Tag Archives: shame

Latest Wow: Anger’s a Mask We Wear

angry woman

“I don’t mind being the bitch … it gives me boundaries. It protects me from how vulnerable, wrong, and empty I feel inside.”

This was the first session Kate’s focus went inward. Before that, her focus had been on her outer enemies. Kate’s wow—one of many—had me jumping out of my seat that day! It was exciting to be part of her breakthrough.

A protective shield began forming when she was a small child. She didn’t feel cherished the way children should feel. Instead, she felt afraid—afraid of being attacked verbally by her father and shamed by her mother.

“Making the other person bad is my defense mechanism against feeling guilty,” she said.

Mostly, she was afraid of not being loved, afraid of not being even worthy of love.

“You wanna know what’s at the bottom of my anger?” she asked.

“What?” I inquired.

“I’m craving bonding … real connection.”

When Kate’s heart was hurting, she wasn’t comforted. When she yearned to be heard, no one listened.

“At some point I quit trying. I had determined that no one would listen and nothing would ever change.”

It’s a lot easier to be angry than to feel the sadness that accompanies hopelessness. In a strange sort of way, anger soothes the wounded heart.

Not surprisingly, Kate’s current relationships—including her marriage—are continually impacted by her powerful early family environment. For example: “Just like my parents, I go straight to being pissed. I don’t talk things over. Things were never talked over when I was a child.”

Kate reminded me of another client I was seeing, Lindsay, who shared Kate’s inflammatory, angry outbursts.  Her motivation was different, but the root cause was identical.

Find her story by clicking here.

Both Kate and Lindsay grew up in homes where they were not heard and felt disconnected from their families, particularly their parents. They coped by adopting anger as a mask—a protective shield.

Ironically, the very thing they have used for protection is the very thing that interferes with their getting what they so desperately crave. In short, anger works against them. It doesn’t cultivate closeness and understanding. In fact, it does the opposite. Kate’s husband can attest to that: “It’s hard for me to be soft with her if she’s angry.”

I applaud Kate for acknowledging her destructive patterns of relating, and for wanting to change. She’s also willing to remove the mask and face her buried pain. And she’s willing to test being vulnerable. All that takes courage!

I’ll walk that path with her. I’ll also be helping her establish healthier boundaries and a more effective substitute for anger . . ., er, bitchiness. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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Leaving Your Cage

flying+bird+out+of+its+cage+the+best+for+the+post

A cage is anything that confines, reduces, inhibits or limits us. This includes our distorted ideas about ourselves.

In  Meet Your True Self,  my previous post, Brad woke up to the fact that his inner roommate, also known as an inner critic, was a liar. In that mere flash of an instant, Brad freed himself from a cage.

Brad didn’t stop with that single insight. In fact, on that day, he was on a roll and I wasn’t about to stop him. I just sat back with a big grin on my face.

He said he realizes that his inner roommate is a product of his conditioning and that it operates automatically “just like breathing . . . most of the time we’re not even aware of it.”

Nor are we aware of the constant stream of dialogue swirling around in our head. “My brain just keeps playing the same tape over and over,” Brad said. “What I have to do now is reprogram myself.”

Brad also had a good idea about how to do that: “Since we get programmed through repetition, we can also get re-programmed through repetition.”

In other words, instead of telling himself over and over again how worthless he is, his plan is to start telling himself the truth about himself . . . over and over again. In effect, he’ll be arguing with his inner roommate . . . and winning.

Unfortunately, inner roommates don’t simply go “poof” and disappear when we get wise to them. Conditioning, by definition, sticks. Brad calls it a “default setting”—something our brain automatically goes back to. Inner roommates may fade through disuse and neglect, but in all likelihood they will reactivate when life throws us some curve balls or when we hit a low point. So patience is called for.

I told Brad to expect setbacks, but to view them as temporary. Serious backsliding is impossible at this point because he’s too aware to stay lost. He has taken a huge step with his epiphany about his inner roommate being a liar. That’s a game changer. It’s like trying to unripple the pond—it can’t happen. Like returning to a cage after getting a taste of freedom—it won’t happen.

Clear-eyed reflection—seeing something for what it is—makes it impossible to return to our delusions on a permanent basis.

I’d like your comments. Do you agree with that last statement? And what are your insights on reprogramming and cages? Thanks!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Meet Your True Self

bird reflection

 

 

When you’re harassed by guilt and self-judgment, you’re vacating your true self . . . and you’re vacating truth. Period.

In my last post, Escape your Jungle, I defined the true self and how it can easily become overshadowed by a bogus self-concept—based on erroneous beliefs about ourselves.

Donna was my example. Her negative conclusions about herself created a strangling thicket which played a significant role in her depression and life dissatisfaction.  Her pathway back to her true self entailed disbelieving those conclusions.

Like Donna, Brad needed to get reacquainted with his true self and identify the lies about himself that he was hanging on to.  I’ve mentioned him before on this blog.

Long ago, when Brad was a child, an inner critic started to sprout. It criticized and shamed him the way his father would. And it picked on him exactly the way his siblings did. In time, Brad grew up and left home but his inner critic went with him. That’s too bad. It meant he would continue to experience internal assaults and guilt on a constant basis.

Another term for “inner critic” is “inner roommate.” I happened upon that term while reading Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Learn more about the inner roommate here.

This nasty brute hangs out in our head, taunting, judging, scolding, bossing, and finding fault with everything we wear, think, eat and do. (And the list doesn’t end there.) 😉

Those internalized messages obscure our true self. I remember Brad once telling me, “My true self is foreign to me, so I don’t feel it’s attainable.” Like so many of us, he had fallen into the habit of giving his inner roommate more reality than his true self.

“How do I figure out what my true self is?” he asked.

“We don’t figure out who we are,” I said, “we experience it.”

I had Brad close his eyes and imagine a time when he felt free from guilt. With barely a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Being out in nature.” His voice cracked with emotion as he talked about finding refuge in a woods near his house. He played near a creek, climbed on logs and built a few forts over time. Nothing disturbed his peace. His siblings weren’t there to pick on him and his father wasn’t there to shame or judge him. He felt peaceful and self-confident. He didn’t need his father’s acceptance out there—he was experiencing self-acceptance.

I urged Brad to tuck that memory away and pull it out whenever he feels a guilt-attack coming on. It’ll key him into the truth about himself.

Another client recounts similar feelings while playing a piano . . . when she gets to a space where the music is “effortlessly flowing through my fingers, and the whole world shrinks to nothing—there is only that moment.”

As for me, my earliest true-self memory goes back to the age of five. It was one of those sunny, deep-blue-sky days, and I was outside on my bicycle. Not a soul was in sight . . . just me, the birds and the serene day.

The inner roommate is relentless and doesn’t go away without an entire arsenal being deployed against it. The inner roommate doesn’t use logic. It can’t use logic, but we can and must. We shouldn’t blindly buy into what our inner roommate says about us. How did it get a monopoly on truth anyway? Questioning the validity of the roommate’s accusations involves logic.

In our sessions, whenever Brad said something negative about himself, I questioned it. I demanded evidence to support the allegations. I got ruthless at times! 🙂 Finally, after enough exposure to this, he began questioning his negative self-talk on his own. That was the idea.

I get excited—call it a eureka moment—whenever clients see their inner roommate for what it is and cease to pay homage to it. Such a moment presented itself not long ago when Brad leaned forward in his chair and uttered these words:

“You know what? My roommate’s a liar!”

We high-fived that one! That moment of clarity, by the way, came straight from his true self.

What are some of your true-self experiences? I’d love to hear them!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

 

 

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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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