September 2, 2016
A recent series of events punctured my happy bubble and for a few days I was tossed around in a turbulent sea of shame.
Come on, is shame even necessary? I’m a therapist – wouldn’t you think I’d have gotten past that dreary emotion??
I don’t know if it’s necessary. But my descent into it was real.
Spoiler alert: there is a happy ending! I’m no longer worried about drowning. In fact, I think the entire experience has been crucial in helping me see some fundamental truths.
The first event in a series of three was seeing the Bad Moms movie. Many of you may have seen it and either loved or hated it – I don’t suspect there’s a lot of in between. In spite of its over-the-top crass jokes I’m on the side of loved it. In part because it was the first event in the series that created a crack in what I’m now referring to as my pretend happy bubble.
The lead character, Amy, played by Mila Kunis, is engaging, gorgeous, outspoken and at times outrageous. She’s a woman who stands up for her kids and justice — what’s not to love?!
Here’s what did me in. I realized that she seemed nicer than me – less judgmental than I would be as she suffered contempt and bullying from a few peers. And she rallied more quickly from the injustices than I think I might have.
The second event was a disagreement with someone I love. Relationships can be hard because I choose not to wear my therapist hat with friends and/or family. So I’m just as apt as anybody to fall into whatever communication trap is at my disposal. And I often fall. It gets really real with friends and family.
The third event occurred when I experienced a moment of complete acceptance from another friend who knows me well and loves me anyway. In spite of my descent into babbling incoherence as I related my frustration and distorted perspective from the disagreement, this person looked at me with such softness, acceptance, and I thought I even detected some admiration — what??!! — that a few of my walls came tumbling down.
His loving acceptance gave me permission to soften my position toward myself.
It was the third event, his acceptance of me, that triggered a cascade of ahas around all of it.
Aha #1 from Bad Moms.
As I was wallowing in feeling disappointed in my inability to replicate Amy’s ‘niceness’, I realized that somehow the awful things that were happening to her didn’t actually penetrate her.
Ding, ding, ding – she’s a movie character!! That’s why she seemed nicer than me, and better able to rebound immediately into the perfect person she portrayed. She was written to be nicer than me!! So no matter how ‘nice’ I might actually be, I will never achieve the niceness levels of a movie character!
I can aspire to emulate her most appealing characteristics but the ‘perfect dimple in your cheeks loving kindness no matter what you do or say’ just isn’t in the cards; it isn’t humanly possible as a permanent state, at least for me.
I don’t want to let that kind of stuff just roll off my back like oil on Teflon. I want to let life in, which means deal with the feelings, all of them. So I guess I’ll have to scrape off the Teflon. If I want to be real.
Aha #2 from the disagreement.
Applying my new awareness that I’m not a movie character, I’m just a human, I realized that I had been feeling a profound sense of shame for my part in the disagreement. Once I allowed for the reality of my imperfection, things seemed to get very simple. The shame seemed to lose its sticky, heavy denseness and began to drift away with almost no effort on my part.
Disagreements happen. Sometimes we handle them with grace and elegance, and sometimes like one of the three stooges on crack. I’m familiar with both.
Aha #3 from acceptance.
In the end, it was the sense of bone deep acceptance from my friend that helped me get back to cleaning up my side of the street. If he had colluded with me by denying that I behaved like Curly (the most outrageous of the Three Stooges), or taken my side, I’d have stayed stuck in my broken record of ain’t he/she/it awful.
By asking me an astute question he encouraged me to explore and respond with an unfettered candor. He showed his faith in my ability to figure it out by choosing not to offer an opinion. He made it clear that he believed I was capable of answering an intelligent question for myself.
Bonus Aha #4.
I’m aware I am still, at times, wearing a Teflon coating that can keep me from being penetrated by life. (To give myself some credit, I think its thinner than it used to be!)
I recognize that I’ll need to keep from adding more Teflon layers while reducing, inch by inch, what still remains.
So where do I go from here? Now that I know I don’t want to be ‘movie character me’, or ‘who I’ve been told I should be me’, and definitely not the ‘this is who I think I should be me’.
I can remember:
- that my life isn’t a movie.
- that disagreements don’t mean the end of a relationship; I can handle a little buffering and bumping from the world without imploding.
- to work at gently scraping off the Teflon that I’ve spent a lifetime accumulating.
- to notice the gift of other real and loving humans who see the best in me even through the worst of me that I may at times present. In fact, I’m looking for more of them!
I meant it when I said I think I’ve uncovered some fundamental truths. The outcome has been a different understanding and relationship with shame. I see it as part and parcel of being human. There is a superabundance of articles and books talking about shame. I’ve decided to give it way less power. Since it seems to show up every time I notice that I’m imperfect, I don’t think I need to go to war with it. I can see it for what it is. A lie masquerading as truth.
I suspect that if we were all able to put shame in its place we’d have surprising surges of energy to devote to actually creating lives more to our liking than any movie script!