shame

Understanding Shame…

In a previous post I review a favorite self-help author of mine, Brene Brown (link above).  I first learned about her from a now-famous Ted Talk video (see link above).  Through her work, I was first introduced to the concept of shame:  “an intensely painful feeling that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of accepting and belonging” (Brown, 2006, p45).   In this post, I’d like to continue with this train of thought & share some insights on how to recognize shame.  While no real preventative cure to shame exists, if you are aware of what triggers feelings of shame, you’re empowered to grow beyond its confines. What follows are insights I’ve recorded in an old journal based on Brene Brown’s work on shame resilience….

FIRST:  Insights on the Nature of Personal Growth.

Before I begin discussing the subject of shame, I’d like to first make some comments on the nature of personal growth overall.  Despite the inherent growing pains, it is worth the effort.   Having wormed her way through the rabbit hole of personal growth, there are three insights are worth noting here….

#1 – With increased self-knowledge comes an awareness of the extent of any personal ignorance.

With heightened self-awareness comes an inability to deny and ignore any issues in your life.  We become aware the path that lies before us a perplexing ignorance builds in response to increased self knowledge.  We now know we don’t know, (which I guess is something), however we still have a ways left to go.

#2 – It often gets worse before it gets better.

file0002026387392I entered therapy back in 2008, because I was stuck.  I felt like a hamster on a wheel, running to nowhere. I was perplexed why the same things kept happening to me.  In a nutshell, I felt like a walking shit-magnet. In the five or so years of counseling that followed, I came to understand the complexity of all underlying issues in my life. You see, my perception of self in relation to others was based on unresolved feelings from childhood bullying and ostracism, as well as an abusive relationship in college. While these experiences are far behind me, their effects have remained.  As I pealed away layers of denial the old unresolved hurts re-emerged.  It got worse before it got better, but it did get better.

#3 – The only way out is through.

Working through unresolved hurt and processing it, is critical for healing. As I’ve discovered personally, you perpetuate what you deny.  What I’ve discovered personally, is that numbing and denying old hurts only causes them to live within the subconscious as annoying monkey wrenches.  It is only through a close examination of these  monkey wrenches that an endless cycle of bullshit can be revealed.

NOW WHAT!?!?!: Understanding the Concept…

Shame defined…

file0002047283122Brene Brown (2006) defines shame as “an intensely painful feeling that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging”, (p 45).  Participants in her research utilized the following adjectives to describe this emotion: “devastating, noxious, consuming, excruciating, filleted, small, rejected, diminished” (Brown, 2006, p. 45).  Human beings have a strong and instinctual need for love and belonging.  We are social creatures.  Shame is an emotional reflection of this instinctual drive.  It forces us to accept the fact that we are byproducts of the world in which we live. We create society as it in turn creates us…

Social & psychological components

Shame is a unique sociocultural emotion.  The psychological component of shame reflects an individual’s inner perception of self in relation to others (Brown, 2006).  Thoughts, beliefs and emotions, play a part of shame’s psychological component.  At the same time this emotion is a social construct that exists as a byproduct of interpersonal experiences and sociocultural perspectives.

A double bind situation…

In her research, Brown (2006) states that shame-inducing situations are double-bind in nature.  With few if any options for resolution, participants in her research felt stuck, with nothing to do but bathe in their own misery (Brown, 2006).  With this stuckness come feelings of powerlessness and isolated.  The following quote from Brene’s article resonates with my own ostracism as a bullied kid:

The Cause of Shame…

According to Brene Brown (2008), shame is a fear of disconnection from others, or not feeling good enough.  Events and circumstances that produce feelings of inadequacy or ostracism are shame-producing.   Shame is a result of the internalization of message from others about what is essential for love and belonging.   Here are a few blog post, that provide excellent examples of the internalization of “should-be” messages created the experience of shame.

***“A Shameful Parenting Story”

***My “Shit Job”

***The “It Years”…

The Solution: Shame Resilience…

measureBrene Brown asserts we are all vulnerable to shame.  Messages of who we “should be”, come from everywhere and pollute our thinking.   Until you’re aware of these “should be’s”, they tend to re-emerge in endless perpetuity throughout your life. Random life events can trigger old memories of shame-laden messages from one’s childhood.   Over time, these should be’s become incorporated in our sense of self as measuring sticks of self-worth.   Developing resiliency in shame happens when we take time to understand what triggers these feelings.  What event/interaction/individual/memory caused us to feel shame?  What should-be messages exist within these shame triggers?  Where did this “good-enough” measuring stick originate?  Who instilled this should-be idea in our minds of what we must aspire to become?

With this in mind, what follows is a list of steps to begin developing a resiliency to shame.

STEP #1 – Understanding Shame’s Physical Symptoms

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As a former bullied child, shame triggers produce vivid reminders of ostracism as a kid.  For me, shame triggers are those things that remind me I’ve failed in living up to a pre-defined social standard of what good-enough should equate to.  Its for this reason that feelings of shame are associated with stress and anxiety.  In the presence of reminders of painful experiences, our body is sent into a fight-or-flight mode.  Breathing increases, your heart starts pounding, your hands shake, and you start to sweat.  .

A school textbook I have defines coping styles as “persistent, consistent, collections of physiological and behavioral responses to stressful stimuli”  (Lambert & Kinsley, 2011, p. 379).  Additionally, research on the brain shows two types of coping responses.  Reactive coping styles are  associated with higher parasympathetic activity while proactive coping styles are characterized by high sympathetic activity.  Finally, its interesting to note how each coping style influences our level of perceived stress.  According to Lambert & Kinsley (2011), proactive coping responses show low levels of activity in a part of the brain called the HPA-Axis.  In contrast, reactive coping styles show heightened levels of reactivity in the same region.

So what is an HPA Axis you ask??? Watch this video….

So why does this matter???

Basically, what this research says is that those with proactive coping styles allow some individuals to experience lower levels of stress when faced with a challenging situation (or in this case a shame trigger) (Lambert & Kinsley, 2011).  In contrast those with reactive (or passive) coping styles are experience higher levels of stress and less effective coping responses to challenging situations (Lambert & Kinsley, 2011).  Interestingly, this reflects research I described in a recent post on the intelligence of emotions here and here……

and for those who are disinterested in clicking the link’s above, here a cliff-notes summary of these two posts…

Emotions play a critical role in our moral judgments. These affective processes occur subconsciously, outside our awareness. They affect our information processing, thought processes, and behaviors (Cushman, et al 2010).
Two systems of moral reasoning exist in the brain.  A deliberate process utilizes cost-benefit analysis to maximize one’s overall, well-being.  The other is an evolutionary adaptation in the brain promoting survival.  It is rapid, automatic and guided by limbic-based moral absolutes (Cushman, et al, 2010).
When faced with a situation deemed by our minds as highly stressful (i.e. shame trigger),  rapid limbic responses to moral decisions are based on absolutes and reflect a deontological perspective  (Cushman, et al, 2010).  
In contrast, when encountering situations perceived as non-emergent and within our capability to handle effectively, a deliberate cost-benefit analysis occurs.  This sort of judgment process reflects a consequentialist perspective  (Cushman, et al, 2010).  

What sort picture does this research paint of how coping styles affect moral judgment?

Lambert & Kinsley (2011) indicate that proactive coping responses are associated with lower levels of activity in the HPA Axis an area of the brain responsible for the stress response.  Cushman, et al, (2010) indicate that in the presence of lower stress response, the brain reacts with a more deliberate system of moral judgment that reflects a cost-benefit approach.  In contrast, passive coping styles are associated with higher HPA Axis activity and a heightened stress response (Lambert & Kinsley, 2011).  Cushman, et al, (2010) indicate that in the present of a perceived stressful situation, the brain reacts with a rapid-fire limbic reaction that reflects an absolutist deontological perspective.

In light of all this information, it appears understanding our shame triggers is actually quite vital?

Those things that cause shame, send us into fight-or-flight mode.  Shameful experiences are perceived as a threat to our instinctual need for love, belonging, and acceptance.  What causes us to feel shame?  Triggers that remind us of should-be messages from other of what “good enough” is.  In a never-ending desire to prove oneself “worthy of belonging”, we can fall into a perpetual fight-or-flight mode.   As the above research indicates, shame triggers lead to stress, which hijacks our entire brain, hindering our ability to handle situations effectively.

STEP #2 – First an attitudinal adjustment…

Empathy – the opposite of shame…

In her research, Brene Brown (2006), notes that empathy sits at the opposite end of the continuum from shame.  In her article she describes empathy “as the ability to perceive a situation from another person’s perspective – to see, hear, and feel the unique world of the other” (Brown, 2006, p. 47).  She continues by noting that it comprises four key attributes:

The ability to see things as someone else does, remain judgmental, understand their feelings & communicate this effectively.

Finding sources of empathy, connection and support, are superb antidotes to shame.  It is also worth noting the part of the shame equation in your control.  The personal component of shame, pertains to how we incorporate others opinions into our own personal measuring stick.

Acknowledging the power of vulnerability…

imageBrown, (2006), also states that the degree to which we acknowledge our personal vulnerabilities influences a person’s degree of resilience to shame.  In fact, whether or not we’re willing to accept this fact, nobody has the right to tell us “who we are”.  We are ultimately responsible for how other people make us feel.  What opinions become incorporated into our self-perception is a matter of our own determining.

STEP #3 – Shame Triggers

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I’ve always had this belief that the key to empowerment is self-responsibility.  Understanding our role in things is critical to identify the actionable solution. Knowing your shame triggers is so important for exactly this reason.  Since shame is a feeling which is based on messages of perceived worth, understanding where these messages come from is important.  Feeling the need to “measure up” is an inevitable byproduct of our own evolutionary social needs.  Shame triggers are simply those events, situations, and/or relationships that lead to feelings of shame.  Examining these shame-inducing situations and/or relationships requires closer examination….

What are your unwanted identities?

In her research, Brene states that shame is associated with situations that a person’s unwanted identity. Unwanted identities are simply personal characteristics that undermine who we wish to be in the eyes of others.  Has there ever been a time in your life when you said “I don’t want people to thin I am a…”?    Here are some of mine:

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The thing to remember is we all have shame triggers.  There are unwanted aspects of ourselves we hope to avoid and can’t see with any clarity.  Shame-laden messages from others cloud our vision. The following questions have been helpful in allowing me to gain some perspective…

Where does this perception come from?

Why is this identity unwanted

What measuring-stick underlies it?

What if you were reduced to this unwanted identity?

STEP #3 – What are your Defense Mechanisms?

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With an understanding of our shame triggers, it is next important to examine how we defend ourselves against this shitty feeling.  What unconscious defense mechanisms do we do to prevent other people and/or events from causing us to feel this way?  When overcome with shame, we are overcome by the effects of the brain’s HPA axis.  It sets of a series of events throughout the body that create an alarm-bell stress reaction.  Brene, (2010) describes two primary types of defense mechanisms that I understand as forms of conformity or rebellion.  When reading her descriptions I hear both my sisters story and my own.  Here are a few links to recent posts in which I reflect to my own preferred defense mechanisms:

***“The Nature of Belief Systems”

***“The Go-It-Alone Mentality”

STEP #4: The importance of Critical Awareness…..

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The final piece of the puzzle is simply “getting real” with yourself.  When overcome with shame you often can’t see beyond the fear of exposure that a flawed self lies inside.  Attempting to see the bigger picture at such moments is important.  Asking yourself a some bigger picture questions.  Here are excerpts from my own journal…

Debunking the “fucked up parent” B.S.

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As a bullied child raising a bullied child, I can think of fewer experience more shame-inducing.  To see things from the other side of the coin is truly a mind-fuck.  Needless to say, these things occur within a larger sociocultural context and kids tend to fall between the cracks. Teachers and principals are overworked.  A child’s behaviors are often a reflection what they see going on in the home.   Here is my own follow-up post to provide a bit of perspective on things.

Debunking the Ugly Duckling B.S.

imageWhile I haven’t blogged on this issue yet, I’ve always felt I have a “meat suit problem”.  The issue in my case is one of having such a “wonderful personality”.  These random characteristics defining my own meat suit leave me feeling “less than”.  I hate my nose.  I need to lose weight.  At best, I’m an ignorable BLAH on a good day.

Mind you, these are just a few examples.  I’ll end this post with a few final thoughts directly from an old journal…

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References

Brown, B. (2006). Shame Resilience Theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame.  Families in Society. 87(1), 43-48.
Brown, B. (2008). I Thought it was Just Me: But it Isn’t: Telling the Truth about Perfectionsim, Inadequacy, and Power. Gotham.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. London: Penguin.
Brown, B. (2015).  Rising strong.  Random House:  New York.
Cushman, F., Young, L., & Greene, J. D. (2010). Our multi-system moral psychology: Towards a consensus view. The Oxford handbook of moral psychology, (1-20).
Lambert, K., & Kinsley, C.H. (2011). Clinical neuroscience: The neurobiological foundations of  mental health. 2nd Ed., New York, NY: Worth Publishers
Miller, J.B., & Stiver, I.P. (1997). The healing connection: How wome form relationships in therapy and life. Boston: Beacon.

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Insights from Brene Brown….

For a recent assignment, I was required to select a self help book that pertained in some way to the subject of career counseling and provide an overview of it. As a Brene Brown fan, I chose to revew her latest book, “Rising Strong”.  A Grounded Theory Researcher, Brene’s self-books provide a summary of findings from interviews with research participants, utilizing a Narrative Therapy perspective. From a personal standpoint, I’ve really appreciated Brene’s books, since they summarize my own path of self-development. Underlying this process of personal growth, was an inexplicable “stuckness” that feels much like a “vinyl record with a needle stuck in a groove, repeating the same sound over and over”, (Ingram, 2012). Brene’s method of addressing this issue of stuckness, is to utilize a storytelling approach.   It is by claiming ownership of our life story, that we can find an underlying system of meaning woven throughout it (Brene, 2015).  What I appreciate about her books are they appear to follow the author’s progression of growth.  For this reason I feel they are really worth reviewing below…

So What Does Forward Motion Look Like????

In the book’s introduction, Brene Brown describes how all her books fit within as part of an overall picture towards wholehearted living which she defines as follows:

IMG_2379“engaging in our lives from a places of worthiness…cultivating the courage, compassion, connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough’” (Brene, 2015, p xix).

Brene describes in her latest book “Rising Strong” how each book she has published, fits within an overall picture of wholehearted living.  Understanding this concept has been essentially for me to become “unstuck” and get off the hamster wheel.  It has taught me to understand how I get in my own way and develop a live a life that at one point had been “impossible”.   So what does forward motion – away from where we are to where we want to get to – look like??  To answer this question, a quick review of key concepts from Brene’s books is useful here….

STEP ONE: Listening to Shame…

Defined as “an intensely painful feeling that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging”, (Brown, 2006, p 45), the concept of shame is first introduced in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” (Brene, 2010).  Here, we are guided through a discussion that encourages how the concept of shame is woven throughout our personal life narrative (Brene, 2015).  As an individual with PTSD, this was an especially laborious process and the subject of several years of therapy.  However, what I discovered is that these feelings of shame pertain to messages I’ve received throughout my lifetime about what “good enough” means.  In retrospect, I realize I’m someone who has been running towards a preconceived notion of what this has meant for me.  simultaneously, I’ve been running away from what unwanted identities, comprised the messages of shame from others, (I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, etc).  Recognizing this has allowed me to accept myself as I am as good enough right now.  The journey now isn’t about getting to a place I believed was necessary to be “good enoug”. Instead good enough is now.  I can finally relax into the moments of my life and be present to enjoy it more fully.

STEP TWO: Being Vulnerable…

In her second book, “Daring Greatly”, Brene defines her concept of vulnerability as “having the courage to show up and be seen when you have no control over the outcome” (Brene, 2015, p4).  Vulnerability has produced a sense of vibrant fear in me.  Yes, I am aware that vulnerability is crucial for full engagement in life or,”Being all in” (Brene, 2012, p. 2).  However, unresolved traumas throughout my life have taught me otherwise.  Vulnerability produces fear because it means I have to be seen, and risk criticism or judgment.  Being “perfect and bulletproof are seductive” (Brene, 2012, p. 2) for exactly this reason.  The practice of vulnerability in an uncertain world has taken time for me.  The first step happened as I addressed old hurts.  The second step came as I learned to become more secure in who I was and validate myself in ways others hadn’t.  In time, the fear of vulnerability has gradually subsided.

STEP THREE:  Growing from Failure…

Overcoming shame and becoming vulnerability can be difficult when you stumble and fail.  However, failure, as Brene notes in her latest book, “Rising Strong” is an inevitable part of progression though life.  For this latest book, Brene (2015) gathered stories of sucess in a series of interviews to uncover any commonailties.  What she found were narratives mirroring Joseph Campbell’s (2008), book “The Hero with a Thousand Phases”.   In the first act of this book, the main character finds himself in a situation, which is the onset of a new adventure (Brene, 2015; Campbell, 2008). The second act finds our hero in a situation in which he has to take drastic steps to solve his dilemma (Brene, 2015; Campbell, 2008). The final act finds our character doing what is necessary to achieve his goal, resulting in a conflict resolution (Brene, 2015; Campbell, 2008).  In sum, her latest research has uncovered stories of success arising form failure as a learning opportunity to along a spiritual path towards wholeness.  The final section of this post provides a brief overview of these steps:

Rising Strong: An Overview

“If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fail; this is the physics of vulnerability.  Once we fail in the services of being brave, we can never go back.  Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being” (Brene, 2015, p5).

In her latest book, “Rising Strong”, Berne (2015) provides an overview of how to move past failure.  The first step, known as “The Reckoning”, (Brene, 2015, p37), involves acknowledging our story and accepting responsibility for our narrative role. The second step, known as “The Rumble” (Brene, 2015, p37), involves taking ownership of our story and involves an honest examination of it. Along the way, we’re forced to acknowledge truths and erroneous assumptions. Finally, Rising Strong process involves a “Revolution” (Brene, 2015, p37), and involves rewriting our narrative and learning from our rumble to create a new story. What follows is an overview of the steps in this narrative process….

STEP ONE: “The Reckoning” (Brene, 2015).

 In her discussion of “The Reckoning”, Brene (2015) states: “you either walk into your story and own your truth or you live outside your story, hustling for your worthiness” (p45).  Brene, (2015) notes that fear and trauma often complicate our efforts to claim ownership of our story.  To explain this desire to resist our life story, she utilizes the concept of chandelier pain as an exquisite and intolerable hurt which one cannot ignore (Brene, 2015, p16).  Rather than owning it, it isn’t uncommon to medicate, numb it or stockpile it.  Taking time to work through the unresolved traumas in my own life has been critical to the initiation of forward motion in life.  In order to “get unstuck” this was an absolutely essential step for me.

STEP TWO: “The Rumble” (Brene, 2015).

The next step in growing from failure involves examining our life story, and how we have created it as the narrator.  This process, which she calls “The Rumble”, (Brene, 2015), mirrors narrative therapy.  She encourages readers to examine the stories behind our emotions.  As I’ve said often throughout this blog, there’s a big difference between thing through your feelings and not with them.  I believe this is what Brene is speaking of here.  What stories, believes, and thoughts underlie your emotional responses to life events?  What triggered the emotions?  How does this narrative exists as a self-fulfilling prophecy, by creating the life experiences which reflect it?   The section ends with an overview of questions that might be useful in examining our narrative: (1) what do I need to understand about the event? (2) What do I need to learn about from other people in this story? and (3) what do I need to understand about myself in the context of this story? (Brene, 2015, p92-93).  Finally, Brene (2015) states this process simply begins with an attitude of curiosity and willingness.  

STEP THREE: “The Revolution” (Brene, 2015).

            The final step in this process of growing from failure is revolution: a “no-turning-back” Brene, 2015, p 254) stage.   This “revolution” involves a renewed sense of clarity this process starts once insight is put into practice (Brown, 2015). In a step-by-step manner, this process involves a gradual change as we create new stories based on altered narratives. A convenient example, would be my latest (and successful attempt to lose weight). Rather than chasing a physical ideal based on what I considered to be “good enough”, I’m instead assuming “good enough” is now. The result is, a sense of peace in which self-care is the priority, and getting there occurs one step at a time.

Conclusion

I owe a debt of gratitude to Brene Brown for helping redefine the concepts of failure and success. When I was younger, success was always a “then point” where I could work my way into being “good enough”. Success was conceived of as a state of invulnerability, in which I was delivered from my own shame-laden life story. Failure, in turn was what I didn’t want to be in the present. As I have (long since) learned, success requires us to examine our past and any underlying narratives. Acting on these insights on the road to success, taking a chance not knowing the outcome, and risking failure.  This means acting on faith, that the journey contains the lessons we need to find our way there.

References

Brown, B. (2006). Shame Resilience Theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame.  Families in Society. 87(1), 43-48.
Brown, B. (2008). I Thought it was Just Me: But it Isn’t: Telling the Truth about Perfectionsim, Inadequacy, and Power. Gotham.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. London, England: Penguin.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong. Random House: New York.
Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces, 3rd ed. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the Client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

 

 

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Good Enough Parenting

imageThis post touches upon the same subject matter from the last post, in which I share a triggery shame-laden parenting story of how my son repeats my own life history and this fact is then thrown in my face.  Mind you it is at a point when I was already very vulnerable and trying to reach out to a friend. Instead she states the following:

“Your Fucked Up & You’re Fucking Up Your Kids”

While I’m sure not everybody has shame-based parenting stories this extreme, the efforts we put forth to raise our children on a daily basis, are laden with opinions from others that can produce this problematic emotion.  In fact, everybody seems to have an opinion that there is a “right way”.  There are those who feel stay-at-home mothers are best.  There are those who feel working mothers are best.  I’ve heard it all:  We eat out to much, we have too many electronic devices, we stay up too late, they’re too rambunctious and “free thinking”.  The list is endless.  In fact, everyone has an opinion. Despite the fact that nobody has a window into my heart and soul and understands my struggles, it still hurts when I receive this criticism.  Despite the fact that nobody knows my two boys like I do, I still question myself when people list the pragmatics of “good parenting” vs. “bad parenting”.  For all these reasons, a concept from my course textbook: “Good Enough Parenting” (Ingram, 2012, p317), is worth examining closely here. It provides a useful and much-needed counterpoint.

“Good Enough Parenting suggests that parents need to be competent in necessary conditions, but they do not have to be perfect.  In fact, to be perfect would result in more harm than benefits” (Ingram, 2012, p317) .

Its about who you’re “being” & not “what you’re doing”

In order to expound upon the whole this notion of good parenting, my textbook states that“It is not so much what the parents do that will influence the character of the child’s self, but who the parents are” (Ingram, 2012, p317).  So how can we begin to examine “who we are being” with our children, and in what ways are we “falling short” of Toni Morrison’s ideal?  In an effort to examine our relational capacities, my textbook describes two extreme relational patterns.  In the “I-it relationship” (Ingram, 2012, p316), individuals fail to acknowledge the “personhood” of another. Instead people are possessions to own and control.  The fulfillment of your own ego-based needs is always THE priority over all other things.  My textbook provides a convenient example of this by citing a pivotal moment in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause”.  When James Dean tells his parents of the death of his friend “Plato”, his mom’s first response is: “how could you do this to me?” (Ingram, 2012, p316). In contrast to this, the “I-thou relationship” (Ingram, 2012, p316), requires a relational maturity that includes growth beyond narcissism.  An ability to acknowledge another person’s freedom and empathize with their perspective are requirements for this relationship.  What follows are a few quick rules-of-thumb pertaining the Good-Enough-Parenting standard:

*Can you appreciate the uniqueness of your child’s experiences, acknowledge their thoughts and empathize with their feelings? Can you love them as they are without trying to change or fix a single thing? (Ingram, 2012)

*Can you appreciate the fact that parenting young children does not involve reciprocation? A parent’s gift is instead found in what is invested.  The lasting impact this leaves upon our child’s soul, stands as a living testament of “who we have been”.

*Are you able to provide a child’s fluctuating needs for both autonomy and dependency? (Ingram, 2012).  This delicate balance of support and letting go requires that we pay attention to a child’s needs while setting aside any ego-based insecurities.

*Can you provide “optimal frustration” (Ingram, 2012, p316) so a child can develop a sense of self-efficacy and emotional regulatory ability? Children need opportunities to succeed and fail based on their own effort, with us as a foundation to fall back upon.

When reading through this description of “good enough parenting”, it is becomes clear that the particulars of day-to-day experience, play a relatively minor role.  Instead, an appreciation of what makes our children unique is critical.  Utilizing this knowledge as a guide, we need to examine what is required from us.  In other words, within each mother’s and child’s story is a unique set of concerns.  I’ve learned over the years, to focus on my child’s developmental needs and inward toward my current psychological tool set and connect the dots.  What are my concluding thoughts regarding others opinions?

To hell with what anyone else thinks!!  What follows are two parenting stories to illustrate this point since nobody else walks in these shoes. One of these stories is mine and the other is about my mom.

Congenital Heart Disease – Developmental Considerations….

My son was born with a congenital heart defect and has had five surgeries thus far.  While he is basically your typical well-adjusted teenage boy, he has been through quite a bit in his life.  However, his entrance into our lives was marked by drama.  At two months of age, he was diagnosed with a heart defect called “pulmonary atresia”, after going into “cardiogenic shock” at home.  What follows is a quote from a research article, that describes succinctly my reactions to this news:

Usually mothers do not grasp what they are told and they tend to react with denial and disbelief at the diagnosis. They may also experience high levels of distress and guilt feelings about their responsibility for the disease. These reactions may be aggravated in severe forms of CHD, in which mothers face the gloomy possibility that the infant may die or may not survive medical procedures” (Berant, et al, 2001, p. 210).

Not surprisingly, research consistently shows that parents of children with heart defects display higher degrees of stress and anxiety, (Gronning, et al, 2013). Associated with this anxiety and parental stress is a deterioration in overall well-being as well as higher rates of psychological problems and psychiatric diagnoses, (Gronning, et al, 2013).  It is also worth noting that parents of children with secure attachments display greater comfort with closeness and are more effective in soothing their infants. This attachment style is a key resource in parents with CHD (congenital heart defect) children, and is inversely correlated with psychological distress (Berant, et al, 2001). Interestingly, the main coping method used in such cases is a distancing strategy that helps to set aside painful thoughts of uncontrollable threats (Berant, et al, 2001). This strategy is useful since it allows parents to develop a positive appraisal of their daily experiences raising a CHD child (Berant, et al, 2001).

In a study I found, 29 individuals ranging in age from 26-56 years with congenital heart defects were interviewed (Horner, et al, 2000).   This article provided an interesting developmental life-summary and also showed that denial existed as a key coping strategy for CHD kids (Horner, et al, 2000).   This isn’t surprising given previously cited research that also highlights denial as a key coping strategy for securely attached parents (Berant, et al, 2001).  During early years, this denial strategy serves as a useful normalizing function, and coping tool for stressed parents.  Nonetheless, as individuals progress from adolescence into adulthood the utility of this coping strategy begins to run its course. Unresolved losses and uncertain feelings about a future are often dealt with quietly (Horner, et al, 2000).   Feelings of isolation and being ill prepared are found to be common complaints of CHD adult survivors (Horner, et al, 2000). What follows are bullet points which summarize key developmental considerations for CHD kids:

***CHD kids are unable to attend school on a regular basis and frequently excluded from many school activities due to health concerns.  This results in delays in a child’s ability to develop key social skills, especially for boys who cannot participate in sports (Horner, et al, 2000)
***Parents of CHD kids, encouraged them to focus on areas they could excel at (Horner, et al, 2000, p34). Avoiding sports, CHD kids tend to be more academically focused and report greater difficulties in the area of dating (Horner, et al, 2000)
***Overwhelmingly, study participants with especially severe heart defects were found to be grateful for having survived into adulthood (Horner, et al, 2000, p34).  In young adulthood, individuals with severe CHD’s often experience a deteriorating health and uncertain future  that healthy young adults cannot conceive of or understand.
***Denial [as a coping strategy] obscures serious emotional distress as indicated by high rates of undiagnosed and untreated mood and anxiety disorders found in our patients…..The appearance of being happy deniers often covered underlying fears of decline and premature death, as well as loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression. These feelings were particularly disabling if the individual was single, unemployed and isolated.” (Horner, et al, 2000, p37)

In light of all these developmental considerations, raising my son, has required me to address unique concerns that other healthy kids can’t understand.  All in all, I would have to say the emotionality around this parenting experience might be like getting the emotions of parents in response to raising healthy kids and multiplying these feelings by a power of ten.   Initially, news that your son has a defect and might not survive is devastating in ways I cannot describe.  Hearing that your kid probably will never develop to experience “A” or “B” is is truly heartbreaking.   In my case, memory of these experiences stands in stark contrast to what I’m witnessing.   Watching him grow and flourish is an experience that produces gratitude that I cannot describe.  The “over the moon feeling” of witnessing your child become that which was once conceived as impossible, produces a feeling of gratitude for life itself.  I cherish my two boys for this reason, and tell them every single day that I love them.  Check out this link written by a father:  “To My Daughter With Down’s Syndrome On Her Wedding Day”.  

Traversing the Cultural Gap in Parenting…

Now, before concluding this post, I’d like to share a brief snipped from a paper I wrote that touched upon my relationship with my own mother:  “The singular most beneficial lesson throughout this course is the realization of how culture exists as an unseen paradigmatic influence in our lives. Definitive of our worldview, it represents a learned perspective that consists of instilled values, beliefs, and norms. Beyond these obvious influences, are less visible factors such as identity, emotion, and metacognition. This paper will provide a sociocultural perspective of empathy.   Defined as an ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, empathy is a culturally relevant concept. Traditional perspectives of empathy are self-limiting, based on a perspective that is empirical and individualistic in orientation. In contrast, culturally inclusive empathy, (Pederson, et al, 2008), is a dynamic perspective that requires a merging of diverging viewpoints whereby we hold our own while acknowledging someone else’s and then bridge the gap through effective communication.  In fact, this insight has been personally valuable in bridging a cultural gap between my mother and I, as described in the following quote:”

“To the Filipino, actions always speak louder than words, so instead of conveying love and fondness with words, parents will endure extended periods of separation and/or hold down two jobs so that they can send their children to the best schools, pay for lessons and activities, and provide material support and other opportunities. This is the way they express their affection, and children are expected to recognize and value it. If they do not express or show appreciation, parents might perceive them as lacking utang na loob –serious infraction of social mores.” (Fortune, 2012, p12).

“This quote manages to summarize a huge misunderstanding that existed between my mother and I throughout much of my childhood. As an American child, I failed to understand my Filipino mother’s expressions of love through action, (Fortune, 2012). Preferring to hear and witness outwardly visible affective indicators of her love, it was instead an unseen dedication to her duty as my mother. As I only am able to contextualize now, it seems the underlying the cultural gap between us, was the byproduct of a failure to acknowledge key differences among us. At the core of these differences were varied views of what it means to be a person in the world, and what perspective we are to take it in from.”

References

Berant, E., Mikulincer, M., & Victor, F. (2001). The association of mothers’ attachment style and their psychological reactions to the diagnosis of infant’s congenital heart disease. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20(2), 208-232.
Fortune, B. V. (2012). Acculturation, intergenerational conflict, distress and stress in Filipino-American families. (Order No. 3535626, Regent University). and Theses. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1283231958?accountid=28125. (1283231958).
Grønning Dale, M.,T., Solberg, Ø., Holmstrøm, H., Landolt, M. A., Eskedal, L. T., & Vollrath I. E. (2013). Well-being in mothers of children with congenital heart defects: A 3-year follow-up. Quality of Life Research, 22(8), 2063-72.
Horner, T., Liberthson, R., & Jellinek, M. S. (2000). Psychosocial profile of adults with complexcongenital heart disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 75(1), 31-6.
Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN: 978-1-118-03822-2
Pedersen, P. B., Crethar, H. C., & Carlson, J. (2008). Inclusive cultural empathy: Making relationships central in counseling and psychotherapy . American Psychological Association.

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My Shameful Parenting Story….

For anyone who wants to know what shame-based parenting looks like, this picture from my old journal would do splendidly.  In this “I’m Fucked up & I’m Fucking up My Kids” journal entry, I review experiences with the mother of my son’s best friend from kindergarten through sixth grade.  Over the course of time, as our boys grew close, we developed a friendship as well. However, our sons’ friendship took a slow turn in another direction around fourth grade.  Her son was a very sensitive, sweet and creative child. My son had a rebellious streak, and liked “marching to the beat of his own drum”.  Early experiences as a critically sick child, had left a lasting impact on his trajectory of physical and emotional development (more on this later).   As cliques developed and rules of acceptable “in-group / out-group” behavior solidified, our boys stood out terribly. It was at this point that the bullying began.  Rather than banning together, the relationship between our son’s became strained as they responded in highly divergent ways.  At the core of their responses was a desire to understand the negative message they received from peers.   My son’s rebellious streak and emotional immaturity caused him to react to this bullying by making behavioral statements that communicated to others: “I don’t care what you think”.  In contrast, my son’s best friend was much like me.  He was hurt terribly by the bullying, blamed my son the fact that they didn’t fit in and wanted nothing more than to be popular.  As I reflect on it now, when digging deep beneath these divergent responses,  you have kids who were both hurting.  They just responded in equally maladaptive ways.  My son managed to ostracize himself from others, while her son followed a trajectory similar to mine at that age.

The Turning Point…

imageIn retrospect, things changed so gradually for our boys socially that I can’t point out a turning point.  Prior to the bullying and ostracism, all classmates played together, and nobody was really excluded.  Gradually, fewer and fewer neighborhood friends came over.  By the time my son hit fifth grade, he only had his oldest best friend to play with.  The comments became very vicious as one bully would throw homophobic insults their way.  The bus rides home then became stages of physical torment.  My son would come home crying saying somebody hit him or was calling him names.  I found these experiences triggery in a way that words can’t describe.  As a bullied child, I couldn’t help but wonder if “it was my fault”.  Was I failing as a parent, due to my own ineptness at knowing how to make friends?  After all, I was that girl with cooties, and nobody would play with me either. Was this a genetic predisposition for dorkiness, or had I taught it to him?  Fortunately, I had a therapist to help me work through all this.

“I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend Anymore…”

By the time they were in sixth grade, the relationship between my son and his best friend was quite strained and tumultuous. Due to divergent coping methods they really rubbed each other the wrong way.  One critical incident still sticks in my mind, as evidence their friendship was near its end.  I feared for my son who described his worry about losing the only friend he had left.  He relayed stories to me after school about how his friend would say “I don’t want to be your friend anymore”.  He complained his best friend was more concerned about popularity.  I contemplated moving him to another school, and had entered him in counseling at this time, to determine our best course of action. On one day, as I was picking up him up from school, I learned about an altercation in school between them.  I asked them what happened, and my son refused to say anything, putting forth his best “tough guy” front.  His friend said he wasn’t wanting to be Josiah’s friend anymore because he wanted to be popular. This triggery statement reminded me of a time long ago, and in many respects I was looking at a younger version of my own self.   Wanting desperately to be accepted and belong, I simply wanted others to like me and make friends.  I tried my best to understand what that involved and couldn’t see beyond it.  The end goal became more empowering than considerations of how to meet it.  Underlying this steely focus was a wealth of insecurity, and unresolved pain.

And Here Comes The “Shameful Parent”…

714883I struggled after this encounter.  More than ever, I felt it was essential that we begin discussing our son’s crumbling friendship.  Hoping to salvage his last childhood friendship, I saw a situation in which two kids who were struggling with similar issues, but responding to them differently.  However, I was very perplexed around this time, by a series of mixed messages and passive-aggressive actions from his mother.  I sat down with my therapist and asked her what she thought about the situation. I even attempted to outline an appropriate plan of action, in which I could begin discussing key issues (See pics).

imageAs you might guess, things didn’t go exactly as I had hoped.  I had been troubled by our own crumbling friendship for some time.  As a bullied child, my last good friend was in sixth grade.  Throughout the remainder of my childhood I was very lonely.  Today, these early experiences have left me a missing piece in the puzzle of childhood development.  I never learned how to make friends.  From this mindset, I found my own perspective reflecting her son’s, I desperately sought acceptance.  I wanted someone to be my friend.

Instead, our discussion revealed something else.  Her own skewed perception of matters revealed an incomplete understanding, that left out critical components of the puzzle.  Not fully understanding the depth of my son’s ostracism or pain, she insisted he had plenty of friends to play with and was dismissive of my concerns.   Failing to understand the nature of the close relationship with my son and his unique needs  (due to early shared traumas), she felt I allowed him to walk over me.  She picked apart specific aspects of my parenting, no home cooked meals, stay up to late, too many electronics in the house.  All things that can bring about that endless cycle of shame.  Her burgeoning anger, seemed to underlie a desire that I change in the ways she felt was needed to fix the situation as she understood it.  The nail on the head moment, came in dramatic scene, in which she only acknowledged my son’s problems, but failed to address her own son’s issues.  My son was deserving what was happening, I am overreacting & I was to blame.   The mother in me felt a well of anger building.  A pang of old hurt soon followed, as I recall being a child much like her son.  I had issues, I needed someone there, but somehow nobody was “willing” to see this.

The Dramatic Scene…

My memory of this incident is a blur, but was nonetheless quite traumatic for me in ways I can’t describe.  Mind you, I’m a bullied child, raising a bullied child.  This was a shame-inducing minefield, in which I blamed myself.  No parent wants their children to suffer the worst of their own childhood experiences.   As I attempted to discuss my concerns (as I delineated in a journal with my own therapist), her own emotions escalated.  At some point, hoping to put an end to the conversation, she sat up suddenly from her chair and pointed at me as I was getting ready to leave:

“You’re Fucked Up and You’re Fucking Up Your Kids!!!”

imageMy head grew hot, my hands were shaking as the full onslaught of her words hit me like knives.  I walked up to her, threw pop in her face, and stormed out the door.  As I drove away, she sent me this sickening message: “I’m sorry, I should have given a hug instead”.  I drove directly to our school district’s administrative office, and requested an immediate transfer.  I shuddered at the possibility of my son having to experience what it is like to have nobody to play with.

One good thing about leaving an “unhealthy” relationship is you know how to effectively cut out the baggage of your life.  Whenever I find somebody who crosses a line like this, I cut off all contact immediately. I shared these experiences with my husband during his lunch hour, and my decision on the matter of our son.  I hoped he could see beyond my emotions, to understand the gravity of his situation. As a bullied child with no friends, much of his self-esteem lie in a delicate balance.  My husband was supportive of this plan, and our son moved to a new school..  Neither one of us has spoken to this family again.

Click Here To Read “PART TWO” – Good Enough Parenting”

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Shame, invalidation, & a little baggage

“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show and they had one thing in common: they all wanted validation” – Oprah 

So what exactly is invalidation, and why is it so important? Marsha Linehan, Phd., founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, defines invalidation as trivializing, punishing, judging, or ignoring a person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and identity (Linehan, 1997).  In order to understand the importance of this concept it helps to know how its definition in the field of psychology is unique.  A quick review of Merriam Webster’s online dictionary yields the following definition:

Invalid:  “being without foundation or force in fact, truth, or law…logically inconsequent.” (invalid, n.d.)

In laymen terms, when we call something valid, we are pointing out its logical and factually-based nature (invalid, n.d.).    In contrast, when used in the field of psychology, validation means acknowledging and accepting another someone’s thoughts and feelings.   It is a way of communicating to someone else that you understand them, it’s okay to feel the way they do, and you respect their viewpoint. While this may seem fairly straightforward, it is often easily overlooked.  Especially, for those who have never experienced it before.   In fact, attempting to explain this issue as a critical need in past relationships, has been a source of great frustration.  Before discussing this concept further, I’d like to delve into the nature of emotions a bit…

What Are Emotions?

Emotions are mental states, experienced as physical sensations in response to our perceptions.   These perceptions are byproducts of the brain’s ongoing mental efforts to interpret sensory information. It is through this ongoing effort that a mind-body connection is created.  Our body responds to the quality of our thoughts by producing symptoms that provide feedback on the nature of these thoughts.  In this respect, emotions are signals from the body that tell us how it is affected by our thought processes.   Beliefs and past experiences play an interesting role here, by instilling emotional schemas: internal templates for how we regulate and respond to emotional experiences.  For example, a parent’s emotional philosophy determines how they handle their child’s expression of feeling.  This in turn has a tremendous long-term impact on a child’s overall emotional intelligence.

“Some parents view the child’s experience and expression of emotions…as an event that must be avoided…[others see] these ‘unpleasant events’ as an opportunity for intimacy and support” (Gilbert, 2005, p185).

Consequences of Invalidation

Problematic emotional schemas develop as a result of chronic invalidation in childhood. A belief that one’s feelings are incomprehensible and flawed produce an array of negative responses to an initial feeling including shame, avoidance, and rumination. In his book Compassion, Gilbert (2005) describes an emotionally feral child in the following quote:

“Let us imagine the following: a child grows up and never experienced any validation of thoughts or feelings. He is an emotionally feral child, but lives within a community of other people who ignore validation. His parents have a radical behaviorist approach…adhering to the strictly behavioral position that emotions and cognitions are meaningless constructs” (Gilbert, 2005, page 199).

The long-term consequences of emotional invalidation like this are a pervasive distrust of your emotions, thoughts, and belief that you are inherently flawed. From within this preconceived vantage point, it is nearly impossible to develop any sense of personal agency or worth. The predefined lens through which you enter adulthood is shame and self-invalidation.  A quick preventative remedy to this is validation: experienced as an acceptance of one’s feelings that excludes attempts to change them.   This response allows you to openly share what you feel and facilitates emotional regulation.  When you communicate that someone’s emotions make sense in light of their own life situation, you respect the legitimacy of their perspective. On the basis of this shared understanding, emotions can be processed.

According to R.D. Laing, “When we invalidate or deny people’s experiences, or how they see things, we make mental invalids out of them.” (Steiner, 2003, pxxvi)

Self-invalidation – reliving others’ worst opinions of you…

The consequences of receiving very little validation in childhood are a pervasive distrust of your own emotions and belief that you are inherently flawed. From this vantage point, self-worth is an impossibility. Instead, life is viewed through a lens of self-invalidation and feelings of shame: “an intensely painful feeling that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of accepting and belonging” (Brown, 2006, p45).  It’s taken me a while to overcome this issue.  Until I acknowledged my own shame-based orientation, it ran my life like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m ashamed to admit that this tarnished self-image has haunted me well into adulthood.  It wasn’t until I entered counseling in my late thirties that I began to understand why I felt like a “walking sh*t magnet”. The seeds of my own destruction came as I decided to put too much stock in others opinions. With no sense if inherent value in my being, the only feelings of worth I experienced were based on the scraps of approval I garnered from others.  This measuring stick of self-worth became a conglomeration of any negative messages my childhood bullies beat into me.  I failed to measure up, and I had to pay.

As a bullied child I had few, if any, friends.  I was the girl with cooties that nobody wanted to sit next to. I struggled  to understand why I was unworthy.   Why did my sister have such an easy time making friends?  Was she really better?  Watching her enjoy the acceptance and belonging I desired, made my loneliness unbearable.  I spent middle school and high school alone, depressed, and suicidal.  I walked thru life with a deep well of pain and anger.  At times, it was almost enough to make me go postal…That is, until I came to understand that the only acceptable person to take these feelings out on was myself.  I consider myself very lucky to have survived this.

My family, in the meantime, was blissfully ignorant of my struggles and unknowingly contributed to matters. As an INFP, Myers Briggs type, I was always very sensitive and lived in my own rich and imaginative inner world.  My parents had a hard time understanding me.  As college professors, they lead with their intellect.  The Jungian thinking function defined our home and objective pragmatism was preferred over the chaotic nonsense brought about by emotions.

You see, as fate would have it, my ESTJ mother also grew up in the Philippines.   The cultural, temperamental, and generational gaps produced by this, left an ongoing miscommunication that took a while to resolve itself.   We couldn’t effectively express what needed to be said or hear what the other was telling us.  My father, the INTP, was immersed in his latest intellectual pursuit.   Preferring to let my mother be the “bad guy”, he adopted a laid back and hands-off approach.  Aware of his inability to handle my problems, I kept them to myself.   I hated to cause distress.

looking beyond self-invalidation

When I reflect on these memories as a mother, I have an appreciation for the my parents’  humanity.  You see, children do not come with instruction manuals and we are left to make things up as we go along.  Your imperfections and shortcomings end up spilling into all efforts to raise your kids.  There’s definitely a grain of truth to the notion that we give to others on the basis of who we are.

Through the eyes of 20/20  hindsight I have gained some perspective on these childhood experiences.  When I recall all the significant individuals throughout my life, multiple perspectives from which I am able to view myself, unfold.  Each is a window into others’ interpretations of “me” and  contains a unique set of divergent distortions….liked an “f’d up hall of mirrors…

I’ve since learned to recognize this self-invalidation as a tendency to hold myself up to a measuring stick of preconceived worth.  This self-judgment has been a sadomasochistic form of control. Underlying this judgmentality, is a desire transform myself into what I believe “good enough” means.

Turning things around…

As a self-help junkie, this information has been lurking in my mind for quite some time.  When I decided to start a blog, I ran across a few old journal pages on this subject matter.  My thinking at the time was: what am I doing now to invalidate myself and how can I stop? What follows is a expounded version of these journal pages with insights on how to stop invalidating yourself.

Step one – Pay attention to how often you judge yourself & the quality of your own self-talk

“Validation – finding the truth in what we think and feel – stands as the fulcrum between empathy…and compassion…Finding the ‘truth’ even if the truth is in a distorted thought….allows us to bear ‘witness’ to the fact that the other person’s suffering means something to us.” (Leahy, 2005)

All too often, I find myself running on mental auto-pilot.   I focus on the tasks of the day and all the responsibilities I am left to juggle. The first step to cutting this bad habit of shame-addiction was to pay attention to my own self-talk and the sorts of things I’d say to myself.  I decided to record videos of myself just before a nap like a mini-confessional/brain dump.  I thought it would be best to do so after a long night shift when the kids are at school and I would be alone to record my thoughts.  Any ability to edit my thoughts would also be worn down.

What I discovered was my self-talk is laden with negative messages from an array of sources that are largely untrue based on the current state of affairs in my life.  It appears my mind has chosen to fill itself with negative self-talk, set at auto rewind.

Step two: Seeking the grain of truth & your distortions of them.

thisone!!!

After several weeks, when the fog of exhaustion had dissipated, I decided to watch these videos.  I then asked myself the following questions:  (1) What sort of shame-based messages are contained in your self talk? (2) Are these judgments based on a desire to win or gain approval? (3) Where is the grain of truth and how are you distorting it?

After taking time to reflect upon these questions I came upon the realization that I had a real “hot-air [problem]” (Wiley, 2003, p507).  I allowed valuable self-knowledge to fall to the way-side as I made others’ opinions a priority.  In reality, my problem wasn’t what I saw about myself, but how I was choosing to view myself.  This perpetual stuck-ness was a byproduct of a new kind of rose-colored lenses with huge sh*t stains on them.  A parting question to chew over as you consider these thoughts: “who has the right to tell you who you are supposed to feel about yourself?”

Step three:  Create a new truth.

imageAs I stop and reflect upon the insights from this exercise, I find the experience to be reminiscent of the Hans Christian Andersen’s fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.   The truth of who I am, has been foresaken for a lifetime of shame-inducing messages based on complete bullsh*t.   What I love about this fable is it effectively showcases the notion of pluralistic ignorance.  Everybody assumes the group is correct in failing to recognize the king is naked.   Nobody wants to be the first to point this fact out and be the oddball out.  Therefore, everyone pretends not to notice.  As a result,  in the context of the social situation at hand, truth becomes bullsh*t and bullsh*t becomes truth.  As that boy who yells to the king: “put some f*cking clothes on you retard!”, this is a truly crazy-making experience.

A big lesson I learned learned the hard way, pertains to how one might begin wading through all this perceptual baggage:

You can change an opinion with the mind but facts exist independent of  what your thoughts are on the matter.

In other words, truths and facts must be sifted through and put into proper perspective.   Facts require radical acceptance, since to ignore them is willful ignorance.   The serenity prayer is very pertinent here.  In contrast, for an opinion to hold truth it must first be believed in.   They exist in the realm subjectivity and reflect the meanings we imbue our experiences with.  An opinion without basis in fact is bullsh*t.  What’s truly pathetic is I chose baseless opinions over undeniable fact as key reference point in the building of my self-esteem.  It’s like my husband recently noted: “if self-esteem is a ‘self’ issue why do we blame others for it?” My bullies have called me mean names but I believed them.  The same goes for a severely dysfunctional relationship in college.  He did what he did, but I stayed and put up with it.

Parting thoughts…. You can’t change a bad situation with the same mindset you used to get yourself in it.

References

Brown, B. (2006). Shame resilience theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame. Families in Society, 87(1), 43.48.
Gilbert, P. (2005).  Compassion: Comceptualzations, research, and use in psychotherapy. Routlege.
Invalid  (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Online. In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved August 7, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/citation.
Leahy, R. L. (2005). A social–cognitive model of validation. In P. Gilbert (Ed.), Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy, New York: Routledge, 195-217.
Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and psychotherapy. (pp. 353-392) American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10226-016
Steiner, C. (2003). Emotional literacy: Intelligence with a heart (illustratition ed.). US: Independent Publishers Group.
Wiley, N. (2003). The Self as Self‐Fulfilling Prophecy. Symbolic Interaction, 26(4), 501-513.

 

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