Arrested Development??? (Erikson not the show)…

Recently, I was talking with a therapist at my internship site about my therapy group in the hopes that she might share a few curriculum ideas.  One interesting subject matter she threw by me pertained to Erik Erikson’s “Eight Stages of Man” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 9).  Erik Erikson proposed a theory of personality development that includes eight stages.  In each stage we face developmental crises in order to develop a sense of identity alongside interpersonal beliefs through interactions with significant others (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).  Since Erikson’s theory focuses on attitudes about the self and others, it provides a useful social context to human development (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).  According to Erikson, in eight stages of these psychosocial stages, two potential outcomes can result depending on how we address and resolve each developmental crisis:

“Individuals are pushed through these life stages by biological and social demands…Individuals will experience conflicts as they progress through these stages, but it is how the individuals handle these conflicts that will indirectly impact their lives…The unsuccessful resolution of conflict…will influence how subsequent stages unfold…These stages build upon [& this]  impacts the rest of development (Wurderman, 2015, p. 5-6).”

Interestingly, while I do recall reading about Erikson way back in my human development, this insight never fully clicked.  I remember reading, and thinking about my two young boys.  However, the utility of its insight as a means to describe my own unique life course, never occurred to me.  Below, I reflect upon key stages in Erikson’s theory that resonate with my own life history & the early arrested development

Industry vs. Inferiority

Around ages 6-12 Erikson stated that a feeling of competence is critical (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).  Labeling this stage “Industry vs. Inferiority”, Erikson states that the “child needs to learn important academic skills and compare favorably with peers in school.” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).  As a bullied child, I always felt very inferior to my peers.  I remember loathing recess, since I had nobody to play with. I recall lingering by the front door, hoping would notice me out of fear they would call me a loser or something.  The shame of complete friendlessness was overwhelming.   Inevitably, the nuns noticed me and encouraged me to stop lurking by the doorway & “get some exercise”…

As time progressed, things never did get better, I was the girl with the cooties.  I clung to the few friends who were willing to associate with me and was grateful for some form of meaningful interaction.  My grades never did go above a “C” average.  Everybody knew about my abysmal performance in this small private Catholic school.  One of my first bullies liked to wear this t-shirt to school with the “I’m with Stupid” logo on it.  Since he sat right next to me, everybody thought it was hilarious.

Developmental Consequences:  Insecurity, Poor Self-Esteem & An Inferiority Complex…

Identity vs. Role Confusion

“…during early to middle adolescence…the crisis of identity versus identity confusion…represents the struggle to find a balance between developing a unique…identity while still being accepted and ‘fitting in.’ Thus, [a] youth must determine who they want to be, and how they want to be perceived by others. (Oswalt, 2010).

During the ages of 12-20, individuals enter the Identity vs. Role Confusion Stage.  During this stage we develop a sense of identity: a sense of who we are, and where we fit in the world.  Broderick & Blewitt, (2010) describes the positive outcome of this phase as “fidelity”.  I associate this concept with the idea of commitment, or an ability to commit to something greater than yourself.  I suppose its not surprising that I have difficulty opening up to others & tend to isolate myself.

It’s also worth noting again Erikson’s assertion that each stage builds on an earlier one.  As a bullied child, I left the previous stage with an Inferiority Complex.  Against this developmental backdrop, I entered  a new stage of development only to lose my best friend who moved out of town at the end of sixth grade.  With her gon, I was now alone and completely friendless, “The Girl With the Cooties”.  My sister thrived as the popular girl, my parents were focused on their careers as doctors.  All were emotionally MIA.  I retreated into my own world…

“Ego Identity means knowing who you are and how you fit into the rest of society.  Too much ego-identity can result in fanaticism [i.e. my sister] where the child believes his way is the only way, and no one is allowed to disagree…A lack of identity can result in repudiation [me]

Intimacy vs. Isolation

During this stage, I notice a an intriguing turnaround.  Broderick & Belwitt, (2010) describe this stage as involving a willingness ‘to share identity with other[s] and commit[ing] to affiliations and partnerships”. During this stage of my life, I had met “IT”.  After a horrendous four year F-D up relationship, I left and never looked back.  My personal development took a “turn for the better” as I entered counseling, and eventually met my husband.  I guess this just goes to show that just because one stage goes bad, that doesn’t mean they all do……

….As I reflect on these stages of my life, I’ve had to come to terms with a loss that’s hard to describe: arrested development….

Coming to Terms w/ “a loss”

There are times when this arrested development “rears its ugly head”.  There’s something called “normal” that I just can’t do.  I missed so many opportunities socially and in terms of my sense of competence and identity.  I have worked to fill in the pieces in adulthood, but still.  I’m not quite like those who never had to deal with this sort of arrested development.  Its hard to explain, but maybe I’m like a blind person.  You can’t describe purple to a blind man.  I’m like the blind man, and the “normal’s” are trying to tell me how great purple is.  I looked at them perplexed, not knowing what the hell they are talking about…..

….and as I continue with this forward motion in life, the big question on my mind is, how does this affect my future career development????

All of who I am comes out in my efforts as a therapist.  The “Kathleen-ness” of my nature is inevitably there at some point.  I can’t hide it.  Can I possibly catch up in some way that allows me to be as effective as those who didn’t get a full 14 years of stagnation??


Broderick, P. C., & Blewitt, P. (2010). The life span. Human development for helping professionals. Upper Saddle Creek, NJ: Pearson.
Oswalt, Angela. (2010, November, 17). Erik Erikson and Self-Identity. Retrieved from:
Wurdeman, M. (2015). Impact of Abuse Throughout a Child’s Psychological Development.  Retrieved from:


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What forgiveness is (& isn’t)…

This week in my therapy groups, we discussed the concept of forgiveness.   As we read through the materials, many participants had stories to share.  They struggled to forgive others who wronged them. They struggled to forgive themselves for the mistakes they’ve made.   I had a profound gratitude for these individuals, in their willingness to share these struggles honestly.  In some respects, I had to admit I was really looking into the mirror upon myself.   It is for this reason, I felt the insights learned during this group session, were worth a blog post…..

…Before I get to my big “aha moment” this week, it might help if you read this post titled “….And Cancer Trumps PTSD” as well as my post “Anatomy of a Misunderstanding”….

What Forgiveness Isn’t…..

Lucky DogOver the last 2-3 years, I’ve really worked hard to put some unresolved hurt behind me that I’ve buried too long.  My desire to forgive comes from a burning desire to make room for the “good stuff” & leave the B.S. behind me.  As I’ve discovered, failing to forgive, leads to unresolved grief and resentment.  Here are a few huge Aha’s that occurred to me during this group session.  I witnessed them in client’s stories that day and found I myself looking in the mirror.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean sweeping things under the rug….

….Oftentimes, in interactions with my family, I can tend to “sweep things under the rug”.  As I’ve learned this week, overlooking doesn’t equate to forgiveness.  It simply entails covering things up with a thin veil of denial.  My problem is that my family doesn’t fully accept and/or understand the PTSD, or what it means.  They don’t realize the extent to which some experiences from my past have really traumatized me. They were physically present but mentally and emotionally MIA.  I overlook things they do and say that trigger emotional flashbacks, by either withdrawing, slapping a smile on my face, or numbing out.  This is a dis-service to nobody….

Forgiving is not psychoanalyzing yourself &/or others….

I bet if you went to the search bar on the bottom of my blog and google “sister”, you would find quite a bit of evidence of psychoanalysis.  I could literally write a ten page dissertation on why my sister don’t really get along, and be entirely correct in my analysis.  What good is this?  As far forgiveness is concerned, it really doesn’t help.  In fact, by examining and ruminating over why somebody did this bad thing, all you do is become steeped in anger and frustration.

Forgiving isn’t the same as feeling good about the person &/or situation…..

When you forgive someone you’re not endorsing the wrong, or saying its okay that they did what they did.  You’re also not saying it felt good that this bad thing happened.  It might still hurt – even excruciatingly so.  In fact, some pains are impossible to forget.  As I’ve come to realize, forgiving simply means you make healing a priority and that you take responsibility for yourself.  Nobody can heal you but yourself.

What forgiveness is….

Forgiveness requires an acknowledgment of the wrong & how it hurt you…

It is vital to acknowledge the wrong that was done to yourself even if it brings up a well of unresolved pain. Avoiding it requires a complex interwoven network of self deception and denial alongside a sprinkling of dissociative numbing.  Your life is filled with missing pieces, and clarity is forever outside your grasp.

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself….

Contrary to what you think, forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person.  Instead, you make healing a priority before all others.  You take charge of growth through healing.  Doing so, challenges you to give up destructive thoughts and allows you to experience life which is not defined by old baggage.

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He turns sixteen today!!!!

On this day, 16 years ago I gave birth to my oldest son Josiah.  I won’t bore you with a long story here of my experiences as his mother.  If you wish, you can read this post titled “My Shameful Parenting Story” or this post titled “Good Enough Parenting”….

I simply desire to create a post acknowledging the importance of this day, as well as the love & gratitude I feel for his presence in my life…






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Collateral Damage….

In the aftermath of the “it years”, my family and I have had to work hard to recover from the experience.  I was hurting, they were too.  As years past, we put the experience behind us and moved forward….

….Many years later, as a happily married woman I re-entered therapy. I was considering a return to school to switch careers.  My youngest was in 1st grade and I finally had some time to myself.  As a result of therapy, I’ve struggled with blame, resentment, shame & guilt.  Since I just completed putting together material in this subject matter for a group therapy session, I thought I’d post briefly a pic of an old letter from my father.  It was written to us after I left for NYC.  Refusing to leave this bad relationship I felt a strange & inexplicable compulsion to follow him wherever he went.  I hated what he did, realized this was wrong but this didn’t hit matter…..

if you wish to read the backstory behind this letter, click here.



My emotional reaction to this letter today is mixed.  I regret what happened.  I feel bad I hurt my family.  However, a bit of resentment lingers within.  When I read my fathers words I feel frustrated for how my parents weren’t available emotionally in the years leading up to this relationship.  Had they been aware of how sad, depressed & suicidal I was, maybe they could have done something.  Maybe, I wouldn’t have been so fucked in the head when meeting him years later….

The “what-it’s” are endless and forgiveness is an ongoing effort…

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Codependency, what is it???

I’m teaching a codependency class right now, and just started researching information on it.   Without any specific curriculum to go by, I’ve decided to start with a basic definition of the concept as a starting point.  I found a book by Melodie Beattie as a guide.   In her book she starts out with the following definition:

“Codependency is a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members to survive in families experiencing great emotional pain and stress…behaviors passed from generation to generation….Codependency is about the ways we have been affected by our pasts. (Beattie, 2009).

Characteristics of Codependency

So with this definition in mind, how can one know if they have codependent relationship traits?  Melodie Beattie (2009) describes a codependent person as follows:  “A codependent person [allows] someone else’s behavior to affect him or her, and is obsessed with controlling other people’s behaviors.”  Based on this definition, I’m reminded of Shel Silverstein’s book, “The Missing Piece”.  Individuals in this case, would be seeking others as a solution for what is missing within….

Recovering from Codependency

Recovery, like healing and growth, are a gradual process, often much like watching a pot of water boil. “We stop reacting to the powerfully dysfunctional systems so many of us have been affected by. We stop getting tangled up in craziness. We acquire the art of removing ourselves as victims.” (Beattie, 2009).

  1. Instead of controlling others, we detach & begin to let go.

  2. Instead of allowing others to hurt us, we develop healthy boundaries

  3. Clarity and problem-solving skills replace hyper-vigilant worry, and denial.


Beattie, M. (2009). Beyond codependency: And getting better all the time. Hazelden Publishing.

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“AND Statements” vs. “BUT Statements”

But Negates…

Conjunctions are words used in English grammar to connect two concepts together. (Examples: and, but, if, or).  When included in a sentence, the conjunction “but” excludes, denies & negates stated before it.   For example, my son’s third grade teacher sent home a project for all parents at the conclusion of the school year.  We were to complete the sentences on a “Certificate of Hard Work”.  After answering questions on what we loved and appreciated about our kids, we were to complete a “but statement”.  This but statement said: “I’m so proud when ________ does this, BUT would like it if he/she would ________”.  Since my son is so sensitive and eager to please, I had to be careful in how I worded this statement.  I responded to it in the following manner:

“I’m so proud Talan works hard BUT wish he wouldn’t worry so much about doing his best.”

And – Equal Consideration….

imageWhen using AND in a sentence, you’re connecting to ideas together that have equal importance.  The AND functions to expand on an idea, while giving the original one equal consideration.   For example, in the above sentence I could say it this way instead:

“I’m so proud of Talan for working so hard AND don’t think he needs to worry about doing better.”

Why does this matter?

(((As a side-note, I’m blogging about my internship group therapy material, because I feel it is important for me to reflect on these insights as well.)))  As it pertains to the the subject matter of this blog, it is worth noting the effect these two statements have on the listener.  “AND” statements acknowledge the other person’s perspective and implies we give it equal consideration to our own.  In contrast, when using a “BUT” statements, we are giving lesser value to the other person’s perspective.  In fact, depending on the manner of delivery, “BUT” statements can sound like you’re trying to start an argument….


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“I message” vs. “you messages”

Oftentimes it is essential for us to share our concerns about a situation or another person.  A failure to carefully our words, can sometimes result in a gross misunderstanding…..

YOU MESSAGE:  “You’re giving me a headache, turn that down!”

I MESSAGE: “I don’t like all this noise since I’m trying to sleep, can you turn down the volume.”

“YOU Messages”….


You messages communicate implicit messages of blame and fault attribution.  The cause is the other person.  Your goal in using the “YOU Message” is to communicate this fact clearly.  As a result, the listener becomes defensive.  Additionally, the recipient often feels “YOU Messages” as unnecessarily harsh.   For this reason, often create communication roadblocks.

“I Messages”…


In contrast, when using I messages your goal is to focus on feelings and behavior.  You’re starting off with a desire to open up communication, by telling the listener how you feel.  This can then lead to a request for a behavioral change and/or remedy to address our feelings.  In this respect, they tend to yield a more positive response and feel more honest and kind….

How To Create an I Message:



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accepting responsibility: shame, blame, guilt & resentment…

About three weeks ago I started the final segment of my educational journey: the internship.   In a series of three classes I have to complete a minimum of 700 hours over the course of approximately ten months. This will require a 60+ hour work week for almost a year.  I will continue to work full-time as a weekend night shift CNA in a float pool for large hospital system.  I will be adding 20+ hours of unpaid work as an intern at an inpatient treatment facility for recovering addicts.   As a wife and mother, this means I’m literally spending most of my waking hours in the service of others.

Keep in mind, a good majority of those I encounter will not appreciate my efforts, (and if they do, they don’t necessarily show it).
***Parenting a teen often involves being the bad guy as you set firm boundaries.
***Counseling individuals through recovery entails addressing varied levels of resistance.
***Working as a CNA requires you to provide care to individuals who often feel like crap.

I’m now in the third week of my first internship class and have finally settled into this new routine.    I’ve tried to hold onto the glimmer of hope that graduation will come sooner than I expect.  I continue to plan cautiously this new career path.  I registered for that big “exam” required for licensure. I’ve researched other internship placements that can provide experience in populations outside the addiction community.

However, as I muscle through each week, I find my mental health slipping from my grasp.

As a new student therapist, I’m running several groups on my own…

I spend approximately ten hours a week teaching subjects to residents in an inpatient treatment facility that I have little knowledge of.  Since the facility is redesigning the curriculum I’m told it’s my responsibility to come up with the subject materials myself.  I enjoy this part, but the experience of standing in front of class each day brings me back to speech class in 8th grade where my childhood bullies taunted me merciless throughout a presentation.  Despite my best efforts, my nerves always end up getting the better of me.

I conducted my first intake evaluations & individual sessions this week…

These experiences have had a perplexing effect upon me.  While appreciative of the learning opportunity a burgeoning ignorance wells up within.   As I learn more I feel I know less – if for no other reason than simply because I’m forced to face the breadth of my lack of knowledge.  More importantly,  book knowledge and interpersonal application are completely different things.   I have one but must work on developing the other.   I’ve come to an awareness that I really give to others based on who I am.

***All my efforts thus far have held a unique flavor that is very “Kathleen-like”.
***My life history and personality quirks are found throughout all l do.
***My preferred coping mechanisms (i.e. isolation & withdrawal) are not allowed.
***I must face my fears & allow others to see me fully – if I wish to succeed…

In this (& future) posts I’ve decided to share the material I’ve created for my therapy groups…

The subject matter often leaves me with much to reflect on personally. What follows is material I put together on blame, guilt, remorse & shame: concepts that all have potential to interfere with our efforts to creat lasting change.  If handled correctly they can also provide an impetus for a personal transformation.  Since this is a personal blog, I’m not sharing this information to educate or give advice.  I’m presenting it as information relevant to my life story personally….

Understanding Guilt…

Defined as a feeling if responsibility or remorse for some offense,  or wrong-doing it’s important to examine carefully how you handle it.  The following quote comes from a blog post I found online on the subject of guilt, shame, remorse, and recovery:

“Oftentimes addicts in recovery need a great deal of time before they can even begin to understand that they are not inherently defective, that it was their choices and not their true selves that caused their addiction & its related negative consequences. (, 2013)”

As this quote indicates, a monkey-wrench in the recovery process is a misinterpretation of guilt.   Interestingly, when replacing a few words, this quote applies to me as well:

[when healing from trauma], a great deal of time [is needed] before [I] can even begin to understand that  [I am] not inherently defective, that it was [my] choices and not [my] true [self]  that caused [the] … negative consequences. (, 2013)”
With this parallel clearly drawn, further contemplation is now in order: How is it I’ve managed to turn guilt into something else so self-destructive, (i.e. Resentment, Shame, or Blame)????

Misuse of guilt : shame, blame & resentment…

Unhealthy guilt carries a punitive vibe that allows us to play victim and avoid personal responsibility.  It prevents us from finding happiness in life by concealing the effective solutions to our problem.  For a convenient example, read my blog post on the “stages if change”, where I describe a four-year abusive relationship I endured while in college.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I see the clear logic in the obvious question, why did you stay so long!?!? (((I was too busy blaming others, shaming myself & resenting him)))).

When guilt is good….

Interestingly, guilt is not necessarily a bad thing (by itself).  It hast the potential to provide an impetus for lasting change.   Remorse – a characteristic of healthy guilt – encourages us to looking at past actions in order to understand their consequences.  This information has predictive value for our current decisions:  If I do “A”, then “B” is the result.  The key is in learning how to use guilt for purposes of growth.

What follows are insights on how to use guilt as an impetus for change.  
  1. Use your remorse to take a personal inventory of your life.

  2. Share your feelings of guilt & remorse with others (i.e. blog 🙂 )

  3. Examine the origins of your guilt, Is it rational or reasonable?

  4. Learn to forgive yourself & all involved.

  5. Avoid the blame, shame and/or resentment traps (See below).

  6. Change the behaviors that caused you to feel the guilt in the first place.

  7. Apologize where necessary & let go for the sake of inner peace.

  8. Commit to living in the present & moving forward.

guilt can also become healthy when misused:

As stated earlier, guilt can provide us with an understanding of how specific actions result in certain consequences.   This information, however can be misused when we focus on attributing responsibility for punitive purposes.  This punitive nature, causes us to focus on emotion instead of action.  We live in the past, rather than act in the present.  We are often blinded by a desire to complain about our problems.    Guilt becomes blame when we assign responsibility to others for the “bad thing that happened”.   In time, this blame can produce feelings of resentment.   Shame, in contrast, is the attribution of responsibility to oneself.  In time, they can produce feelings of resentment towards oneself.

when guilt becomes blame….


Blame usually involves assigning someone responsibility for the bad things that happened to you. Synonyms of blame include to condemn or accuse.  However justified we might be, it is worth noting that blame is often counterproductive.   In the short term, it allows us to escape elements of the truth which are often too painful to examine closely.  However, the price we pay in the long term is a huge well of unresolved hurt that pollutes all life decisions.   Blaming others has polluted my life with a crap-load of unresolved bullshit.  This tendency to blame misery on externalized factors has caused a lifetime of willful blindness us to even the simplest solutions.

There’s more than a grain of truth to the saying that we perpetuate what we deny.  So how did I overcome the blame that blinded me??? 

Step One – Identify your blame-laden complaints.

Listen to the words coming out of your mouth.  Start a blog and note the underlying patterns in the ways you tell your life story.  Or, if you don’t like writing, get an old digital camera and tape yourself, let the thoughts and feelings flow.  Set it aside for about a week or so, and view this video when you’re mind is clearer.  You’ll be surprised by what you say.   When you notice a blame-laden complaints that involve a sad victim-story, write them down.  Here’s a convenient example from a recent post in which I describe a minor misunderstanding between my sister and I that blew completely out of proportion….

“SHOULD I HAVE APOLOGIZED? if it means being made to feel I’m denying my reality – NO!!!. Sadly, I hate to say it but since you are all very ignorantly unaware of my reality that’s how the apology feels – to me.”

Step Two – State your complaints neutrally.

Think like Joe Friday says: “Just the facts ma’am”.  In other words, try restating your blame-laden complaining.  How might you objectively describe your concern?  The following example is a convenient neutral concern that takes any blame-laden language out of the above complaint.  It also includes a link to a post titled “Transactional Analysis… A Move Beyond Misunderstanding”, where I provide 20/20 hindsight into the “Anatomy of a Misunderstanding” post.   As I understand it now, this misunderstanding reflected larger issues pertaining to unmet needs in my childhood.

Perception is reality in the sense that the our life experiences become a fulcrum of understanding.  Nobody can truly know what it is like to live in our shoes.   

Step Three – List all contributing factors.

When you think about it, blame takes the focus off of you, and places it squarely upon others.  You can’t see effective solutions because you’re not looking at what actions you can take to create change.  Playing victim is good for the ego, but highly self-destructive.   Accepting responsibility and seeing the situation in full and complete detail has taken time as it pertains to the above examples.  My relationship with my sister has improved with time, and has required much work on my own part…..

I considered the alternatives: holding onto hurt or letting it go.

I came to realize that underlying our differences are two very different temperaments.  

I sought out the hidden lessons in this experiences & second chance opportunities

I started to work on my own healing through forgiveness.  

Resentment as a byproduct of blame…

Resentment is a bitter and angry indignation over unfair treatment or perceived wrongs.   It is the emotional cousin to blame-laden thinking.  Blame is a thought process that involves the attribution responsibility for our situation to the action of others.  Resentment results when you ruminate over this realization endlessly.  When you focus on it too much the anger can build and you can’t see further.  All you know is you hurt and they need to understand and pay.  Trust me when I tell you, resentment can eat you alive and leave you with nothing else.

It is for this reason that I believe that forgiveness is essential for healing, it is necessary in order to make room for the good stuff.  

When Guilt Becomes Shame….


As I mentioned earlier, guilt can be impetus for lasting change.  It has the potential to provide valuable and empowering insight.  However, when this insight is used to assign responsibilty for punitive purposes, it becomes highly self-destructive.  Blame is the attribution of guilt to external factors (i.e. people, events, situations).  It causes resentment.  In contrast, shame is the attribution of guilt to yourself with a punitive belief that “we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging.” (Brown, 2010, p4).

  1. Shame is being rejected.

  2. Shame is feeling like an outsider.

  3. Shame is that part of yourself you hide.

  4. Shame is not belonging

Shame vs. Guilt….

Shame tells us we are bad. It is a useless emotion we are all susceptible to. Guilt tells us we have done something wrong and indicates a need for reparation?

  1. Shame = I am bad. It is about the person.

  2. Guilt = I have done something bad. It is a reaction to a person’s actions.

Shame vs. Humiliation…

Humiliation results from a situation of unequal power in which we are made to feel inferior or ashamed. Shame is a private matter. Humiliation is a public event.

  1. Shame = Is a byproduct of internalizing messages from others.

  2. Humiliation = is caused by messages from others which causes us to feel degraded.

Moving Beyond Shame….

Step One – Examining Our Shame Webs.

Shame is the consequence of our interactions with others – and society in general.  These interactions carry implicit messages of who we should be to in order to garner acceptance and belonging.  For the most part, these messages exist as unresolved expectations. The are a filter through which life experiences are examined and resolved.   With this in mind, there are several critical questions to ask yourself:

  1. What messages of perceived-worth underlie your feelings of shame?

  2. Can you describe these wanted and unwanted identities?

  3. Where do these messages of shame come from?

Step Two – Understanding the Consequences of Shame.

Shame is about fear of disconnection (Brene, 2010).  This fear of being ridiculed, diminished or ostracized can cause us to actively avoid situations that we associated with it.  However, by avoiding situations that make us feel shame, we end up re-living old messages from others about what and/or whom we should be.   Others from long ago in our past, tell us who we should be in the present whether we realize it or not.   The end result is a hamster-wheel life in which you can create no more of the same thing…

Step Three – Define Your Shame Triggers….

Individuals, who are highly resilient to shame, understand their shame triggers (Brene, 2010). These triggers reflect early messages of shame from our childhood.  For example, standing in front of my group therapy class produces heightened anxiety.  I recognize this as a byproduct of the implicit messages from peers in my speech class in 8th grade.   I feel shame and embarrassment, and want the attention focused away from me.  By acknowledging this, I am aware these emotions reflect past memories, and not the current situation.  With this in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How would you like for the world to see you?

  2. How would you hate for others to see you?

  3. How do these aspects of your self-image reflect messages you receive from others?

Shame & Belief Systems….

Shame is based on a system of belief about who we are in relation to others. This belief-system consists of a collectivity of messages about who we are. As belief system, the underlying concepts are matters of opinion and not fact.  Beliefs are opinions about how the world works & our place in it.  When we share these ideas with others, they become systems of belief.  When taken on blind faith they appear to function as objective truth.  In reality, they are simply shared systems of meaning that we support collectively as self-fulfilling prophecies with social consequences for violation.    The key to overcoming a system of belief based on messages associated with feelings of shame is in differentiating between facts and opinions….

You can change beliefs with facts but you cannot change facts with beliefs.  In other words, beliefs require a believer while facts exist independent of them.

For example, lets say you’re boiling noodles in a large dutch oven.  When they’re done you drain the noodles in a strainer.  The water goes down the drain and what remains are noodles.  Life functions like a strainer, it is the perfect reality filter.  Bullshit doesn’t hold water, and goes down the drain.  The noodles remaining are facts and/or consequences that go nowhere until you deal with them.  They are here to stay.  KNOW THE DIFFERENCE!!!

References… (2013, December, 9).  The ‘recovery value’ of shame, guilt and remorse (part one). [blog post]  Retrieved from:
Brown, B. (2015). Shame Resilience Theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame. Families in Society. 87(1), 43-48.


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Radical Acceptance…

Forgiveness is giving up hope that the past could have been different” – Oprah

The above quote comes from a youtube video that inspired my last post on forgiveness.   Forgiveness is a process that takes time and conscious effort.  In addition to giving up hope that the past could be different, we must accept certain truths about our present-day reality.   Essentially forgiveness produces change as we letting go of a past in order accept a new future.  One resource I found states: “Forgiveness is a dialectical process through which people synthesize their prior assumptions of a transgression into a new understanding of….this reframing process [is] the construction of a ‘new narrative’ (Thompson, et al, 2005, p. 318).” When I read this quote, I was reminded of the concept of “Radical Acceptance” which I’d like to discuss briefly in this post…

A Quick & Dirty Overview of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy…

imageAbout 7 years ago, I entered therapy because I felt stuck.  While in individual therapy, I also participated in a DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) Skills Group.  In my ongoing efforts to heal & forgive, the concept of radical acceptance has been essential.  DBT was initially designed by Marsha Linehan for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). While treating chronically suicidal patients with BPD, she noted a critical shortcoming in traditional behavioral and cognitive approaches (Lynch, et al, 2006). These approaches failed to address a dialectical dilemma apparent in the treatment of these clients. The validation and acceptance these clients require must be provided in balance with approaches that enable change (Lynch, et al, 2006).   As a result of this clinical observation, Marsha Linehan developed this strategy based on the Hegelian idea that reality is comprised of interrelated parts.  Dialectical philosophy defines transformation as a byproduct of two opposing viewpoints that are combined into a holistic perspective. DBT applies this philosophy to its treatment of emotional dysregulation with the use of change strategies, acceptance strategies, and dialectical techniques (Koerner, 2012).   Change strategies include the utilization of techniques to encourage change and behavioral modification (Koerner, 2012). DBT skills such as distress tolerance, chain analysis, and opposite action are useful in addressing pervasive emotional dysregulation (McKay, et al, 2010). Validation strategies exist as a useful counterpoint to these techniques and emphasize acceptance and empathy (Koerner, 2012). These strategies are based on the fact that deep emotional wounds can’t be healed with logic (Lynch, et al, 2006). Validation reduces physiological responses to dysregulated emotion and allows a therapeutic alliance to develop (Linehan, et al, 1999). Dialectical techniques address a “tension between the need to accept a client’s…vulnerabilities [while encouraging] them to make necessary change[s]” (Koerner, 2012, p15). DBT skills such as wise-mindedness and radical acceptance provide clients with the insight that underlies this dialectical balance. (McKay, et al, 2010).

Of all the concepts from this therapy group, “radical acceptance”, really stuck the most.  It provided a serene backdrop against which clarity could develop, yielding lasting change.

So What is Radical Acceptance?

imageMarsha Linehan (2005) defines radical acceptance as a complete and total acceptance of reality from the depths of your soul, in your mind heart and body.  In this respect, radical acceptance allows us to focus on the current moment, seeing reality as it is, without judgment.  Rather than fighting with reality or asking why, you choose to go with what is so you can function.  In this respect, acceptance doesn’t mean giving up, it means you choose to not fight reality. Suffering, in an instant, transforms into a tolerable pain…

Pain + Nonacceptance = Suffering:  Pain creates suffering only when you refuse to accept reality.   Acceptance helps to end suffering by turning something you can’t cope with into something you can.
Acceptance ≠ Approval:  Accepting reality doesn’t necessarily equate to a positive endorsement of what is happening. To accept something is not the same as judging it as good. Instead, think of acceptance as an acknowledgment of reality.

Turning the Mind….

In my own life, Oprah’s definition of forgiveness has been essential.  In order to move forward and become unstuck, life required me to let go of my wishes for a different life history.  By choosing to stop asking “why”, I ended much of the personal suffering I created.  Radical Acceptance is a choice Linehan (2003) describes as “turning of the mind”….

  1. STEP ONE: COMMITMENT.  The first step toward radical acceptance is simply making an active choice in the present moment to deal with reality as it is…
  2. STEP TWO: LOOK OUT FOR RESISTANCE.  As a desire to resist reality and deny its very factual nature, it is important to keep a look out for resistance.  Rumination  & resistance are forms of sadomasochistic mental torture.
  3. STEP THREE: BE AWARE OF REALITY ESCAPES & BLOCKERS.  Are you blocking certain aspects of reality out of your awareness as a form of self-deception?  What are you doing to escape reality and self-medicate (food, drink, etc)???
  4. STEP FOUR: UNDERSTAND THE CAUSE.  This step simply involves recognizing that all things have a cause.  Seeing things as they are is empowering and allows you to attain the clarity necessary to produce lasting change.   This means not asking why it happened and instead how it occurred.

Willingness vs.  Willfulness…

I’d like to conclude this post by comparing the mindset of willingness with willfulness.  These two perspectives provide a useful illustration of how accepting reality compares with a rejection of it.  In the table below, I provide a comparison of these two mental states….



Accepting Reality
  Rejecting Reality
Participate in life
  Not Tolerating “Now” 
Acknowledging what Is 
Fixing the Unfixable
Doing What is Needed
 Sitting on Your Hands
Choosing Healing 
 Playing Victim  


Lynch, T.R., Chapman, A.L, Rosenthal, M.Z., Kuo, J.R., & Linehan, M.M. (2006). Mechanism of change in dialectical behavior therapy: Theoretical and empirical observations. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 62(4), 459-480
McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2010). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Marsha Linehan (2005), From Suffering to Freedom: Practicing Realty Acceptance. New York, NY: Guilford Press
Thompson, L.Y., Snyder, C.R., Hoffman, L., Michael, S.T., Rasmussen, H.N., Billings, L.S. & Roberts, D.E. (2005). Dispositional forgiveness of self, others and situations. Journal of Personality, 73(2). pp. 313-354.

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