mimics as I learned emotional intelligence. The term comes from radical environmentalist author and speaker Derrick Jensen. A toxic mimic is a destructive action, behavior or thing pretending to fill a primary human need. Rape is a toxic mimic for healthy, consensual sex. Sugar is a toxic mimic for food. Addiction is a toxic mimic for managing feelings. A job might be a toxic mimic for contribution. Pseudo self is a toxic mimic for authenticity. Some would argue that social media is a toxic mimic for connection.

I believe our modern culture here in the United States, at this moment, rests on an edifice of toxic mimics. People who create, design and sell toxic mimics have a simple agenda: Profit and power. We, the consumers and choice makers, the common people, if you will, happily hand over our power in exchange for the shiny; the new and improved; the seductive promise of success, wealth and love; and the popular. Toxic mimics give us the relief of distraction, instant gratification and the promise of an identity. They help us regulate our mood and feelings.

Toxic mimics have such power over us now that a majority of us (maybe) have voluntarily given management of our country to toxic mimics for human beings.

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What are the strongest human motivators? Fear? Love? Hate? I could also make a case for denial, but that might be too inextricably bound up with fear to separate. Toxic mimics are deliberately designed and marketed to appeal to the things that drive us at our deepest levels. They are engineered to target our greatest vulnerabilities. They seek to hook us, permanently, helplessly and hopelessly, and they’re so powerful that many, many people are killed by them. Witness the power of nicotine, for example. Toxic mimics promise to fill our lives with everything we want and provide us an identity, but when we employ them we feel emptier than ever. Because we are conditioned to believe buying a product or service will make us feel better, we buy as much as we can as fast as we can, which necessitates a continuous stream of money, a resource that has become one of the most powerful Gods we’ve ever worshipped. Money, one might say, is a toxic mimic for God, or Gods, or whatever word you like to use to communicate the Divine.

The deepest irony in this situation is that we are the ones who perpetuate the power of toxic mimics. We willfully and intentionally participate. We create demand and gobble up supply. We continue to support advertising, algorithms and the handful of powerful companies who monitor our lives and mine us for information in order to sell us yet more toxic mimics. We applaud and admire what we call “progress”, “growth” and a healthy economy.

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A healthy economy. Healthy for who, I wonder. Healthy for the global system? Healthy for those of us living paycheck to paycheck? Healthy for the children who are victims (yes, I mean victims) of anti-vaxxers? Healthy for people who have no financial resource and thus cannot participate in the latest technology? In a country filled with disbonded children and broken families; rising antibiotic-resistant organisms, including STDs; rising illnesses like typhus that are perfectly preventable with vaccination; astronomical housing costs that force employed professionals to live out of their cars; broken healthcare and public education systems and a population of obese, metabolically disordered, pharma-dependent, addicted, lonely, suicidal people, we have a so-called healthy economy.

Oh, good. I’m so proud to be an American.

It’s a lie. There’s nothing healthy about what’s happening now, but we’re so stupefied, so numbed, so habituated, that we no longer recognize lies when we hear them. We can’t afford to, because to recognize one means to recognize others, and if the whole thing is based on lies, we’re too afraid to know it. Much easier to cash the insurance check and rebuild, for the third or fourth time, in the same place than take responsibility for facing the effects, long predicted, of climate change.

Of course, insurance companies are not going to continue to subsidize climate change because that destroys their profits, so that might catch our attention — eventually.

In the meantime, we bend our heads over our handheld, shiny, talking, distracting and instantly gratifying techno-screens or settle down in front of our larger screens and surround sound systems and let the advertising and brainwashing wash over us. We call this life. Isn’t it grand? Isn’t it beautiful? Aren’t you happy?

A toxic mimic is a promise that never delivers. Sometimes we do it to ourselves. Sometimes we allow others to convince us of the necessity, morality and rightness of our toxic mimics. We’re told they will make us safe. They will make us successful. They will make us healthy and popular, beautiful and beloved. We’re told we have a perfect right to have what we want. We long to believe it. We buy, and then we don’t feel successful or beautiful, so we buy some more. We start giving away our power. We begin to hide our unhappiness. After all, toxic mimics are working for everybody else, aren’t they? Everyone on our favorite social media platform is doing just fine. We conclude there’s something wrong, broken and irredeemably ugly about us. It’s too shameful to admit or talk about. We take even more smiling selfies and post them.

Meanwhile, we elevate and empower not the humanitarians, the natural leaders, the ecologists, the visionary scientists, the emotionally intelligent, the critical thinkers and those who understand complexity and systems, but those who have wealth. Money, that amoral symbol made of paper and metal, is the God we’ve agreed is the most powerful and the most admirable. It’s not so, of course, but we make it so with our belief and our participation. We are driven by our fear of losing economically. We’re evidently prepared to follow the promise of economic power straight to Hell.

Fear is the most powerful hallmark of a toxic mimic. Fear of losing power. Fear of being wrong. Fear of consequences, justice and having to take responsibility. Fear of experiencing our feelings. Fear makes our lives, intellect and hearts smaller, not larger. Toxic mimics don’t meet our needs. They momentarily satisfy, perhaps, our cravings and addictions, our need for stimulation and gratification and our desire for distraction. Ultimately, however, toxic mimics dehumanize us, stop our critical thinking, retard our judgement, destroy our health, disable us from healthy connections and encourage us to hide our authenticity. Toxic mimics feed our rigidity, our ideology, our fear and paranoia, and actively attack our physical and mental health.

Are your needs being met? If you don’t know what your needs are, here’s a needs inventory to look at.

If that question made you cry, or your heart shouted “NO!”, make a list of all your makeup, your clothes, your car(s), your tech, your toys and the other stuff you recognize as part of your identity. Don’t forget your accounts, subscriptions and financial assets.

All that, and your needs are not being met?

Huh. Interesting, isn’t it?

Uncovering toxic mimics. My daily crime.

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted