Tag Archives: tribal shaming

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.

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

Loyalty: Weapon or Tool?

I’ve been thinking about loyalty recently. Loyalty is one of my bigger rabbit holes. I most often use the term when I’m beating myself up. A nasty little internal voice frequently hisses “Disloyal!” in my ear. This happens so constantly, in fact, that I’m bored. I’ve decided to unpack the concept of loyalty, spread it out, let the cat sniff at it, and either own my own disloyalty without shame or permanently silence that particular internal accusation.

The first thing I notice is that I want to be loyal. Loyalty is a virtue. Good, loving people are loyal. I certainly want to be a loyal family member, friend and partner. Loyalty has always been an important part of my identity, which is why it’s such an effective lash for me. What’s more shameful and ugly than disloyalty?

I don’t want to be shameful and ugly. If I am shameful and ugly, I certainly don’t want anyone to find out.

Loyalty, then, is something that depends on what onlookers think about my behavior and choices.

Before I’ve even crawled into the mouth of the rabbit hole I’ve moved out of my power. Interesting.

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Tuesday morning I took my cup of tea and spent two hours with dictionary, thesaurus and my laptop looking at poetry, quotes, memes, definitions and articles. I read about families, patriotism and dogs. I discovered that 80% of results returned for a search on loyalty have to do with manipulating customer and product loyalty. Of course. What a world.

At the end of that two hours, I felt no wiser. I had some notes, but I still didn’t have a clear idea of what loyalty really is, what it looks like, what it feels like to give or receive it, and how it overlaps with trust, authenticity, truth, enabling, coercion and control. I can point to people in my life I feel loyalty for, and I can point to people who I feel are loyal to me, but the truth is I don’t trust myself on this issue. Maybe my confusion means I am, in fact, shamefully disloyal. A humbling and humiliating thought.

At the same time, would I feel so torn apart by family and personal social dynamics if I was thoroughly disloyal? My sense of loyalty to others has given me much anguish over the years. Surely if it was absent in me I wouldn’t struggle so hard with it.

Simply defined, loyalty is a strong feeling of support or allegiance. That definition leaves me even more clueless than I was before. It has to be more complicated than that, doesn’t it?

Well, doesn’t it?

Is it just me, or does the cultural definition of loyalty consist of a much more convoluted hairball of expectations, assumptions and false equivalencies?

I often use back doors when I feel stuck. My two hours of research did give me some ideas about what loyalty is not, at least in my mind. But already I can see that others might disagree. Still, that’s why we have dictionaries and definitions.

Loyalty cannot be slavery or prostitution. If I have to compromise my integrity in order to fulfill someone else’s expectation of loyalty, it’s no longer a virtue, but an abuse and manipulation. True loyalty must be freely and heartfully given. Authentic loyalty can’t be bought, sold, stolen or owed. It’s not demonstrated by obedience or compliance. If it’s not free and spontaneous, it’s only a sham, an empty word that sounds great but has no substance. Loyalty is not a weapon. It’s a gift.

Loyalty is not a weapon. It’s a gift.

Said another way, from a perspective of power (and you know how much I think about power!), loyalty is a tool of power-with, not a weapon of power-over.

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Loyalty is not blind. Part of its value is its clarity. We prize it so highly because seeing and being seen clearly, warts and all, and demonstrating or receiving loyalty in spite of it is an act of strength and love. In that case, compassion, tolerance and respect are all involved in loyalty. It follows, then, that loyalty does not require agreement. I can feel entirely loyal to a loved one while disagreeing with some of their choices and beliefs.

Loyalty does not imply denial, arguing with what is or colluding in rewriting history in order to sanitize it. Loyalty is not a right or an obligation.

In fact, the thesaurus suggests the word “trueness” as a synonym for loyalty. Interesting. Isn’t trueness the same as authenticity? I count on those who are loyal to me to tell me the truth of their experience with me and of me. I count on them to trust me with their thoughts, feelings, concerns and observations. I count on them to ask me questions about my choices, and to forgive me when I’m less than perfect. I hold myself to the same standards. This can mean a hard conversation now and then, and uncomfortable vulnerability and risk, but real loyalty is not cheap.

The thesaurus also supplies the word “constancy” as a synonym for loyalty. Constancy is an old-fashioned word these days, but it leapt out at me because consistency is very important to me. I’ve had some experience with Jekyll-and-Hyde abuse patterns in which the goalposts and rules constantly change without notice, keeping me nicely trapped in trying to please people who have no intention of ever being pleased no matter what I do. Loyalty is not present one day and absent the next, then present again, then unavailable. That kind of “loyalty” is an abuse tactic.

As always, the construct of loyalty is two-sided. There’s the loyalty that extends between me and another, and then there’s the loyalty I extend to myself. This circles back around to slavery, prostitution and silence. If I have to betray my own needs or make myself small in order to earn or retain someone’s loyalty, something’s very wrong. If I’m called disloyal for saying no, having appropriate boundaries or telling the truth of my experience, then we are not in agreement about the definition of loyalty or I’m being manipulated (again). How loyal can I be to others if I fail to be faithful to myself?

True loyalty will never require me to make a choice between myself and another. Loyalty is strong enough to compromise and collaborate.

Loyalty becomes weaponized when we demand or command absolute agreement, devotion and unquestioning support. Then the concept becomes very black and white. This is demonstrated all over social media and media in general. One unwanted question or view leads to unmerciful deplatforming, silencing and a torrent of threats and abuse. Our loyalty is questioned and tested at every turn. We allow bullies, tyrants and personality-disordered people to achieve and maintain control, terrified of tribal shaming, being unpatriotic or being cast out of our social groups and communities.

The label of disloyalty is extremely powerful, but when I strip away all my confusions and distortions around loyalty and return to the simple definition, it’s not complicated at all. I certainly feel a strong allegiance and support for many individual people, for my community, for my country, for women, for writers, for this piece of land I live on, and for myself.

I suspect many others would like me to wear the label of disloyalty, but I can’t do a thing about their distortions except hand them a dictionary. Very elitist behavior, I’m sure you will agree. Not to mention the disloyalty of refusing to collude in my own shaming.

Being called disloyal doesn’t make it so.

That voice in my head has to do better, find a new slur. I’m willing to own being disloyal if I am, but my conclusion after this investigation is that mostly I’m not, and when I am, my greatest trespass is against myself. That I can do something about.

Loyalty. Setting down the weapon. Picking up the tool. My daily crime.

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

Connection: The Care and Feeding of the Spirit

In life coaching, I was introduced to the idea that human beings have three primary needs: Connection, contribution and authenticity. I have yet to discover a need that doesn’t fall into one of these categories, so at this point it’s still a frame that works for me.

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For me, any discussion of connection must include spiritual connection, and to talk about that clearly I need to define terms.

Spirit: The nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character; the soul.
Religion: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.
Faith: Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
Ideology: The ideas and manner of thinking characteristic of a group, social class, or individual.
Sacred: Connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.

(All definitions from Bing search.)

SpiritualitySpirituality may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity, especially a “search for the sacred.” It may also refer to personal growth, blissful experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension.” (Wikipedia)

The archeological record tells us we have sought to understand ourselves as part of a greater whole from the infancy of mankind. Long before written records were made, there was cave art, pottery and carving thought to represent sacred beings, including, in many cases, animals. When we began to write, myth, story and legend wove a rich tapestry of religion and other spiritual frameworks all over the world.

Our powerful need for spiritual connection has historically been a significant motivator geopolitically, economically and creatively. Our search for understanding who we are and what our place in life is, individually, culturally, politically and socially, firmly anchored in our conception of spirit.

How do we create a spiritual connection? How do we choose from such a bewildering array of beliefs and ideologies? How do we cope with tribal shaming if we don’t accept the spiritual beliefs of our family or tribe? How do we think about the “nonphysical part” of ourselves, and what, if anything, does that part of us need?

It’s taken me more than 50 years to even begin to answer these questions. The two biggest obstacles I had to overcome were disconnection from my own emotions and feelings, and denying having any needs. Disconnection and denial are both disempowering, and healthy spiritual practice, at its heart, is a practice of self-empowerment.

Some people approach formal, organized religion as a way to share power. Others are quick to use it to assure power over others, and at that point it no longer fits my definition of a healthy spiritual practice. Discovering and nurturing the shape of our own spirit is an act of dignity, privacy and self-respect. It has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks or believes. We decide where we stand on the continuum between science and faith, and we define what is sacred in our lives. We have the power, and we have the responsibility. No mystic, guru, psychic, yogi, mentor, sponsor or other spiritual or religious leader or authority knows what we need better than we do. We owe nobody an explanation, justification or apology for our spiritual practice, as long as that practice doesn’t seek to harm or control others.

That’s not to say the guidance, teachings and wisdom of scholars, practitioners, philosophers, masters and thinkers are without value or interest. Yoga, martial arts, meditation, mandalas, drumming, dance, sacred traditional music and countless other rituals and traditions may be part of a spiritual practice, but none of these are essential. The real strength of spiritual practice doesn’t lie in appearance, embellishments, publicity or visibility and has nothing to do with economic or social condition.

A spiritual practice is an activity in which we are wholly present with ourselves in a nonjudgmental fashion and after which we feel empowered, anchored, refreshed and renewed. A healthy spiritual practice is a haven, a refuge, a place of solace and joy. It connects us to ourselves, to others, and to something larger than we are. It doesn’t matter if we name that something God, Allah, Spirit, Divine, Goddess or even Gaia, it all boils down to the basic human need for some kind of spiritual connection.

A few weeks ago I wrote about living a seamless life. My spiritual practices are frequently invisibly embedded throughout my every day life, requiring nothing more than my presence and intention.

Here’s an example: After a long day the kitchen is full of dirty dishes. I slather my hands with the most luxurious lotion/cream in the house and don rubber gloves. I turn off lights, tech and the TV. I light a couple of candles. I might play some music, or just soak up silence. I look out the window over the sink. I breathe. I relax. I’m present. I’m consciously grateful for a kitchen, dishes, a sink, running hot water, the ability to stand and use my hands, and food that creates dirty dishes. I take time to feel what I feel, check in with myself, daydream and drift.

I approach exercise as a spiritual practice. I’m not worried about my weight or health, but I do notice I feel better, sleep better and function better if I stay active, so my daily goal is to show up at some point with myself to move. Sometimes I dance. Once a week I swim, then soak in a therapy pool, then take a long hot shower. I walk, both by myself and with my partner. This winter I’m going to begin snowshoeing. I do Tai Chi. With the exception of walking with my partner, all of these activities are opportunities to have time with myself, quiet, undistracted time in which to be in my body, remember what a beautiful world I live in, practice gratitude, allow feelings, pray, chant, sing, work creatively, stretch and breathe. When I’m finished I feel relaxed, empowered, centered and grounded.

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A spiritual practice may be as simple as a special tree, rock, crystal, cushion and/or candle. It might be a secret altar or shrine, a string of beads or a stick of incense. It can take place anytime, anywhere, solo or in a group. It can be a five-minute pause or a long weekend of ritual at a hot spring, but it always makes us bigger. Anything that diminishes, restricts, confines, limits, shames, invalidates or disempowers us is not a spiritual practice, no matter what anyone says. It’s merely an ideology of control.

Many of us naturally find our way into spiritual practice without realizing what we’re doing, impelled by this often unconscious but powerful human need. Recognizing the need for spiritual connection, giving it language, honoring and allowing it, allows us to take back our power to define and protect sacred space in our lives, free from distraction, interruption, multitasking, pressure, hurry and the constant noisy static of media and entertainment. If our spiritual life is tainted by criticism and judgement, our own or others’, it won’t sustain us and our spirit will sicken and starve. We’ll begin to look outside ourselves for spiritual nourishment and become vulnerable to addiction, perfectionism, pleasing others and people who steal power.

The care and feeding of the spirit is the least talked about aspect of the need for connection, but it may be the most important. In the absence of spiritual connection, all our other connections suffer. True spiritual power transcends physical strength, youth and beauty, and it cannot be coerced or stolen. Our greatest strength may lie in our ability to create spiritual connection for ourselves and support others in theirs.

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The care and feeding of spirit. My daily crime.

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