Tag Archives: shame

Escape Your Jungle

dark jungle

Self-compassion . . . how do we get there?  In my most recent post, I suggested that the key to this nirvana is disbelieving our conditioned self-concept, which is comprised of innumerable verbal and nonverbal messages we’ve absorbed over our lifetime.

Years ago, I worked with Donna, a woman with depression. She saw herself as inferior, unlovable and insignificant. That self-concept took root early. She was what some people refer to as an oops baby . . . the result of an unplanned pregnancy. Many unplanned babies are received with joyous grins and open arms, but that didn’t describe Donna’s experience. Her parents were getting older and not up to the task of raising yet another child—they had long since transitioned out of that phase of their life. As for her siblings, the one closest to her in age was nine years older. So the sad truth is that her parents, along with her siblings, were only minimally involved in her life.

I’ve written about Donna’s story in the past, so if you’ve been following my blog for a while, it my have the ring of familiarity. I find it valuable because it so effectively reveals the shaping of a self-concept—our thoughts and ideas about who are. Click here to reacquaint yourself with her story.

A bonsai tree is deliberately shaped to suit the preferences of the gardener. Donna’s shaping wasn’t deliberate but rather was the result of erroneous conclusions she made about herself due to childhood experiences. Those conclusions created a strangling thicket, which played a significant role in her depression and dissatisfaction with her life’s course.

Donna’s ultimate pathway out of her jungle—into the fresh air of clarity—was to disbelieve those conclusions and return back to her “original and natural form.” Call it the true self.

Our true self is the core of our being—our uncorrupted reality. It emerges when we’re out in nature, when we’re creative, when we laugh and run, when we sing without restraint or inner judgment, when we pause and look up at the stars, when we think our own thoughts, choose our own color, play our own music. In other words, it’s the free spirit expressing itself. Our true self.

To expand on that, I’ll borrow a quote from Chopra: You’re in touch with your true self  “when you feel secure, accepted, peaceful and certain.”

It is only from the space of our true self that we are able to cease believing in the self we aren’t. We realize we’ve been identifying with a programmed self—a false self that is nothing more than sheer fantasy. Compared to the true self, it’s just an empty shell—a delusion or dream we only imagine as real.

At an early stage in our life, our true self got lost during the shaping process. One could say we fell asleep while being redefined by fellow dreamers. That is to say, we were innocently brainwashed. No one deliberately programmed us to think of ourselves as lazy, selfish, stupid or any other unflattering label. We just surmised that those unflattering things must be true. Why? Because when we were young—while ripe for conditioning—we automatically assumed that older people knew the truth and stated the truth. We trusted them as authorities on everything including ourselves. We believed that their perceptions and opinions were accurate.

The good news is we’re not at the mercy of our programming. We can break free. As children, we are easily susceptible to being shaped by our parents and other authority figures. But as adults, we have the advantage of mental sharpness. We can override our programming by out-thinking it. With maturity, we’re capable of distinguishing between fact and fiction. It’s a capability that paves the way to living life on our own terms rather than living the one prescribed to us.

A vital step to disbelieving our programming is to recognize the difference between our programmed self and our true self.

If you haven’t given that truth much thought, then that’s the place to begin.  Ask yourself: “What ingrained beliefs about myself continue to float around in my brain? What should I discard? What do I need to disbelieve?”

Let’s face it, before we can throw something away, we must first know what it is we’re throwing away. Like Donna, we need to identify the lies that block our self-compassion.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Love Who You Are

 

 compassion

As I contemplated jumping into this enormous project, I was grateful to get the following comment from a reader:

“Having compassion for ourselves and letting go of unrealistic expectations is a life long journey. A few simple steps to help us move forward would be helpful.”

—Judith

That sounded to me like a mighty fine place to start . . . a few simple steps.

I’m certain the first step involves coming to understand what is blocking our self-compassion and self-acceptance. As far as I know, we weren’t born with self-contempt or an active inner critic. Does it enter a baby’s mind that she might be crying too loudly or burdening her parents with yet another dirty diaper? Are babies born with a list of expectations in hand?  I don’t think so.

Guilt is learned—acquired later after we’ve been here for a while. If we don’t like ourselves, or if we’re accustomed to beating ourselves up mentally, it’s due to what we’ve been exposed to in the world—our conditioning. At some point, we bought into the idea that our flaws are unforgivable, that we’re unlikable or that we need to be hard on ourselves for failing to live up to certain standards and expectations.

We are shaped by the prevailing culture of the time, and the many with whom we share our life experiences. Our job is to disentangle ourselves from the limitations of all that.

The key to escaping this murky quagmire of self-degradation is by disbelieving how we’ve been conditioned to see and think about ourselves. But what, you may ask, does this look like in my daily life?  What is disbelieving and how do I do it?

We’ll tackle that the next time . . . stay tuned! As always, I welcome your feedback.

 

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Let’s Lighten Up . . . on Ourselves

feather

Perfection is elusive. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Perhaps . . . life is merely about building muscles. If that’s the case, we need to ease up on ourselves. Could it be that this classroom we call life is one gigantic planetary fitness center? I tend to think so. 🙂

We shouldn’t use past regrets—or past wrongdoings—as clubs for beating ourselves up . . . but we do.

Becky and Duane provide two examples that I’ll be including in my book on guilt and shame.  So, as promised, here’s a bit that’s going to show up somewhere. I’m not far enough along in the process to know where, exactly, but I’m trying not to beat myself up about that (ha—physician, heal thyself).

When it comes to life here on Planet Earth, imperfection is simply built in. The skater—no matter how well-trained—will fall. The car—no matter how fussed over—will get dinged. The plan—no matter how polished—will be altered. Count on it.

But knowing this fact about life doesn’t keep us from being hard on ourselves for the mistakes we make. Many people find it easy to forgive others but are hard pressed to forgive themselves. This shouldn’t be the case—forgiveness is forgiveness. Why be discriminating?

Fifty-year-old Becky is a perfect case in point.

“It’s killing me how I squandered money in the past,” she said in our counseling session.

Now her finances are pinched. Yes, she could be tempted to place the blame on the economy, but she doesn’t do that.

“I just didn’t plan well and I wasn’t disciplined,” she explained. “I spent freely and without thought.”

Her sense of shame ran deep—fermenting for a long time.

“How do I get beyond this awful sense of disgust toward myself?” she asked.

“Becky,” I said, “realize that the shame you’re feeling simply means you’re in a different place now. The person you are today wouldn’t have squandered money. Correct?”

She nodded.

“You’re ashamed of who you were,” I continued. “But you’re not that person anymore. A better choice would be to feel warmly toward that younger and less mature version of yourself—just as you would toward a child struggling to learn how to walk.”

I told her to imagine her life as a tapestry that she’s weaving. Each strand signifies a certain time period and aspect of her life.

“Realize that each strand has been necessary for contributing to the entire picture of who you are,” I said.

Like all of us, Becky cannot unravel what she’s already created. All she can do is step back and examine her tapestry, taking inventory of all the lessons she’s learned.

“But I’m so angry at myself,” she said.

“To be angry at your younger self is pointless,” I said. “And it will remain pointless until they invent a time machine so you can go back and yell at that self for the mistakes she made.”

Becky smiled—she caught the humor.

“I never looked at it that way,” she said. “Mistakes were never acceptable in my household growing up. We were expected to be perfect. Perfect grades. Perfect at sports. But once I was out on my own, I threw that all out for a while. I guess I really do wish I could go back in time and slap myself!”

“Perfection is never attainable,” I said. “You’re parents burdened you with an unattainable goal. No wonder you rebelled and went a little wild afterward. And now that same perfectionist upbringing is filling you with emotions of regret. You still have the voices of your parents inside your head.”  Her parents had become unfriendly “roommates,” taking up permanent residence in her head, judging, criticizing, and generally being nuisances.  Like all bad roommates, they needed to be evicted.

After our session, Becky was noticeably lighter. In subsequent sessions, we worked on her gaining control over her shame . . . er, unwelcome roommates.

Duane is another client who was riddled with guilt and shame when he came to see me. He had almost entered into an affair, and when his wife found out, she was devastated.

Duane loves his wife and family with all his heart—he never wanted to cause pain.

I saw them individually and as a couple for several sessions. In time, as he made amends, his wife’s wounds began to heal.

She has forgiven him, but Duane is still having trouble forgiving himself.

True, he can’t undo what he did—he can’t unripple the pond—but he can and has worked to rectify the damage.

The problem with shame is that its focus is too narrow and therefore distorted.

“Duane,” I said, “Your shame doesn’t acknowledge your heart and all the good you bring to your family.”

“Even though you are convinced that you’re undeserving of forgiveness,” I said, “the people who love you disagree with you. Shouldn’t you listen to them?”

He cried.

In life, self-forgiveness is underappreciated. The people we are today evolved out of each messy path, terrible decision and mistake we ever made. If we hadn’t made those mistakes, we wouldn’t be who we are now. And unless we learn to forgive those bad decisions we made—especially those we know we’ll never, ever make again—we’ll just continue to torture ourselves.

When I bumped into this quote, I had to chuckle:

“In order to profit from your mistakes, you have to go out and make some.”

—Jacob Braube

I like that. Not only are we given permission to mess up, we’re encouraged to do so. Sweet.

I would so welcome your feedback on this section: Does reading this make you want to read more? Did anything grab or pop out at you? Did reading this raise any questions in your mind that you would like to see addressed?  Thanks!

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Following a Dream

rainbow-jetty

In my blog and in my practice, I talk a lot about honoring our inner truth. My truth is this: I have a book inside of me that wants to come out. This won’t be my first book. (If you’re interested, you can find that here.) This second book will be about guilt and how to break free of its grip.

I’ve decided that now is the time to turn my creative energies in that direction. So, I may be posting less frequently, but when I do, the topic will most likely be related to guilt or what I playfully refer to as the guilt monster.

I have a personal history with the guilt monster. We go way back, starting with my childhood. Its impact was so significant, in fact, that it was a key factor in my decision to become a therapist. My life’s work has been to help people free themselves from that cage.

Guilt estranges us from ourselves.

Guilt causes us to wear masks and to go into hiding. Guilt blurs our vision, resulting in poor choices. It inhibits us. It destroys self-esteem. It cripples us from stating our truth. It stifles love for ourselves. It’s at the core of self-denial and self-condemnation.

Guilt drives so much dysfunction, and it creates so much misery . . . its effects are felt in all arenas of life. The longer I practice, the more people I talk to, the more I realize this book needs to be written!

I’ve already shared many of my views on guilt in some of my posts (Shed Those Unwanted Pounds . . . of Guilt, and Meet Your Roommate, to name just a few). The concepts I write about in those posts, and more, will be expanded upon in the book.

While on my journey, I want us to stay in touch. I will be posting pieces of the book here as I go along, and I would love to continue to hear from you. Wish me luck!

(Thanks, Tracie Louise, for letting me use another one of your wondrous photos!)

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Be Brave and Speak Up

 

sunrise

Ever find yourself in the midst of a group of people engaged in a bashfest? Some unfortunate individual is being maligned or trashed behind their back.

What to do?

Join in to feel a part of things? Or stand there, silently uncomfortable? Either choice makes our soul uneasy. It feels like we’re participating in a betrayal of sorts. And we are. It’s a betrayal of the person being targeted and a betrayal of ourselves at some deeper level.

Not long ago a friend of mine, Tina, found herself in one of those situations. The conversation started out as idle chit-chat, but then regressed to bashing other people. “It didn’t feel good,” she said, “but I didn’t know what to do.”

The model for what to do arrived in the form of a woman who happened upon the scene. The first words out of her mouth were:

“Enough feeding the darkness. What are you doing to feed the lightness?”

The woman didn’t wait for an answer to her question. Without a moment’s hesitation, she took charge of the conversation, redirecting it to a positive topic. “It was amazing,” Tina said. “The energy shifted immediately.”

Simply put, the atmosphere morphed because one person decided to feed the lightness.

I love that story of courage. I call it courage because it’s so very difficult to speak up and risk others’ scorn.

Years ago, I was at a picnic, and sitting near me on a blanket was a happy two-year-old. Characteristic of her age, she was a bit squirmy. Eventually, she stood up, clearly eager to do some exploring. But her mother immediately gave her a spanking while uttering these harsh words: “You sit down, young lady, until you eat all your food!”

The little girl’s cheerfulness quickly evaporated, replaced with tears and a crestfallen spirit. It hurt to watch. Like many of us in such situations, I asked myself: What can I do?  I wanted to say something but was frozen, lacking both words and courage. I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything, and I imagined the woman coming back at me with this response: “How I raise my children is none of your business!”

I left the picnic with a sour taste in my mouth, not because of food, but because the incident left me heartsick. Unable to remove it from my consciousness, I pondered the question: Is it really none of my business?

My conclusion: It is my business. How fellow human beings are treated is the business of everyone. That’s because we’re all members of the same family—the human family. And how we raise our children shapes the world we inhabit together.

Every time we ignore or neglect to speak out against unkind acts, we allow one more piece of debris to contaminate the collective spirit of humankind.

If I could redo the picnic scenario, what would I say to the spanking mother? I would hope to muster the spiritual courage to say: “Oooo, my heart aches for your little girl. How bad she must feel, and probably doesn’t understand what she did wrong. It’s so natural to want to explore at her age.”

I would hope that my response would provoke thoughtful reflection and perhaps make a difference. There’s a chance it wouldn’t, but remaining silent would ensure the latter.

I‘m expanding my blog to include a new category, Random Acts of Courage. I invite you to share with me your experiences with courage—times when you’ve successfully fought the temptation to keep silent in the face of unkindness, or when you’ve witnessed others successfully doing so.

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Love is the Force

dad and daughter

“I want her to know she can come to me.”

Ben was referring to his twelve-year-old daughter, Madison. He sought my advice because 1) he’s concerned about her grades and 2) he realizes his approach is alienating her.

When Ben talks to Madison about her grades, he doesn’t talk. He yells and puts her down.

“Suppose your boss wanted you to do better at something, ” I asked, “would he get very far by getting upset and criticizing you?”

Ben sighed and said: “I get what you’re saying. I think I take after my dad. He was never physically abusive but he would be up my a** with his tone.”

A closed heart . . . an angry, critical approach only creates resistance and defensiveness.

What’s more, it creates separation and bad feelings—our relationships suffer.

I suggested he try approaching his daughter differently: “I’m noticing that your grades are slipping. What’s going on, hon? How can I help?'” The attitude of kindness that accompanies those words will give Ben his best shot at making something positive happen.

An open heart spawns trust and a close bond. Parent and child become partners instead of adversaries. It says: “Hey, I like you, and we’re together in this.”

Another client, Kim, was equally frustrated with her teenage daughter, Nicole’s, tepid response to a family outing. Kim was pushing, and Nicole was tuning her out. To break this deadlock, each would need to go beneath the surface and see the other’s true feelings—the pain. Such is the pathway to compassion—the only avenue for resolving differences. Interestingly, Kim’s true feelings centered around grief. Click here to read about our session.

By far, the single most important task of any parent is to build a strong bond with their child. Without that foundation, parents are handicapped in their ability to guide and discipline effectively. They may get obedience—which is usually no more than a mere superficial display—but they won’t get the respect and cooperation necessary for influencing a child’s life for the better.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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Choose to Bloom

 

blooming flower

 

 

Spring.

The sun.

The warm air.

Life blooming.

With the awakening earth, my soul is refreshed.

Like the flowers that push through the hard ground,

I too am now open to possibility.

No one chooses how I bloom but me!

—Kim Thompson

I just love that poem! How does it speak to me? It’s all about birth, change, and personal choice. Life just doesn’t stand still—it can’t. Old eventually gives way to new. We witness it everywhere!

Such a peaceful thought . . . to know we all have a chance at renewal. I’m certainly not the same person I was ten years ago or even ten days ago. “Hard ground”—struggle—is on everybody’s agenda, but so is blooming.

Brad’s a perfect example. For years he’s lived in a cage—a cage of depression. I wrote about him a few months back. Click here to read “The Latest Wow: We Can’t Always Snap Out of It.”

Well, it seems he is snapping out of it—I’m noticing some blooming going on. For the first time, Brad’s questioning what his inner roommate tells him. (For more on inner roommates, read “Meet Your Roommate.”)

His badgering roommate tells him—on a constant basis—what a loser he is. It accuses him of being lazy, wasting time, and generally being worthless. Internalizing that message, giving it the weight of truth, kills all motivation.  “I hesitate to make more of myself . . . to even try,” he said, “because I think: What’s the use? Why try? I’ll never get it right.”

Your busy mind isn’t you. You’re the one observing it.

“What’s the benefit of being an observer of your thoughts?” I asked.

“It allows a person to detach from their roommate,” he said. “It’s a form of letting go. I see that I need to separate from my thoughts.”

I would love the opportunity to get Brad’s inner roommate on “the couch.” The first thing out of my mouth would be: “Don’t you have something better to do? Who’s actually the lazy one here?  As far as I can see, your sole interest in life is tearing Brad to shreds every chance you get. How ridiculous is that? What a complete waste of time and how utterly pointless!”

Of course, I would never actually have a conversation like that with a client, but “roommates” are another matter.  That’s exactly the kind of conversation we all need to have with our bedeviling inner critics.  Brad, I’m happy to say, is well on his way.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

Thanks to Kim Thompson for the use of her lovely poem.  Kim’s talents extend far beyond her gift with words . . . check out her site and see for yourself. 🙂

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You’re Bigger Than You Think

African-Elephant-on-the-Road-537x357

 

There’s a psychological term I want to introduce you to. You may already know it; the word is “schema” and it means a deeply ingrained belief or impression about ourselves and the world around us.

Schemas take root at an early age as a result of what we experience in life. Certain key people are also tremendously influential in the formation of schemas. By what they say and do, we form conclusions which have lasting effects on our behavior, our pattern of thinking, our choices and our self-concept. In essence, schemas color how we view reality and how we respond to most situations.

Automatic assumptions spring from schemas. Let’s face it, they show up in every argument!

Some schemas are positive, some are not-so-positive. Lorena recently shared a story illustrating a not-so-positive schema. (I wrote about her in an earlier post: “Perfection is Highly Overrated!” Click here to read it.)

Not long ago, her dad pointed to a photograph of her on the refrigerator. “Do you remember that?” he asked. The photograph showed a 4-year-old Lorena dressed in a cute dancing outfit.

She remembered the photo and she also remembered the thought that ran through her mind when she saw it shortly after it was taken. “I was thinking that my thighs were too big!” she said while shaking her head in disbelief.  “I just cannot imagine that someone that young could even entertain such a thought! It’s just so outlandishly sad!”

By the age of four, Lorena had been thoroughly programmed to scrutinize her physical appearance. Yes, that is “outlandishly sad.” Her schema goes something like this: “My acceptance is based on how I look,” and “There is something fundamentally wrong with me.”

“As far back as I can remember,” she said, “I compared myself to other girls.”

Lorena was curious about the origins of her shaping. “Who’s opinion did I buy into?” she wondered. After mulling it over she came up with this: “I’m pretty sure it was my grandmother’s. As long as I can remember, she was constantly making derogatory remarks about how other people looked.”

The remedy for bothersome schemas? A heavy dose of clear minded self-appraisal.

We get free by questioning our conditioned assumptions about ourselves.

Lorena’s on a journey to do just that. She’s busy revamping her schema by disbelieving it. And in the process, she’s realizing she’s a whole lot bigger than some old schema hanging out in her brain.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Meet Your Roommate

roommate

 

Suppose you had a roommate who constantly scrutinized and critiqued your every move starting with the moment you got out of bed: “You should have gotten up earlier. Are you ignoring  today’s schedule? Your hair’s a mess . . . as usual. Don’t forget to contact Jonathan today. He expects a call, you know. You’re such a slacker.”

How long would you continue to live with such a roommate? Briefly. You’d throw that person out on the street in no time flat!

That’s what Michael Singer, in his book The Untethered Soul, believes we would do. But . . . BUT . . . he points out an exception. We’re not very likely to boot out the roommate who takes up residence in our head—our “inner roommate.” Our inner roommate says all the same things as any given external—actual—roommate . . . and more! We’re told what to do, what to fear, what to second-guess, and how to think about this person or that person.

Not only does our roommate devote its time to judging us, it judges everybody we know and everybody who streams on and off our path throughout the day.

According to Singer, “It has something to say about everything you look at: ‘I like it. I don’t like it. This is good. That’s bad.’ It just talks and talks. You don’t generally notice because you don’t step back from it. You’re so close that you don’t realize that you’re actually hypnotized into listening to it.”

I can only agree. Call it a dictator we bow and pay homage to.  We listen to it and give it more power and authority than it should have.  I discussed this very thing with two of my clients, Dawn and Doug.  You can read about our sessions by clicking here.

“There’s almost nothing that voice can say that you don’t pay full attention to,” Singer states. “It pulls you right out of whatever you’re doing, no matter how enjoyable, and suddenly you’re paying attention to whatever it has to say . . . . That’s how much respect you have for this neurotic thing inside of you.”

Singer’s correct. We honor it over our own will, in fact. And therein lies the key to change and freedom. We must switch our allegiance from our inner roommate to our will.

 “Your will is stronger than the habit of listening to that voice.”

—Michael Singer

The first step in accomplishing that is to become aware of its existence. The very act of awareness sets you apart from the voice and places you in the role of observer versus blind captive. As an observer, you have control. As your roommate babbles on, you critique it rather than the other way around. And in the process, you think and act on your own beliefs, tastes, and opinions. You determine your own course of action.

Identify with the true you … the observer.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Shed Those Unwanted Pounds . . . of Guilt

freedom-from-false-guilt

I propose we start a club called Guilt-Shedders.

Not long ago, I heard this joke on the radio:

If you feel bad about what you did, that’s guilt.

If you feel bad about who you are, that’s shame.

If you feel shame because you don’t feel guilty, that’s Catholic.

The truth is, Catholics don’t have a monopoly on guilt. Let’s face it, there’s just too much of it floating around. We can feel guilty for nearly anything . . . letting coupons expire, ignoring our expanding collection of unanswered email, singing off-key, showing up a tad late, saying no to an invitation, or even saying yes when we’d rather not go. We can feel guilty for not eating right, standing right or looking right. We can feel guilty for not getting enough exercise, or for doing it all wrong.

And what about the category called “no-win guilt”? That’s when we feel guilty for things like working too much or too little; for not furthering our education, but also for going into debt to further our education.

Then there’s the never-ending parental guilt. I’ve been there myself . . . I am there. We can just as easily feel guilty for caring too much as for caring too little. One dad tells me, “I feel guilty for not being the right kind of father.” But he is.  (Guilt can be so empty-headed.)

The glut of guilt is endless. What to do? Out-muscle it. Be bigger than the guilt. Disarm it by out-loving it. Find out how to do that by reading a column I wrote—using actual client stories—titled The Guilt Monster. (click here)

Yep, our world is ripe for a Guilt-Shedders Club. I just happen to be a charter member along with about three million other people. 🙂

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