Empathy, the Antidote for Shame

Lina, single mother of three, is in the line up at the grocery store. She feels rushed to buy dinner and get home in time to prepare it. Sarah, her 3-year-old daughter, who she just picked up from a new daycare, is overtired and whiny. She starts grabbing chocolate bars, which are so conveniently placed in her view, and puts them into the cart. Lina, says “no” and places the bars back on the shelf. Sarah continues to reach and struggle to climb out of the cart. She starts crying at the top of her lungs. Lina turns beat red. She is clearly embarrassed about being stuck in the line with a screaming child.

A couple of customers seem to stare at her. She hears a woman’s voice behind her, “When kids are this overtired they belong in bed, not out shopping at the busiest time of the day.” Lina pretends not to have heard the comment. She feels shame for not being able to calm her daughter. In fact, she feels like a complete failure as a mother. She wants to just take her daughter and leave the store without buying the groceries, but that would be really embarrassing, she thinks, and what would they then eat for dinner? She takes deep breaths and continues moving forward in the line up.

When she reaches the cashier, the woman just smiles and gently says, “That’s a tricky age.. I still remember when my kids were that young…”. Lina smiles back relieved. “It’s not easy, is it?” says the cashier and pulls out a lolly pop. “May I give this to the princess…?”

Lina feels like a weight is lifting. She feels validated, seen and understood. Instead of being judged, she is acknowledged as doing her best. What she is experiencing is empathy.

In her research, Brené Brown has collected different definitions of how we experience empathy. Receiving empathy is “feeling emotional and physical warmth”, “feeling understood”, “feeling wrapped up in a blanket”, “feeling validated”, “feeling you are not alone because somebody else gets you” and “feeling somebody hears you or feels you”.

In her shame, Lina felt alone and unworthy as a mother. When the cashier extended empathy to her, the messages was, “You are not alone. We are alike and connected. I get your struggles. I am as human as you are.”

We feel completely alone when we are in shame. We might feel like we are the only one who experiences fertility struggles, or the only one who feels they are not a good parent, or the only one who feels not thin or attractive enough, or the only person who has an addiction, or the only one who was cheated on, or the only one who was physically, emotionally or sexually abused, or the only one who hasn’t found her/his perfect partner and so on.

There also is a difference between embarrassment and shame. We experience embarrassment in regards to a behaviour of ours. We feel embarrassed when we have perhaps said something we shouldn’t have said, or when we have done something that we view as a mistake, or when somebody points out something we are self-conscious of. Embarrassment is fleeting, and we know we are not the only one who has that experience.

I have been a coach for 14 years and have always scheduled my own appointments. It has happened throughout the years, that I have “dropped the ball” and double booked or thought I didn’t have an appointment when I did. Now, each of those incidents have caused me a fair amount of embarrassment. I had to claim responsibility, apologize and hope that the other person would still want to re-book. In most cases, the incident was forgiven. Because I deep down know and believe that I am, overall, a reliable and organized person, there was no shame attached to making these mistakes for me. However, they certainly were embarrassing.

Like all of us, I have also had moments of shame in my life, whether that was in regards to having an alcoholic family member, around my fertility struggles in my twenties, about weight gain at different points in my life, or in regards to marriage struggles or relationships ending. Most of these moments of shame had nothing to do with a specific behaviour of mine but all to do with feeling judged and feeling not good enough in some way.

We all know shame, even though some people have more shame to carry due to their personal history, but, as Brené Brown points out, “to have the capacity for shame is to be human”. Feeling shame is a common human experience, yet, shame—unlike guilt—does not serve us. Feeling guilty allows us to make amends for a behaviour and gives us a chance to become a better person. However, when somebody shames us, or when we shame ourselves, we are being defined by the worst mistakes we have ever made or the worst situations that ever happened to us. It feels like there is no way out of the shameful role we have played. The label sticks, whether that is “infertile”, “disappointment”, “unemployed”, “bad mother / father / wife / husband / daughter / son”,  “jealous girlfriend / boyfriend”, “financial failure”, “unwanted child”, “weak”, “angry”, “controlling”, “victim of abuse”…  A shame label always takes away our power to grow, to leave the past behind, and to show up differently.

According to Brené Brown, experiencing shame is “like being trapped in a deep and dark hole”, unable to see and feel that we can be a better version of who we are in a given moment in time. Shame means feeling disconnected and unworthy of “being a part of”. As humans, we are evolutionary hard wired for connection, and our fear of disconnection, of being excluded from our community, will always be present. We cannot get rid of shame or be completely shame resistant because we need the connection with others, but we can develop a certain shame resilience.

Shame resilience allows us to move through a shaming experiencing without twisting and shaping ourselves into sacrificing who we are. That means proudly being who we are “without performing, pleasing, perfecting or improving” (Brené Brown). Shame resilience happens when we move “from shame to empathy, from fear to courage, from blame to compassion, and from disconnection to connection” (Brené Brown).

Shame is a highly individualized experience. It is very personal. What is simply embarrassing for you, might bring up intense shame for somebody else due to their own history, and vise versa. When we are with another person who is experiencing shame, we have to be very careful not to project our own ideas of whether something is shaming or not onto them. Minimizing their experience does not help them, but rather increases the shame. When we minimize, the message we are articulating is, “you should not feel shame”. The other person ends up feeling ashamed that they are experiencing shame.

The only antidotes to shame are love, compassion and empathy. Shame hates being spoken. Shames grows and thrives through secrecy, silence and judgment. However, if we bring empathy to a situation which evokes shame, shame cannot survive.

Empathy, according to Theresa Wiseman, has four parts:

  1. We need to be able to take another person’s perspective and to see the world as the other person sees it.
  2. We need to be truly non-judgmental.
  3. We need to be able to understand what the other person is feeling.
  4. We need to be able to communicate our understanding of the other person’s feelings.

There is a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy says, “poor you. I feel for you. I am not having your experience, but I feel sorry for you.” Sympathy exacerbates shame. Empathy, on the other hand, is like saying, “I feel with you.” The two most powerful words to heal shame are an empathetic, “me too”.

You might wonder, how you can have empathy with somebody who has had an experience you have never had? We don’t need to have gone through the exact same situation to know what it feels like. Empathy is not about connecting to a specific experience, but about connecting to the emotions an experience elicits.

Having had the same experience that somebody else has had can sometimes even get in the way of empathy. We are individuals and our experiences are very different. Instead of assuming that the other person feels the way we felt in that situation, we can be curious about what the other person is going through and we can offer to be with them in that experience.

 

If you are curious about finding out more about working with embarrassment and shame, contact me for a free phone consultation. I offer sessions for individuals and couples.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

Experiencing Shame: Women vs Men

“Will you stop guilt tripping me?!” exclaims Peter. His wife Linda, sitting across from him, stops with surprise on her face. “I am not trying to make you feel guilty. I am just trying to get through to you. I want to see changes…” Her voice trails off. Peter has shut down. His body language indicates that what he is actually feeling right now is not guilt but shame.

Even though Peter feels that Linda is trying to control him by making him feel guilty, the emotion that is actually triggered for him is shame. Guilt and shame are related, yet they have different directions and are dissimilar emotions. We experience guilt when we feel that we have done something bad, we have made a mistake or not the strongest choice in a certain situation. We are able to apologize and let the other person know we will make a different choice next time. The focus is on the behaviour and we are separate from our behaviour. Shame is way more debilitating. It is the experience of being bad, of feeling that there is something profoundly or deeply wrong with who we are. Shame is directed at the person themselves. What is most devastating about this emotion is that we believe we deserve our shame. Shame corrodes the parts in us that believe that we can do better.

Shame is highly correlated with depression, rage, suicide, addictions, and eating disorders. Guilt, on the other hand, is inversely related to these experiences because the more we are able to separate ourselves from our actions, behaviours or choices, the less we are pulled into self-loathing or the feeling of worthlessness which leads to depression and addictions. We are able to see that we did something that was not in line with our values but we do not experience being fundamentally bad.

Most of us grew up with being shamed by our care-givers. As parents, we need to make clear distinctions between who our child is and what they did. A sentence like “You are a bad girl/bad boy” instead of “you are a good girl/boy but you didn’t make a good choice”, teaches us to feel ashamed. We carry this shame into our adult life and it gets triggered by similar situations and events.

In my last article, we explored the Inner Critic voice more and talked about how to cultivate an Inner Champion that helps us to not get caught up in shame and instead to feel good enough. The more shame we carry inside, the easier it is for our Inner Critic to make us feel flawed and lacking.

Brené Brown has researched how men and women experience shame differently and that there are gender specific shame issues. If we want to help our partner to not be activated into experiencing shame, we need to understand more about this emotion and how it affects us all.

Most of us, like Peter, are unaware that we are even experiencing shame. We will substitute the word shame with guilt. It is part of our culture that it is shaming in itself to admit to feeling shame. The assumption is if I am acknowledging shame, or like Brené Brown says “claiming shame”, it means I am somebody who should be ashamed. The same can apply to fear or anger. There is a stigma to feeling these emotions, so we are not even able to recognize them correctly. Anger can often cover up fear or shame.

Brené Brown points out that shame is the birthplace of perfectionism and anger. She says, “in my experience, men have two switches when it comes to shame: pissed off and shut down.” Peter in our example shuts down and has shut down many times before in his interactions with his wife. Linda is unaware of how she triggers shame for him and is unable to help him out of that experience of shame.

It starts with recognizing and acknowledging the emotion of shame. “If we don’t claim shame, it claims us” (Brené Brown). It corrodes all our relationships and we might give up on them because we can just not stand the feeling of not being good enough anymore. When we claim this emotion as what it really is, we can work with those younger parts in us which we have exiled because they were shamed by somebody in the past. Working through shame gives us the gift to live a life without playing small. It’s the opportunity to step into who we truly are, and to build the respectful loving relationships we really want.

According to Brené Brown’s research, shame is different for women and men. The women she interviewed told her that shame is “being rejected, not being able to do it all and most of all shame is people seeing you are struggling or failing”. Linda feels most ashamed when she feels she didn’t manage to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect daughter and perfect career woman. Peter can trigger her shame when he shares with their common friends or his mother that Linda had a fight with her own mother or yelled at their daughter. She feels deeply ashamed when what she says is “private” is revealed without her consent. These are the areas she feels vulnerable and exposed in and Peter has a hard time understanding that being exposed and seen as flawed triggers the experience of shame for his wife.

One woman in Brené Browns studies said, “You work hard to keep up appearance and shame is when the mask is being pulled off and the unlikable parts of you are seen. It feels unbearable to be seen.” Shame for women is often also being an outsider and not belonging. Not getting “a seat at the table with the pretty popular girls”.

The shame experience that comes up for a lot for women is when others see that we are not holding it all together. Life for women is often about making sure no one ever sees how hard you are working to hold it all together. Not only is it shaming to not be able to keep all the balls in the air, but it’s shaming when people see us struggle.

Shame is also connected to what we as women believe to be feminine qualities. According to Jim Mihalik’s Research from Boston College, that is “being thin, nice, modest, and using all our resources in the pursuit of looking better”. So there is shame attached to not having the perfect body or not looking perfect at all times. Being caught in our pajamas or not having the perfect slim and trim body that the media have brain washed us into believing we need to have. PSYCH-K® or the belief change technique from Shadow Energetics can help reprogram our gender stereotypical subconscious beliefs.

For men, shame is “failure, at work, on the football field, in marriage, in bed, with money, with your family, with your children, it doesn’t matter.” Shame is being wrong as opposed to doing something wrong. Shame is a sense of being defective. Shame occurs when people think you are soft or afraid. Shame for men is connected to being perceived as weak. And shame is being criticized or being ridiculed. Peter feels when Linda criticizes him that he is defective and a failure as a husband, a father and as the provider of the family.

How can Linda and Peter get out of this dynamic of triggering each others shame and either of them shutting down, or getting angry in response?

As a first step, they both need to learn to become aware when shame is being triggered for either of them and have empathy for each other. Present day interactions bring up our conscious and subconscious childhood memories. With IFS (Internal Family Systems), Linda and Peter can rescue and unburden the inner children which have experienced shame in the past. As they heal these parts in themselves with self-compassion and empathy, shame loses its power over them. As they both work individually on their own childhood experiences related to shame, they are activated less and less into this emotion. They are able to communicate differently and problem solve better without this incapacitating emotion taking over.

Let me finish with another quote by Brené Brown:

“Show me a woman who can sit with a man in vulnerability

and really hold space for him,

I show you a woman who has really done her work.

If you show me a man who can be with a woman in struggle,

who is in pain, and he can just hear her and validate her,

without trying to fix it or make it better,

I show you a man who has done his work.”

 

If you are curious about finding out more about working with your parts in general or the emotion of shame specifically, contact me for a free phone consultation. I offer sessions for individuals and couples.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

 

 

What Would Your Inner Champion Say?

Listen to the blog article as an extended version on my podcast, or read it below!

In my article “Inner Critic – Friend or Foe?”, I gave you some ways of achieving separation from the Inner Critic voice we all have inside of us. In this article, I want to elaborate more and offer you a meditation to develop a loving inner voice.

Let’s first of all examine how we usually react to the Critic. Responses that don’t work very well are to ignore it, argue with it or try to banish it. We cannot get rid of a part of our psyche. Even if it goes underground for a bit, it will come back up again, and most likely with more power. In its own distorted way, our Inner Critic is actually trying to help us. Instead of battling with it, we can discover what it is trying to do for us and make a positive connection with it. We can begin to appreciate its efforts and as it begins to trust us, we can create a cooperative relationship with it and transform it into a valuable resource.

Some of the motivations the Inner Critic has are protecting us from judgment or rejection, trying to get approval for us, preventing damage, keeping us safe from attack or keeping us from acting like a parent who didn’t take care of us well.

Images by Jay Earley & Bonnie Weiss

 

Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss distinguish between 7 types of Inner Critics:

  1. The Perfectionist Inner Critic tries to get us to do everything perfectly. This can make it difficult to finish projects or to even get started on them.
  2. The Inner Controller tries to control impulsive behaviour such as overeating, drinking, or getting enraged.
  3. The Taskmaster teams up with our Inner Pusher and tries to get us to work hard by telling us that we are lazy, stupid or incompetent. It often battles with another part that procrastinates.
  4. The Underminer tries to undermine our self-confidence and self esteem so that we won’t take risks that might end in failure. It might prevent us from getting too big, powerful or visible in order to avoid rejection or attack.
  5. The Destroyer attacks our fundamental self-worth. It is deeply shaming and tells us we shouldn’t exist.
  6. The Guilt Tripper attacks us for specific actions we took or didn’t take. It makes us feel bad and is unforgiving. It might also make us feel guilty for what it considers to be unacceptable behaviours.
  7. The Molder tries to get us to fit a certain mold or act in a certain way that is based on the values of your family or society. It might tell us we need to be outgoing, caring, intellectual, polite, a sweet little girl or a tough guy.

All our Inner Critics are unique. You might have an Inner Critic that has characteristics of two of the described types or wants to be a called a different name.

A powerful antidote to the harsh and shaming Inner Critic voice is to develop an Inner Champion. The Champion does not try to argue or fight with the Critic, or try to get rid of it. It supports us in being ourselves and in feeling good about ourselves. The Inner Champion is the ideal supportive parent. It helps us to see the positive truth about ourselves. It nurtures and cares for us. The Inner Champion helps us by setting boundaries with the Inner Critic, nurturing, providing guidance and planning actions.

Images by Jay Earley & Bonnie Weiss

 

In response to the seven types of Critics, there are also seven types of Inner Champions:

  1. The Perfectionist

In the face of the Perfectionist Critic, the Inner Champion can support us by pointing out that most jobs just need to be done well enough, not to perfection. It has the wisdom to know that it is also important to go with the flow and let things evolve rather than trying to get everything perfect. It allows us to be a learner who doesn’t need to know everything from the start. It understands what a rough draft is. It reminds us that it’s human to make mistakes and that it’s okay when things are imperfect. It supports us to create balance in our life, to rest and enjoy life.

  1. The Inner Controller

In response to the Inner Controller Critic, our Inner Champion reminds us that our feelings and needs matter and to explore what is actually going on underneath the addictive behaviour. What are we distracting ourselves from and what is it that we really need? Like a yoga teacher, it supports us to be centred and in touch with our body so we can follow our body’s signals, which naturally brings more moderation. It supports our need for healthy pleasure and sensuality in life.

  1. The Taskmaster

When we have a strong Taskmaster Critic, our Inner Champion will help us to work efficiently and accomplish something but without expecting that we need to overwork. It recognizes that we are just perfect the way we are, independent of our accomplishments. It believe that we are Superman or Superwoman and that we can easily achieve what we set out to. It recognizes our strengths and special qualities and gives us self-confidence.

  1. The Underminer

The job of the Champion in the face of the Underminer critic is to discern when there is real danger and when there isn’t. It becomes our cheerleader to venture out and succeed. It understands that we have many more inner and outer resources than when we were a child. It recognizes that we can handle being large or visible. It holds a vision of us being smart, creative and able to make a mark on the world.

  1. The Destroyer

In answer to the Destroyer Critic, our Inner Champion affirms that we have the right to exist, to feel what we feel, to set limits, and to be powerful. The Inner Champion nurtures us, it loves us and cares for us. It has great compassion and wants us to feel good and whole. It holds us close and tells us how precious we are. Sometimes the Destroyer Inner Critic has turned anger or aggression inward. The Champion redirects that anger toward where it belongs. It reminds us that we have the right to be angry when others have hurt or neglected us.

  1. The Guilt Tripper

In the face of the Guilt Tripper Inner Critic, our Inner Champion supports us in feeling good about ourselves and our decisions or actions. It puts things into perspective and shines a light on your intentions and motivations. It reminds us that our intentions were good or that we acted from the knowledge and wisdom we had at a given time. It might remind us that we are a good person at heart and that our past behaviour is separate from who we are.

  1. The Molder

In response to the Molder Critic, the Champion helps us to see that the molder values are not the only way to live your life. It supports us in determining our own choices and ways of being. It reminds us that we are a good person even if we choose to live our life in a way that goes against our upbringing and culture. It supports us in being ourselves and living according to our values and our calling.

The above descriptions and images by Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss are only meant as an inspiration. The Inner Champion might emerge in whatever way is unique and helpful to you. Your Inner Champion is often modeled by supportive or inspiring people from your past or current life, or by well-known people from the present or from history that you don’t know personally but admire, or even by figures of literature, TV or movies.

Join me for a MEDITATION TO AWAKEN YOUR INNER CRITIC by clicking on the link below.

Join me on Sunday, August 12 for a workshop in Mississauga from 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. You will learn how to work with your Inner Critic and develop an Inner Champion. For more information or to register, please call me.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

Why Do I Feel Stuck?

Listen to the blog article as an extended version on my podcast, or read it below!

Helen got the opportunity to do a creative video project to market her business. She was excited. Yet, instead of starting to work on it, she cleaned up the entire house first. Then she started cooking a meal. Then she thought she should return some phone calls. She realized she was procrastinating. Does this sound familiar? She didn’t understand why, because a part of her really wanted to do this video and that part could see the benefits of it.

When she started going inside to explore, she found she had a protective voice, another part inside of her, that was trying to keep her from doing the project because it was afraid what would happen if she did. She called this protector the “Busy Housewife Part” because it kept her busy with other tasks. It had a fear that if it allowed her to do this project, she would end up being embarrassed.

When she explored this further, she discovered that there was yet another part which was a younger child part that was holding embarrassment and shame. As a child, she had a couple of experiences where she made herself visible and was ridiculed and embarrassed by the other kids and teacher. The busy part was protecting the “Embarrassed Child” part in her. Realistically, it wasn’t likely that Helen would embarrass herself and be laughed at for making the video, but our parts are stuck in the past. They interpret current life situations based on what happened in childhood and act accordingly.

 

from Self-Therapy workbook by Bonnie J. Weiss

Helen used Internal Family Systems Therapy or in short IFS to explore this issue of procrastination and to shift out of it. IFS works with parts or subpersonalities. They are called parts in this model because that’s the word we naturally use. We say for example, “There is a part of me that wants to lose weight but there is another part in me that really wants me to eat pizza and chocolate cake tonight.” Or we might say, “A part of me wants to find a new job that’s less boring but another part of me feels it’s better to stick to what is familiar and safe.” Or, “A part of me wants to commit to this relationship but another part of me is afraid I’ll get hurt”.

Illustration by Karen Donnelly

We all have many different parts. Some of the famous ones are the Inner Child, the Inner Critic, the Perfectionist, the Pleaser, the Pusher/Driver and the Controlling Part, but there are many more. Each part has its own perspective, its own feelings, even its own memories and especially its own goals and motivations for us.

In IFS, there are two main categories of parts: protectors and exiles.

Protectors

Our protectors have two roles. One is to handle the world, or rather to influence the way we handle the world, for example the way we interact with people. Their goal is to protect us from painful experiences. Protectors also directly try to keep us from feeling the sadness, grief, shame or pain that we are already carrying inside from past experiences.

Illustration by Karen Donnelly

Those protective parts are dedicated to safety and homeostasis. Unfortunately, protectors also attract what they are trying to avoid. If I, for example, have a fearful protector, or a mistrustful protector, or an angry protector which are trying to help me to avoid situations that could hurt me, their behaviour often is part of creating the anticipated hurtful situation. However, in order to give up their role and transform into a more beneficial role, they need to be honoured, respected, reassured, appreciated and understood. They need to learn to trust us when we are in Self, a concept I will elaborate on more below.

Managers

Mangers are proactive protectors. They try to keep us in control to prevent feelings of hurt or rejection. There motto is “never again”, based on a painful experience in the past which they are trying to avoid from happening again.

Examples for these proactive protectors are a Controlling Part, a Planner, an Analyzer, a Judgemental Part, a Pessimist, a Caretaker, a Pleaser, a Worrier, a Perfectionist, a Rational Mind, a Responsible Self or our Inner Pusher or Driver.

from Self-Therapy Workbook by Bonnie J. Weiss

 

Firefighters

Firefighters are responsive protectors. They instinctively react when our vulnerability is triggered. Just like real firefighters, they are focused on stopping the “fire” a.k.a. the problem or pain. They don’t care about consequences.

Examples for firefighters are an Angry Part, an Attacker, a Vengeful Part, but also parts that retreat, hide or stone-wall in response to what another person does or says. The third type of firefighters are distractive parts that convince us to engage in an addictive behaviour.

These firefighting parts often feel lonely, rejected, isolated and shamed because nobody likes them. Nobody in the world likes to see them come out, but also internally they are judged. The other parts don’t usually like the firefighters either.

Exiles

The second main category of parts are call “exiles” in IFS. Exiles are usually young wounded inner child parts that carry pain, occasionally from adulthood, but mostly from childhood. They might feel inadequate, ashamed, afraid, lonely, sad, scared and so on. Or they carry limiting beliefs, for example that they are not good enough or that people are dangerous and so on.

Helen’s exile, which she ended up calling the “Embarrassed Child”, felt ashamed. Helen wasn’t aware of this most of the time because her protectors kept her wounded child shut away or “in exile”, so that she didn’t have to feel the pain that it was carrying around, in this case, shame.

Illustration by Karen Donnelly

 

A third and really important concept in IFS is the concept of the Self.

The Self

The Self is your Aware Ego, your true self, it’s your spiritual centre, your essential self, your core self or your soul. It is who you really are when you are not taken over by your parts. If you are not overidentified with an exile or a protector in a given moment in time, then you are in Self. The Self is the healing entity you already hold inside. It is meant to be the wise leader of the inner system of parts. The Self is eternal, knows all and is not affected by any trauma. The Self energy connects us to all there is in the world. It is characterized by the 8 C’s of Self-Leadership: calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness. It manifests as being present, heart-open and consciously aware.

“A person who is leading with the Self is easy to identify. To rephrase a joke, you get the impression that ‘the lights are on and someone is home.’ Others describe such a person as open, confident, and accepting—as having presence. You feel immediately at ease in a Self-led person’s company, sensing that it is safe to relax and release your own Self.” (Richard C Schwartz, Internal Family Systems Model)

Richard Schwartz, the founder of IFS, who is one of the most authentic and unpretentious people I have ever met, points out that very few people are “constantly and fully Self-led” (Schwartz) and he modestly includes himself in that statement. We all carry to a varying degree burdens of feeling rejected, abandoned, humiliated, shamed or traumatized. Naturally we put on masks to protect these inner wounds.

IFS is a path towards moving into increased Self-leadership by degrees. The more we access our Self and heal our inner pain, the more we can relate differently to our own parts and also to the people in our life. When we understand and practice that we are more than our parts, that we are Self, our relationships become more harmonious, we are less reactive in crisis and less overwhelmed by emotional situations. We are able to let our protective masks come down and give others permission to do the same.

 

If you are curious about finding out more about working with your parts contact me for a free phone consultation.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 

Join me on Sunday, August 12 for a workshop in Mississauga from 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. You will learn how to work with your parts, especially the critical inner voices and transform them, how to parent your inner child parts and heal them, and how to acquire the ability to lead more and more from Self. For more information or to register, please call me.

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

 

Why Won’t You Apologize?

Listen to this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

Sue is at the stove making dinner. As she turns to tell her children to get ready, she sees six-year-old Adam ripping a Barbie doll’s head off while his four-year-old sister stares at him with fear in her eyes. Adam is watching his sister and seems to take pleasure in her response. Sue is shocked and disgusted. Before she is aware of how she feels and why she was triggered into those feelings, she says to Adam. “You are horrible! That was just mean and malicious! How can you do such an awful thing? Don’t you care about your sister’s feelings at all? You need to apologize to your sister right now!” Adam feels deeply ashamed. He hears that there is something inherently wrong with him.

Twenty years later, Adam and his girlfriend Sarah are having a fight. Her choir had their first performance and he forgot. He stayed late at the office to work overtime and went out for a drink with his colleagues afterwards. His seat in the theatre stayed empty. Sarah is upset. “How could you forget? Don’t you care about my life and my feelings at all? You are horrible!” Adam’s shame is triggered again. He doesn’t say anything. When his girlfriend says, “you should apologize, but clearly you don’t care!” Adam gets defensive. What he doesn’t do is take responsibility for his mistake and apologize.

Apologies are almost impossible when we are stuck in a place of shame. Being able to say, “I am sorry” requires a solid foundation of self-worth. We need to feel that we are fundamentally lovable even if our behaviour in a situation has caused somebody else pain. Adam has learned that he is fundamentally flawed. Criticism and the anger of a loved one trigger self-loathing in him. He feels like he is six years again, being told that he is horrible. Only when we have a solid basis of self-esteem can we take responsibility for a mistake and for the effects our words or actions had on another person.

Sarah is hurt and continues to be upset. Adam feels not good enough and, in an attempt to stop the uncomfortable confrontation, he says, “I am sorry” in an irritated voice. His apology comes with the meta message that Sarah’s feelings are silly and annoying. He adds, “You could have reminded me again yesterday that the performance was tonight” and essentially blames her. A little later in the conversation he says, “I am sorry but you are overreacting. It’s not as if you had a solo performance!” Because of the deep shame he feels, he is unable to validate her feelings and take responsibility for his absence with an authentic and heart-felt apology.

What constitutes an effective and honest apology?

  1. It is never too late to apologize. If we apologize within the first minutes after an event, the repair is easier. As Stan Tatkin points out, when we can repair very quickly, the experience does not pass from short term memory into long term memory. On the other hand, if the repair does not occur quickly, the behaviour is regarded by the injured party as a “trait” and will be encoded in their memory as such.

However, Adam can still apologize when he has calmed down and has taken a moment to put himself in Sarah’s shoes. Going back to the conversation at a later point means a double apology is required; a heart-felt “I am really sorry, I wasn’t at your choir performance as I had promised” followed by, “I am sorry I felt too ashamed to apologize properly right away.”

  1. Apologizing requires listening and understanding. The willingness to sit with Sarah’s disappointment and validate her feelings is required from Adam. “You must have been so disappointed”, “I understand why you felt like I didn’t care”, “I am sorry you felt abandoned” and so on.

  1. Apologizing means taking responsibility for one’s part in a situation. Adam needs to look into Sarah’s eyes and show her through his body language, his tone and his words, that he is sorry for forgetting. An authentic “I know I really screwed up!” or something similar shows that he is not trying to pass the blame.
  2. The word “but” negates an apology. A true apology only focuses on our behaviour, without making excuses. Harriet Lerner in her book “Why Won’t You Apologize” reminds us to keep “but” and “if” out of our apologies. “I am sorry if I offended you” is for example also a non-apology, as it questions the validity of the other person’s feelings.

Just as there is an art to apologizing, there is also an art to receiving an apology. In accepting the apology, there is also no place for a “but” or a lecture. Sarah needs to receive Adam’s heart-felt apology with grace and openness. She needs to simply thank him for apologizing and save any further discussion, for example about Adam having been forgetful lately, for another time.

As parents, grandparents, and educators, who want to raise children who are ready to say sorry, we have to keep in mind that saying less is more. If a child apologizes, we need to accept the apology with a simple thank you instead of following with a whole lecture. We need to give them credit for being mature and responsible enough to offer a true apology. Making statements about the child’s character instead of their behaviour and lecturing them only causes further shame instead of a positive experience. A true heartfelt apology is not just a gift to the person we are apologizing to but it is also a gift to ourselves as it raises our self-worth when we are able to take responsibility and act in integrity. Let’s remember to make apologizing an experience of personal growth and increased self-esteem for the next generation.

 

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!

Angelika

Relationship Coaching

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

How to Stop Telling Lies & How to Stop Inviting Lies

“That’s a nice top you are wearing. Is that new?” inquires my dad. “Oh, no! I’ve had that for weeks”, replies my mom. What she does not say is that the blouse has been hanging in her closet for three weeks and that it is the first time she is wearing it.

I have heard this and similar conversations unfold repeatedly while growing up. Once she got married at the age of 35, my mom was a homemaker; she did not have her own money anymore and she was married to a man who was thrifty. She liked to spend money, he liked to save it. At some point, she learned that his question often was loaded. He had a tendency to respond with “Did you really need another top? Your closet is full!” or he would at least give her “the look”. He literally would bite his lips together, fold his hands, look down and not say anything. It triggered her shame, and she made the choice not to lie directly but to conceal the full truth to avoid these unpleasant feelings.

In order to understand the nature of lying, we have to be aware that it exists on a continuum. At one end of the spectrum is the deliberate lie or the making up of information. Equivocations are also lies. They are more indirect, ambiguous or contradictory statements that do not offer the entire truth. Concealments are next on the continuum. Omitting important or relevant information is lying. And finally, exaggerations or understatements also don’t paint an accurate picture and are, therefore, not the whole truth.

Truth - Oscar Wilde 2

 

Let’s face it, everybody lies. Lies between spouses or relationship partners have on one hand the possibility to nurture, but they also of course have tremendous potential to destroy a relationship.

You might wonder if it is always bad to lie in a relationship. “Loving lies” actually help to solidify the bond and make the couple feel closer. An example would be to say, “That was a great dinner you made for me,” when we perhaps didn’t quite like the food, but we appreciate the effort. Or, “You look very good,” when our partner just got a bad haircut, because we are happy to look past any flaws in physical appearance, since we love them. A loving lie is not destructive, but actually strengthening.

As it is, people have different motivations for lying. Most people lie to avoid something. We might want to avoid conflict or tension in social interactions, or hurt feelings, or to stay out of trouble or conflict. Some lies are for personal gain: to get out of trouble or to enhance an image.

We lie to others, but we also lie to ourselves. There is an amount of self-deception going on in every relationship. For a relationship, it is important to know ourselves and to honestly and congruently express to our partner what we know about ourselves, our feelings and needs.

In their book, “Tell Me No Lies”, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson explore different stages of relationships and how to invite truths rather than lies.

 

Honeymoon Stage

At this point of the “game”, it is, according to Bader and Pearson, normal to focus on the similarities and not pay attention as much to our own wishes and desires. We can slip into lies of omission, exaggeration and understatement, in order to prove our compatibility to each other. Trying to be the same is an important step of aligning and minimizing the ways in which we are different. If I know my partner is neat or loves opera, I might not point out to them that without my cleaning help, I am quite messy, or that I prefer musicals to operas. I might think that I could try harder to be neat, or start to like the opera.

“The dark side of the honeymoon” occurs when couples refuse to acknowledge problems. Conflict avoidant people have the biggest issues. They avoid honest talks for fear of rupture of the relationship. They are seeking security over having their own needs met. Unfortunately, this means giving up parts of themselves that matter. When we always compromise and adapt, it catches up with us over time. We might end up being depressed, or silently angry and resentful.

shame-letters-cropped

“Part of the capacity to tell the truth comes from an ability to handle shame and guilt. Sometimes people keep things to themselves because they know what the truth would do to their partner. This is guilt. Others remain silent because of what they’re going to feel about themselves. This is shame.” (Bader & Pearson, Tell Me No Lies, 224)

 

Emerging Differences 

When couples evolve well, each partner begins to actively differentiate after the honeymoon period and speak up about things which are important to them and matter to them. They both risk moving into areas of disagreement and they learn how to deal with tension. It takes courage for both partners. Clearly, we need to be brave to tell the truth, and also to listen to our partner telling the truth.

 

The Lie Invitee

We don’t always like to hear the truth and might respond with anger towards our partner. It’s easy to villainize the liar, but has the person who is being lied to help create this dynamic? Bader and Pearson call the other person the “lie invitee”. Have I been a lie invitee in my relationships? You bet I have! When we respond with anger, or go into attack mode, or act like martyrs, we are not helping a conflict avoidant partner to be truthful.

angry-smoke

“Some people are completely unaware of the fact that they’re invoking lies, while others understand what they are doing but feel helpless to do otherwise. On the unconscious end, someone may say, ‘I am only expressing my feelings as a reaction to what my partner is telling me’… Someone more aware may think, I know I overreact to things I don’t want to hear or I know this is a leading question.” (Bader & Pearson, Tell Me No Lies, 37)

 

How to Hear the Truth and How to Respond

I can only guess what went on in my dad’s head each time my mom spent money, but I am quite sure it was something like this, “Here we go again! She just doesn’t appreciate that I am trying to keep our money together and guarantee our security for old age. She is just so impulsive and wasteful. Why did she need another piece of clothing? I wish I had a wife with the same values when it comes to money. A wife who is thrifty and asks my advice on spending money…”

Don’t make what your partner is telling you personal. It is not about you, but about them. Don’t listen with the goal to confirm a negative view about yourself or your partner. Instead, listen accurately. Listen more than halfway. Listen compassionately and patiently. Ask neutral questions to understand properly.

curious instead of furious)

Bader’s and Pearson’s most important advice is: Be curious instead of furious! You invite the truth by responding, for example, with, “I am glad you are telling me the truth about what happened! I’d rather know what happened than not know it. Now we need to discuss our different values / this situation / what to do about this problem…”

As the person who has to find the courage to be honest, it is helpful to tell your partner when expressing the truth that what you are about to say is not easy for you. Your partner can then be more aware of their response and make sure they listen calmly, say thank you for your honesty, and rationally solve the problem.

One of the biggest acts of self-deception in a relationship is the belief that one is the victim of what is going on but not a contributor. If you have been at the receiving end of lies or half-truths, examine how you might have contributed to this cycle. With that new clarity, you might want to go back to your partner and tell them, “This is what I have been doing that makes it hard for you to be honest with me. Let’s change it together. I would like to create an atmosphere that is conducive to telling the truth. You need the courage to speak up, and I need the courage to listen to what is really going on.”

 

Felony Lies

More extreme lies are what Bader and Pearson call “felony lies”, for example when a partner looks at the other claiming, “No, I am not having an affair! You are crazy for thinking I have an affair” or “No, I don’t have a gambling problem. That’s ridiculous,” when they have an affair or have gambled away the couple’s retirement money. With felony lies, relationships start to disintegrate. The trust is so violated and the honesty so absent that usually these couples end up separating or divorcing.

However, it is possible to heal from felony lies. It requires new honesty. The liar is usually in a big hurry to be done with the situation, and is not sensitive to creating space for their partner to ask a lot of questions, to re-establish what is actually true, and to express some of their feelings about what happened. The process of how people discuss a conversation is very crucial to whether they get over the betrayal or not. A lot of small moments daily over a long period of time are required to regain the trust, instead of trying to rush it and expecting the partner to be over it right away. The absolute foundation of a relationship is not love, it is trust. As Peter Pearson likes to say, “It takes teamwork to make your dream work.”

It takes teamwork

Would you like to make your dream work? You can take a workshop or book individual coaching sessions.

Contact

Belief Change and Relationship Coach Angelika,

905-286-9466,

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!