Tag Archive for: shame

The gifts just keep coming. I have read every book by Brene Brown at least once and I’ve compiled pages and pages of handwritten notes, written down quotes, and had some of the most fascinating conversations thanks to her work. Her TED talks inspire me endlessly and often, when I go back and re-read parts of her books, I discover things I hadn’t noticed before.  She is definitely on the short list of women whose work impact my life every day, who have changed how I parent and learn and make my way through the world. (It’s a pretty awesome list, including the likes of Gloria Steinem and Maya Angelou).

My most recent revelation thanks to her latest book, Rising Strong, comes as a result of digging a little deeper into the layers of my life. In one part of the book she writes about people who identify themselves as ‘helpers,’ and notes that the trap of using that label to build yourself up is that it becomes hard to be the one who asks for help. I underlined that passage and made notes on a separate piece of paper because that message resonated so deeply with me. For most of my life, I found control and self-worth because I was able to help other people, lift them up and provide emotional and logistical support. Well, to be honest, I didn’t often provide emotional support until I was a lot older. “Fixing” things was a great way for me to feel as though I was being useful and helpful and it kept me from having to feel the pain of others, to truly empathize.

I was in my thirties before I learned about the concept of holding space for others. It took a lot of practice and a willingness to sit with discomfort for me to not immediately leap to problem-solving and balm-offering when I saw loved ones suffering. I am still practicing acknowledging and sitting with a stranger’s pain without rising to the challenge of making things better in some physical, tangible way. Dr. Brown is absolutely right when she says that tying my own self-worth to the fact that I’m a helper means that if I need help, my self-worth takes a big hit.

I will admit, however, to some amount of patting myself on the back when I absorbed that portion of the book. About ten years ago I slammed up against a wall of depression that stopped me in my tracks and if I was going to be able to move forward, literally continue to exist on the face of the planet, I had to start asking for help. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t easy, but I was lucky to have some pretty tremendous people in my life who were willing to support me. I swallowed my pride shame (I think they might be the same thing, or at least two sides of the same coin) and accepted childcare, meals, help around the house. I learned to get better at saying no to helping others in every single situation where I was asked to help and, over time, I began to warm to the idea that I was not an island. So when I read her words about letting yourself be vulnerable enough to ask for help and accept it, I nodded my head and congratulated myself on having learned to do that.

I should have known better. (Remember the pride/shame thing?)

The universe has a way of smacking me upside the head when I’m feeling a little too smug.

Literally one day after I scratched my notes on yellow lined paper, I was tested. I was feeling good, preparing to get away with Bubba for a long weekend of fun, and I got a phone call that rocked me, that threw me right back into the space I had spent so many years cultivating. I was needed. My problem-solving skills, my particular calm-in-a-crisis, my physical presence was requested, nee, necessary. I spent several hours on the phone working out logistics, asking other people for help and trying to design an airtight plan so that I could keep my plans with Bubba. And while this is my space, my forte, my wheelhouse, I couldn’t help but lose it once everything was in place and things were going to be okay.

What is this about? I wondered. I had averted disaster, well, helped to avert it. Well, asked for help to avert it. Wasn’t this what I was feeling good about yesterday? My ability to ask for help so that I don’t shoulder the burden alone? That’s the goal, right? I had done it. Why was I feeling so awful?

Most of my personal revelations come about when I walk the dog. This one was no exception. It hit me so hard I’m surprised I didn’t fall over. I am pretty sure I made some sort of whimpering noise when it hit me, but I did manage to stay on my feet and I don’t think the dog even noticed.

I have gotten good at asking for logistical help. That much is true.
What I haven’t yet learned how to do is to ask for or accept help holding my pain. I have no idea how to open up and let my pain out into the world so that I don’t have to keep it all myself. I am good at writing about it (distance, anyone?) and sharing my story, but if I am in the room with someone and I am really hurting, I don’t know how to accept empathy without feeling shame.

More work to do.

Time is my friend, and my children’s friend.   The other night when I came up to tell Lola goodnight I was in a hurry. Bubba had been traveling a lot lately and we had some catching up to do on our couch-snuggling, Breaking Bad routine.  He was waiting downstairs and I was hoping for a smooch on Lola’s forehead, a tug of the covers to snug her in and a quick exit. She asked me to give her a meditation. I whined.

Dude, it’s late. You should have thought of that before you goofed off for 15 minutes instead of brushing your teeth and getting your pajamas on.
I want to go down and hang out with Dad. He’s waiting. 
You know that if you want a meditation, you have to be in bed before 9….

Saturday night when I made the trek to Eve’s room to tell her goodnight she stuck out her tongue for me. She has been fighting a chest cold for nearly two weeks now, no fever but congestion and a wet cough that she swears doesn’t hurt. “It’s just annoying.”  She has been sidelined from her cross-country team and is anxious to feel better, so every night I plug in the humidifier and all day long I pump her full of homeopathic remedies and probiotics and hot tea.  But now something is going on with her tongue.

It’s thrush, I tell her.
An overgrowth of yeast. Your immune system is wiped out from this virus and it can’t compete with the yeast.

She panicked. Ran to her laptop while I set up the humidifier for the night and shooed the cat out of her bathroom and looked up thrush online. She immediately jumped to the part where it talks about spreading to your esophagus in some cases, requiring an endoscopy or x-ray to diagnose. Eve has health-anxiety that I suppose relates to how sick Bubba was when she was little – always in the hospital for something or other – and she nearly always jumps into the deep end of worst-case scenario when she doesn’t feel well.

“What if I have to go to the hospital? I don’t want a tube down my throat! I can’t miss a ton of school and this is horrible!”

I rolled my eyes.

Seriously? You will be fine. I’ll do some research tonight and figure out how to handle it. We’ll tackle it tomorrow. You’re not going to need an endoscopy. Good night.

In both instances I felt guilty within five minutes.
In both instances the issue was my own inability to distance myself from the discomfort of my children.

I felt Lola’s stress acutely that night when she asked for a meditation and it was hard for me to be with her and hold space for it right then.   I was feeling my own stress and, ironically, the meditation would have done wonders for both of us, but I reverted back to the “suck it up” school of parenting I know so well (it having been modeled by my own parents) and walked out.

Eve’s anxiety ratcheted up my own on Saturday. Not that I truly believed she was seriously ill, but to see my usually-confident and capable daughter so worried threw me off.  I used the sarcasm my father was so famous for to make her feel small and shut her up.

In both cases, the next morning brought clarity.

When Lola asks me to be present with her, to help her ground herself, the best thing I can do is reinforce that. Instead of shaming her for seeking help or telling her to do it alone, I need to embrace the opportunity to teach her that this is a powerful thing to do for herself. Never again will I dismiss her request for a meditation before bedtime.

When Eve reacts so powerfully to something I say, I need to acknowledge her feelings instead of making fun of them.  I ought to have said, “I know you’re worried right now and I understand that. Is there anything I can do to help ease your fears?”

I am so sorry that I treated my girls like this and I know I’ve done it many times before.  I can only hope that from now on, I take a moment to remember what that night of sleep brought to me in terms of understanding how to support my children when they are asking for help, even if it doesn’t seem like a convenient time for me.

Why is it so easy for me to talk someone else down from the ledge when they are feeling judged or shamed and so difficult to avoid internalizing those negative messages when they are aimed at me?

Why is it when we find the courage to open up about our insecurities and question our own motives publicly certain individuals see that as an invitation to skewer us with judgment and hatred?

How long will I have to work on my own resilience, reminding myself that nasty comments speak volumes about the person uttering them and not much truth about me?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post that exposed some of my own issues around guilt.  The folks who commented here on my blog were supportive and loving and read my words in the spirit in which they were written.  Then BlogHer decided to feature the post in their “Money” section and all hell broke loose.  With a couple of exceptions, most of the comments on the BlogHer site were supportive and insightful.  The theme of the comments on BlogHer’s Facebook link to my post, however, was decidedly more nasty.  It affected me physically.  My stomach twisted, my cheeks flushed, and my heart rate sped up.  My mind instantly went in two directions at once: 1. defend, and 2. what portion of what these people are saying about me is accurate?

I have learned enough in my 40 years on this planet to know that going through and rebutting each nasty comment line by line is useless.  While I could defend myself, chances were those people who reacted negatively would just read some nuance into what I wrote in defense that would lead them to attack on another front.  After an hour of sitting with the discomfort that these strangers’ words brought up for me, I decided that, for whatever reason, certain people (strangers, all)  had already made up their minds about who I am and weren’t likely to be swayed.  I will confess to writing a couple of responses (BlogHer likes its writers to engage with commenters, you know) in which I may have attempted to clarify a couple of points, and others where I thanked those who liked my post.

Yeah, I could have done some more editing before I posted that piece. I could probably have clarified a couple of things or said them in a different way. I could even go back and do that now – changing the original post on my site.  But even if I did, there would be someone out there who could potentially misconstrue.  Even if 99% of the readers agree on what my message was, there could possibly be someone out there who reads something entirely different between the lines.  There is no way to be all things to all people and if that is my goal, I’m going to make myself crazy trying to reach it.  So I have decided to leave it as an example of raw, honest writing that came from my gut,  knowing that it could still get backlash.

To be honest, I was shocked at the way I felt.  I have been blogging long enough to have gotten some unpleasant feedback on my writing, although not much of it attacking me personally.  Bubba reminded me that if I am going to put myself out there in my writing, I have to develop a thicker skin and know that what I see as far as comments comprise both ends of the spectrum and very little in the middle.  Those individuals who chose to comment did so because my message either resonated with them in a strongly positive way or because it really rubbed them the wrong way.  In both cases, their responses have much more to do with them and what is going on in their lives than they do with me and who I am.  The fact is, there are a few people who read and comment on my blog who truly know who I am as a person and the rest are there for other reasons entirely.

It was days before I stopped mining my past for other examples of bad behavior that might bolster the arguments of those who were angered by my post.  It took a long time for me to stop feeling defensive. It helped me to go to the Facebook links for some other featured BlogHer posts and recognize that other writers are getting this same treatment.  In one case, I even felt compelled to write a supportive comment of my own, letting the author know that the snarky comments came from a place of judgment and fear within the commenters that had nothing to do with her.  And when I was done, I pretended that I was that author and I read the message, part of which said, “…so long as you know who you are and you are true to yourself and your intentions, it doesn’t matter whether everyone else ‘gets it.’ And they won’t. Some will, but what really matters is that you feel good about you.”

And I do.

Elizabeth Aquino, a fellow blogger, lit a fire under my butt today with her blog post. You can read her post by clicking on her name, or I can give you the Cliff Notes version. Open-minded, open-hearted person that she is, she occasionally checks out blog posts from folks whose political leanings are vastly different from her own. In doing so recently, she came across one blogger who presented the notion that individuals who rely on social assistance for food, money, healthcare, etc. ought to be ashamed to do so as well as humble and thankful for the assistance. There was clearly some judgment about whether certain individuals deserve public assistance or if it is simply an enormous scam that a large portion of the population is taking advantage of.

Elizabeth had her own (very gracious) thoughts and ponderings on the subject and she asked for input from her readers. I started to comment and then realized this was going to be a looooong reply, so I had probably better put it on my blog instead. Here goes:
The notion of taxes was created in order to centralize a way to pay for things that we all, as citizens of a country or city or state, utilize to some degree. There have been many discussions about how to make this fair over the centuries, but ultimately, I think we can all agree that, even though we grumble about the amount of taxes we pay, we all enjoy some benefits from this system. I certainly sleep better at night knowing that if my smoke alarm goes off at 2AM, all I have to do is get my family out of the house and call 911. Ditto for the police officers in my neighborhood and the roads I use to get to school and work and the grocery store. I am grateful for the state employees that manage the public library and the DMV and the ones who maintain the sewer lines, among others. I don’t feel as though I need to apologize to them for using these services. Nor do I feel as though I ought to sneak around and pretend I don’t use them.
Sure, there are folks who use various services more often than I – the ones who drive everywhere all the time or sit at the library for hours on end job hunting or using the computers. I’m certain there are also those people who use them less often than I do, and I’m okay with that. Social services are the same as far as I am concerned. By the grace of God, may I never have to apply for food stamps or Medicaid. But if I do, it is a comfort knowing that they exist. And I don’t begrudge those folks who do use these services. I am certain that there are individuals who abuse these systems, but do I believe that everyone does? Nope. Do I think that just because there are some scammers playing the system, we should brand everyone using the system with the same iron? Nope.
I honestly believe that until we, as citizens, can shift our mindset away from our “individual freedoms” and toward a “collective consciousness,” we will remain separate from each other and some of the best solutions available. As Americans, this notion of individuality is centrally important to our identity but it only goes so far. And when it begins to damage our notion of what it means to be part of a team, acknowledging everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and working with them to create a better whole, rather than shaming individuals for things that are largely out of their control, we are all harmed.
I no more believe that it is shameful to access and utilize social services than to ride my Trek down the local paved bike path. Those things exist as a testament to what we can do together and for equal use by those who need it when they need it. So the next time you need a police officer or a firefighter, by all means, thank them, and then remember that these things, these lifesaving things, are a gift to us all from us all.

I don’t love one of my girls more than the other. But I do treat them differently. I wish it weren’t so, but I have to say that I am not sure it is unusual or wrong. Since the first day Eve opened the door a crack to let her personality out I saw myself. When she was two and we battled over naps or bedtime or dinnertime, the crumpling of her eyebrows, the concrete set of her intentions – that’s me. The absolute need to be Right and Win, my particular Kari cocktail running through her veins. Over the years I have worked to remind myself that these traits will serve her well in her life. They will allow her to stand her ground even when she is feeling shamed or alone in her convictions. In our daily interactions, they often lead to unpleasant stand-offs between the two of us and I am left desperately searching the recesses of my brain for ways to temper some of Eve’s most problematic qualities. As I see them.

Which leads me to the knowledge that what I consider to be her most difficult personality traits are the things I hate most about myself. I cringe in shame as I remember times when I rushed, face first into an argument with someone else, convinced I had The Answer and determined to prove the other person wrong only to discover that there were things I didn’t know. Possibilities I hadn’t considered. Or, worse yet, maybe I was “Right,” but in my quest to render that fact in indelible ink, I trampled someone else’s feelings or disregarded their self-worth. I see Eve wearing a path in that meadow, back and forth, more often than not between her bedroom and Lola’s.

Yesterday as I sat on the back porch with my book, soaking up the sunshine, Lola quietly made her way to my side and sat down, forearms crossed over her eyes in a familiar pose of misery. I put my book down and turned to her as she parted her elbows to give me a glimpse of wet, full eyes. She and Eve had fought in front of Eve’s friend and Lola, embarrassed, shoved her and stormed out of the room. Eve followed, some angry words were exchanged, and Eve slapped Lola on the arm. I don’t know how hard she hit her or what they said to each other and, frankly, as soon as I heard that Eve hit her little sister, I stopped listening. I knew I couldn’t punish her in front of her friend and I had the presence of mind to know that any consequence I came up with needed to not come from anger. And I was angry. Really angry.

The depth and breadth of my anger was out of proportion to the incident. I realized that. There was a heaviness in my lower gut that led all the way up to the set of my jaw. I was furious with Eve. Despite what went before, how could she hit her sister! Would I be this angry if she had hit someone else? Nah, that’s not even a question. She would never hit anyone else but her little sister. That realization made me even angrier. I sat on the deck steps, my arms around Lola as her tears dotted my shirt, and fumed.

An hour later, standing at the kitchen counter chopping zucchini for dinner, it hit me. I was angry with Eva because, as the oldest sister, she is supposed to protect Lola, not hurt her. Wait. That was my life. My childhood.A door opened. The thoughts came swirling out like smoke rising from a campfire – as a kid, my siblings and I stuck together so that none of us would get hurt. And even when we did get hurt, we didn’t go it alone. We had each other. We stuck up for each other and looked out for each other and took care of each other. It kills me to see my girls fight. The thoughts bumping up against the ceiling of that hatred for their arguments tell me that, someday, they will be all each other has. Their sibling bond is stronger than anything. Through breakups and fights with close friends and disappointments they are too embarrassed to share with anyone else, they will have each other and they need to protect that bond at all costs. And Eve, as the oldest sister, is charged with being the gatekeeper. The key holder.

Or is that me? When I see so many similarities between us, I wonder if I too often mistake her for a miniature me. Despite the fact that her childhood is not mine, her life is not mine, I think I may be, in some way, reliving my childhood vicariously through her. All of the times I mentally assaulted myself for not doing enough to protect my baby sister, Eve could fix by taking care of her sister better than I took care of mine. And here was the source, the wellspring of my anger. I was upset because I would never have done anything to hurt my little sister. I had given myself the job of protecting her and couldn’t imagine doing anything to make her life more difficult or challenging than it was already.

But Eve is not me. And her childhood is not mine. And I have no right to expect her to fix the mistakes I made in my life by doing them over better. There is some Bubba in this gorgeous girl, too, and I need to honor that. But more than anything, I need to honor the Eva in Eva and allow her the freedom to explore who she wants to be outside of the boundaries I might think of for her.