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. 🙂
Limbo. Fun, when it’s a game, not fun when it’s where you’re at in life. Most of us are working toward something the majority of our lives. We go to school so we can get a job, hopefully doing something we like. We work at our job so we can enjoy the present and save for the future. We get to retirement years so we can do all the things we didn’t do while we were busy working. We think we are only in limbo now and then when we’re waiting for something like a baby to arrive or the healing of an injury. I think, the time between our birth and our death is a limbo of sorts. We don’t really know anything about what’s ahead. I don’t mean to convey we shouldn’t be working toward goals. I do think it can be helpful in some instances to stop looking for what’s next, allow ourselves to be in the moment we are actually in, and not put too much emphasis on what lies ahead.
In Living in the Moment, I talked about making decisions with the information you have at the time. Here we are nearly six months later and Anna is wishing she had stayed in Phoenix. Her treatments stabilized her lung functions and she is hovering at 30% lung capacity. Not bad enough for a lung transplant, not good enough to have much energy, especially at 5200 feet in Colorado. She wishes she knew this is how things would be for her. If she did, she would have kept her apartment and only taken a medical leave. Instead she is sitting in Colorado waiting…waiting for her lungs to fail further so she can move to North Carolina and start the process for getting listed for new lungs.
The best we can do for ourselves when we have the view of the past from the present is give grace for the decision we made. Anna’s decision seemed the best at the time given the limited knowledge she had.
That was my theme of learning for 2018. As I look back over the year, that concept popped up repeatedly and in completely different arenas. I can’t say I was always successful at detaching from how things turned out, but I made progress.
Detaching from the outcome does not mean I emotionally detach from my life or shut down from feeling what I am experiencing. It does not mean I don’t care if what I do is any good. I do care about what I am doing and how well I am doing it. I put effort into my work. I just don’t stress out about the results.
This is a fine line to walk, being conscientious but not concerned. It’s easy to slip onto one side or the other, careless or anxious. When I am fully in the detached place, I feel freedom from the pressures of other’s expectations, even my own perfectionism (which is unattainable). In that freedom, I have more energy and creativity.
I am curious about two things. 1) As you look back over 2018, what themes of learning rise for you? 2) How are you doing with detaching from the outcome?
What to do about those unwanted thoughts or emotions? It’s crucial that you first understand what you are feeling or thinking. After naming it, find connections to help you understand why you are thinking or feeling what you are. Here’s an example: if you are feeling fear, what is the fear reacting to? Perhaps you just heard about impending layoffs at work and you’re not sure if you’re going to lose your job? It makes sense to feel fear when you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Now that you know what it is and why it’s there, you can work to change it. How will you benefit by continuing to feel the fear? Perhaps it will help you do your job well. Maybe it will help you update or start your resume, to begin thinking about the possibility of a job change for yourself. Think of channeling that fear energy into doing the things you can to prepare yourself, just in case.
Next, focus on the thoughts that led to fear. It’s likely something along the lines of, “and I’m going to lose my job.” What do you know is true and real beyond a shadow of doubt? Perhaps you received a memo from HR that announced upcoming layoffs. All you know is you received that memo. That’s it. You know nothing more so don’t add to the story: “Oh my gosh! I’m going to be laid off, I’m not going to be able to find another job and I’ll be living under a bridge.” You don’t know that won’t ever happen, but you also don’t know it will. You don’t have any data to support this. Have people lost jobs and ended up homeless? Yes. Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt it will happen to you? No.
When you put your thoughts through this test, it helps to minimize the emotion that is connected to the thought. Now you can free up some mental and physical space to work on your resume, just in case. It’s ok to prepare for the worst while acknowledging you don’t really know what will happen.
You will likely need to go through the process again and again of asking what is true and real about your thoughts on this very same issue. I like to say, “rinse and repeat” because our thoughts have a way of going back to square one. Just recognize what you are thinking and feeling, and repeat the process.
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.