Do you remember a time when you did not prepare adequately for something that resulted in a negative experience and then you spiraled into a pool of shame? I do! I’m an Adjunct Professor for Dr. John Townsend’s Masters in Counseling graduate school at Concordia University in Irvine CA. Recently, I was teaching a live class and couldn’t get a video I wanted to show to work. I did not prepare, I just assumed I would have no problem.
After class I started beating myself up for not having taken the time to prepare the video for class. I went into an accurate yet harsh spiral that moved into an inaccurate and harsh spiral. I could feel all of this icky energy in my stomach and hearing the message, “You should not be a professor! You are not good enough for this task!” I felt the all too familiar pull toward a shame spiral over it.
Eventually I also employed skills to battle the spiral. I reminded myself that I was using a harsh voice. The truth is I wasn’t prepared and it took away from valuable class time. The harshness came from a meanness toward myself which then shifted to inaccurate shaming statements that I shouldn’t be teaching and that I’m not good enough. I made a mistake, yes, but that is not a definition of who I am.
I didn’t magically feel better after battling the shameful harsh judge inside of me, but I did stop the powerful avalanche of all the ways I fail from dislodging and suffocating me. The next day, I shared this experience with my husband and later a trusted group of women (we had scheduled this gathering weeks before-I’m so grateful for God’s perfect timing!). It felt good to speak it aloud and also hear their encouragement. We all need it!
This reminds me of the power of Dr. Townsend’s book, People Fuel. We need others to hear our hurts and help us activate our healthy coping skills. Our healing journey is just that, an ongoing journey. For me to ignore or dismiss the disappointment I felt would only set me up for further damage and deny my actual experience. That denial would lead to stuffing my authentic experience and pretending I was fine. This pretending leads to disconnection with others because I then project the “I’m perfect” facade and no one can relate to that. The disconnection with others leads to unhealthy behaviors like quitting things I love after making a mistake (I have a history of doing this!). Instead, I embrace my reality because it gives me an opportunity to choose community over isolation, healthy over unhealthy, and growth over stagnation. This embracing also reminds me that perfection is unachievable and never what God intended. 🙂
We have choices every day of how we will respond to each thought that soars through our mind. Those thoughts of ‘not enough’ or ‘too much’ are going to show up. It’s simply a reality for most of us. So what do you do about those pesky thoughts when they show up? Fight them! Send them away! If you give those thoughts very much air time in your head, you are setting yourself up for a dangerous ride that is very hard to get off once you get started. The key is, don’t get on the ride! Seriously. We think we can’t stop those thoughts, but we can. We have the power to say, “No!”
After saying no, stay away from the pendulum swing of telling yourself you are the best because that isn’t exactly true. You don’t want to combat the false negative with a false positive, over-inflating your ego. Be realistic. Here’s what it might sound like: “Uh oh! Here comes the thought that I’m not enough. I am enough. I may not be perfect, but honestly, no one is. People might seem perfect sometimes, but truth is, nobody is. My job is to focus on myself and be the best me I can be. So, what am I going to do now to shift away from this lie? I’m going for a five minute walk around the block to clear these thoughts. While I’m walking I’m going to remind myself that I do not need to be perfect and I am enough.”
Choose to be kind to yourself instead of making yourself get on that scary, beat-yourself-up ride!
Are there people in your life you wish knew what you were thinking so you didn’t have to tell them? You know, the annoying co-worker who talks incessantly while you are trying to get work done. You want him to be self-aware and know his behavior is not acceptable because you don’t want to have to be the one to tell him. Maybe you smile at him to his face and act interested in his monologue. He likely has no idea how you really feel or what you are thinking. You are sending a mixed message.
Being honest is so hard because it feels mean. So, instead of being honest we harbor resentments against people because we are afraid of their negative perception of us. We start to resent the person and this begins to eat at us. The resentment starts to fester and begins to leak out in passive-aggressive behavior: a nasty look, a yawn, not making eye contact. We don’t want to tell the person directly what is going on inside of us but somehow we accept these unkind acts to avoid being direct. This behavior doesn’t make sense.
The best action to take is to kindly tell the person what our experience is. With the annoying co-worker, tell him in a gentle tone that you need to get your work done and do not have time to listen to him. I cannot promise he won’t be hurt but he will likely stop talking and head back to his desk. He might not talk to you again, ever. He might send mixed or passive-aggressive messages to you. He might talk badly behind your back. Those are common responses that come from unhealthy places in him, not you. You did nothing hurtful or wrong by being honest.
We live in a culture that disagrees with my view. We live in a largely passive-aggressive, mixed-messages culture. I think we need to change this. Resentment does harm to our bodies and sucks out precious energy. Honesty brings freedom and you might just get your work done!
Do you ever wonder if you’re the only person who thinks and feels as you do? We often feel isolated in our experience, usually because we don’t want others to know what we’re really thinking and feeling. We are often too embarrassed by our experience to reveal it to others. And yet, here we all are doing the same thing and feeling alone. We feel odd so we don’t share with others who are also feeling odd. If we all shared honestly we wouldn’t feel so odd anymore.
Here’s a tip, every human who is capable of thinking has all kinds of thoughts and feelings, some that are acceptable and some that are not. We all have thoughts and feelings associated with anger, jealousy, fear, lust, sadness, inadequacy and joy. This is not an exhaustive list, just the first ones that come to mind. Lately, my thoughts and emotions have been connected to joy, anger, jealousy and inadequacy. I’ve experienced the others on the list as well, just not right now.
I think it’s our human nature that guides us not to share, we are hiders. If I tell you the truth about my experience you might judge me and I’d rather not experience the judgement so I’m going to hide my real thoughts and emotions to protect myself. But, as I stated in the very first paragraph, we’re all doing this and we know it. Or at least some of us are aware that everyone is doing it. Anyone who tells you they don’t ever feel anger, jealousy, fear, lust, sadness or inadequacy is lying either to you, to themselves, or both.
Some people work very hard to detach from the reality of their human experience, “I never think bad thoughts” they might say. It’s not true. They do, they just want you to see them as only good because the bad or seemingly unacceptable parts stir up unbearable shame; however, as I stated in my We Are Not All Bad blog, we have a mix of good and bad (helpful and hurtful, or acceptable and unacceptable) within us. I believe a large portion of our journey in life is to come to terms with the truth of who we are and what we are capable of both positive and negative.
Coming to terms with our complexity allows us to embrace and honor our reality. When we embrace and honor, we can work to process and understand our experience and be in charge rather than having unwanted thoughts and emotions in charge of us. How do we do this? Find out in the next blog.