Recently, I saw an online article posted via Facebook that inspired me to post this blog for y’all.
It was about things to stop doing if you want a life of fulfilling sunrises, great sex, mind-bending career opportunities, oodles of financial security, etc. Or something like that.
Well, no, I didn’t like the blog. But I noticed it was re-posted by many people who – like me – are devoted to self-transformation, being more present, and practicing kindness in the world. And I started to wonder why the blog was resonating for folks.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad – there were a few good ideas in the blog. Most were familiar, but there were one or two good reminders about self-sabotaging behaviors and thinking patterns.
However, after reading the first 10 or so of the recommend 30 “stop doing this” items, I started to feel oogey. That’s energy-medicine lingo for, “Reading this is making me feel like a bag of poopy-diaper-garbage”.
In other words, reading the article made me feel in my body that sensation I’ve come to associate with the arising of old shame.
Because I try to notice the signals my body is giving me – even when my mind is occupied with, say, reading something – I was able to take this as an opportunity to trace the contours of some old shame that I’d obviously been storing in my body. I stopped reading the stop-doing-blog immediately, and got very still. I asked, “Where in my body am I feeling this shame?”. It was in the center of my chest, radiating downwards and outwards a bit. It made me feel slightly queasy – and a little bit “cold”, energetically speaking.
I observed this silently for several moments.
Then, I asked myself, “What does this particular sensation remind me of? When is the first time I can remember feeling a sensation like this?”.
I waited, and just let the memories arise, while focusing primarily on the feelings – making space for the shame that was still active in me because I hadn’t been able to cope with or process it healthily in those past-moments.
It wasn’t rocket science, really.
As I got still with these questions, I recognized that the tone of the blog – its none-too-gentle, “Stop doing this, it’s bad for you, and you should know better!” approach – activated within me warehoused feelings from the many times in my childhood and adolescence when, all open and vulnerable, I got shamed or blamed instead finding the support and kindness I needed.
Hence, the cold feeling. Hence, the old shame arising.
After I’d thoroughly allowed myself to feel and transmute the emotional charge of the shame associated with those events, I wondered why this particular blog was being reposted all over Facebook.
Why did it resonate with so many folks who I know strive to live consciously and in the present moment? Why would we promote this blog, and others like it?
And I began to speculate that, maybe, just maybe, we are so accustomed to shaming, blaming reprimands to do better, do different, do right, do more…maybe we don’t even notice the stress these kinds of admonishments cause in our bodies – or the old emotions that will try to hitch-hike a ride with their present-moment triggers.
According to Gabor Mate’s book, When The Body Says No (2003), moments of acute or chronic stress in our childhood and adolescence become deeply problematic in our development when “environmentally conditioned helplessness that permits neither of the normal responses of fight or flight…results in stress becoming repressed and therefore invisible (emphasis mine; 2003: 20).
The helplessness Mate is speaking about here – helplessness that arises when there is no possibility of fight or flight – is just like the helplessness of a child who can’t flee from a parent or authority-figure who shames them in order to alter their behavior, or – that old abuse-excuse – “build their character”.
He goes on to state, “Eventually, having unmet needs or having to meet the needs of others is no longer experienced as stressful. It feels normal” (emphasis mine; ibid).
Concurring with more recent work such as that of Brene Brown, Mate also points out that, “Shame is the deepest of the negative emotions, a feeling we will do almost anything to avoid” (2003: 12).
Is this why we don’t notice when a blogger, politician, or partner shames us?
Is it because our inability to deal with this highly stressful emotion in childhood has hard-wired us to such an extent that we repress shame before we even notice it arising in our bodies?
Let’s take these questions a step further:
If most of us are hard-wired to instantly repress shame, is this why marketers and businesses are able to mobilize shame discourse so effectively to sell us products and services that will supposedly make us better?
Products and services, not coincidentally, that will feed our starving child-self’s innocent need for approval, recognition, validation, love, warmth, guidance, etc.?
Indeed, as Brene Brown suggests in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), “When the shame winds are whipping all around me, it’s almost impossible to hold on to any perspective or to recall anything good about myself. I [go] right into the bad self-talk of God, I’m such an idiot. Why did I do that? ” (2010: 9).
Considering the implications of our shame-response deserves thoughtful reflection and treatment. I will certainly ponder it at greater length in the months ahead, but for now, I want to make you a promise. I am not going to tell you to stop doing anything. Pick your most destructive habit. I will not tell you to stop doing that thing, thinking that way, or being like that.
Because there’s a very good chance that, like me, “Stop doing x, y, and z!” is only an effective approach to putting you right back in your childhood shame. And I firmly believe we can take better care of each other than that.
Instead, I want to kick off this calendar year by inviting you to try some stuff. Consider some stuff. Cozy like. Everyone likes an invitation. It feels like…well, like being included. Which is also something our child-selves very much wanted to feel. Remember? Yeah. Me, too.
And I am making a commitment to you that I will consciously strive to encourage, inspire, and soothe you rather than blaming and shaming you. In fact, I want all of us to develop the tools to surrender these triggers, once and for all. Okay?
So here we go:
- I invite you to feel entitled to gentleness.
- I invite you to ask for help, and to determine what kind of help is right for you if you feel you need it.
- I invite you to ponder the idea that you are not alone. At length.
- I invite you to listen to your body. Our bodies are speaking to us all the time, with epic love.
- I invite you to consider that you are perfect – that you came into the world with an unbroken and unbreakable perfection inside you, and that nothing you do, say, or become can change this fundamental grace.
- I invite you to consider that the fear of feeling old pain and shame is more draining than finding your way through that old backlog of emotion.
- I invite you to be the expert-observer of your life, your thoughts, your feelings.
- I invite you to spend time with your younger self – in meditation, visualization, mantra-chanting, you name it – and be your own, sacred witness as you move through old pain.
- I invite you to consider the empty spaces in your life as places of fertile opportunity where you can create new relationships, knowledge, inspiration, projects, new…anything that meets you where you are.
- I invite you to prioritize long, languorous, hot baths; walks in nature; organic, fair-trade chocolate; and eating deliciously prepared, nutritious foods that warm you from the inside.
- I invite you to expand and evolve into absolute generosity of spirit.
- I invite you to fall tremendously in love with every single person in the world – before you ever meet them.
Please RSVP below if you’d like to accept any or all of these invitations. I’ll be here, and I’ll put the kettle on for your cuppa’ tea.
With all my love and warmth, Happy New Year!