Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Following a carrot...

I found an image on the NCS group on Facebook that struck home for me:

This is me, what I try to explain and explain and explain ... to no avail.  This is what makes life so very difficult for me.  This is what I grieve.

I have been studying the second chapter of Dr. BrenĂ© Brown's book on her research about shame.  Here is a bit that is a good example of how I will come across texts now that simply make no sense to me, where I cannot string together meaning in one sentence, much less several sentences grouped together, where I once would have breezed through such a text with great ease:

In a section of their book entitled "Does Shame Serve Any Adaptive Function?" Tangent and Dearing explain how earlier conceptualizations of shame may not take into consideration the current way people self-evaluate and relate to one another.  They write, "With increasingly complex perspective-taking and attributional abilities, modern humans have the capacity to distinguish and to empathize with others' distress.  Whereas early moral goals centered on reducing potentially lethal aggression, clarifying social rank, and enhancing conformity to social norms, modern morality centers on the ability to acknowledge one's wrongdoing, accept responsibility, and take reparative action. In this sense, guilt may be the moral emotion of the new millennium."  (I Thought It Was Just Me [But It Wasn't], p. 93).

I read that many, many times to no cognitive avail.

On to things which I do understand from the second chapter:  Empathy, courage, compassion, sympathy-seeking, and several examples of what not to say when one is in shame.  The bit I liked best, because it was me writ out on the page, was one of the five interview excerpts given in the section about working to understand the experiences of others to hone the skill of empathy-giving:

Experience:  When I think of shame I think of being sexually abused when I was growing up.  I think about what that's done to my life and how it's changed everything.  It's not just the abuse itself.  It's everything you have to deal with the rest of your life.  It's like you feel different from anyone else; nothing is ever normal for you.  Everything is about that.  I'm not allowed to just have a regular life.  That is the thing that make me who I am and so everything is stained by that.  That's what shame is for me.

Emotions:  Feeling labeled, dismissed, misunderstood and reduced.  Emotions might include grief, loss, frustration and anger.

Dig Deep:  Have you ever been defined by an experience?  Found yourself unable to get out from under a reputation or "an incident"?  Have you ever been unfairly labeled?  Have you ever had people attribute your behaviors to an identity you don't deserve? Have you ever fought to overcome something, only to find others less than willing to move past it? (p. 60)

I think, for me, what has been less bearable for me is the repeated attribution to a history of sexual abuse the Dysautonomia symptoms I have.  When I go to see new doctors, because that label is in my records, I am almost always greeted by:  "I see you are a sexual abuse victim."  BAM.  That's the sound of the door to hope slamming shut.  It's the sound of the doctor shutting the door to any physical ailments you might have having attributive them all to your label, the stress of it.  Reading this was a balm to my soul.


One of the things that surprised me in the chapter, but also made perfect sense to me, was the story of a man named Ron.  He hit his wife and was ordered by the court to attend therapy sessions.  He resisted being placed in a group of batterers, but was willing and interested in joining a group of men who had trouble controlling their anger.  Translate that:  Ron refused to accept the label batterer.  He was not a wife abuser; he was someone whose anger made him do the unthinkable.

Dr. Lerner, the social worker presenting Ron's case,  concluded in her book, The Dance of Connection:  "We cannot survive when our identity is defined by or limited to our worst behavior.  Every human must be able to view the self as complex and inter dimensional.  When this fact is obscured, people will wrap themselves in layers of denial in order to survive.  How can we apologize for something we are rather than something we did?" (p. 66)

Having been labeled, often, in the medical world and in the church, in school, at work, I have railed against and yet been felled by the identity laid upon me.  Ron's stance gave me food for thought, because I know, were it something I read online, the commenters would be lined up from here to China lambasting his desire to be in an anger management group rather than a batterers group.  But there is, actually, a difference between someone who hit his wife and someone who beats his wife.  That distinction matters.  Our world, however, likes to tar and feather first and not ask questions later.

It is this ... conundrum ... not wanting to be defined by a label, have my very being rather unfairly and wrongly weighed and measured against that label and yet wanting to be understood that my experience colors my life, informs it.

I also liked what Dr. Brown wrote about her research:

Stories require voices to speak them and ears to hear them.  Stories only foster connection when there is both someone to speak and someone to listen.  In sharing my work on women and shame, I hope to accomplish two things: give voice to the voiceless and give ears to the earless.  My first goal is to share the complex and important stories that women often keep to themselves because of shame.  I want to share these voices because their stories are our stories.  They deserve to be told.  My second goal is to relay the stories in a way that allows us to hear them.  Often, the problem isn't with the voices, but rather with our ears.  The voices are frequently there—singing, screaming, yearning to be heard—but we don't hear them because fear and blame muffle the sounds. (p. 42)

And I appreciated what she writes about courage.  I think I shared this before, but back in the introduction, Dr. Brown first addresses the etymology of the word courage:

Courage is a heart word.  The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart.  In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart."  Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds.  But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad.  Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as "ordinary courage." (p. xxiv)

Etymology comes up again in Chapter Two:

In her article on ordinary courage in girls' and women's lives, Annie Rogers writes, " One way to understand the etymology of courage is to consider its history as a series of losses.  Over the course of five centuries, from 1051 to 140, courage was cut off from its sources in time, in the heart, and in feelings.  In other words, courage was slowly disassociated from what traditional Western culture considers feminine qualities, and came to mean 'that quality of mind that shows itself in facing dance without fear or shrinking,' a definition associated with the bravery and heroism of boys and men.  The patter of losses in the history of the word courage seems to reflect an increasing invisibility of girls' and women's courage in Western culture."

Without courage, we cannot tell our stories.  When we don't tell our stories, we miss the opportunity to experience empathy and move toward shame resilience. (pp. 43-44)

The thing I learned recently, though, about this is that Facebook, at least for me, is not the place to either practice courage or seek empathy.  I have so much that I wish were not secret, wish were not just with me.  So, on Saturday, when a cashier at Walgreen's, when seeing my purchase of three gallons of milk, asked me, "How many children do you have?"  I posted how much that hurt.  I posted that were life different Avery would be turning five-years-old soon.  I know miscarriage is pretty much a taboo topic.  However, it seems as if miscarriage from a rape is a forbidden topic.

I told my family about the baby, the baby my friend Becky helped me name Avery in addressing my grief (and guilt) over the loss.  But it is a baby that basically never existed.  Since revealing my loss, I have still heard comments about not understanding because I am not a parent or about abortion or someone else's miscarriage ... but not mine.

It is something that, even shared with a pastor, is a silent topic.  Silence breeds shame.  As if the life that briefly existed shouldn't have.  And I shouldn't try to make others acknowledge it.  Granted, certainly not all think that way, but it feels that way and that is the message that come across.  Don't talk about rape.  And, if you make the mistake of doing so, never talk about a baby conceived from a rape.


I've tried to be braver here, of late, to be more honest, to have less secrets.  I am in awe of discovering a book about shame, a research book nonetheless, after longing to understand my own shame, to be free of it.  I very much long to start building shame resilience, but I am wondering how that can really happen being a person without much connection and no place, really, to be courageous and vulnerable, no place to receive empathy to drown my shame.

I guess one way to put it is that I felt a bit like a horse following a carrot dangling on a string.  Tantalizing hope, but always out of reach.  Still, I look forward to talking about this chapter at my next counseling appointment (rescheduled to later this week) and delving into the next chapter, which is the first on the four elements of shame resilience.

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