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The Journey of Transformation

Archive for the ‘Shame’ Category

The Joy (and not-joy) of Relationship

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

We had a family gathering at my house on Friday evening, since my sister and brother-in-law were visiting from Florida. The thing that stands out in my mind about it is that everyone was so GLAD to see each other. There was tangible joy, just to be together.

It is one of the greatest blessings I know to feel that love and see the connections between people I love. It makes the hassles of planning, communicating, cleaning and cooking all worth it, in spades.

Hearing laughter and chatter, seeing the men holding babies that are not their own, and LOVING them, seeing nieces and brothers helping themselves in the kitchen and a sister-in-law stirring pots is pure contentment to me.

I missed those that weren’t here, also. Nieces and nephews busy elsewhere with their own lives, great-nieces and nephews involved with other parts of their family, a brother on a book tour, parents who are no longer with us, aunts and cousins who are far away, all are missed.

Not everyone is blessed with joyful relationships. There isn’t always joy in these relationships, either. There can be irritation, hurt feelings, disappointment and confusion, as well. In some families there is outright hostility and estrangement. It pains me when I see it in families I know and love. I see and hear about painful relationships daily in my work as a therapist. It is a primary source of anguish and bewilderment for my clients.

The Dalai Lama encourages compassion for others, and reminds us to see that we are the SAME as others, and not so different. Understanding that the other is experiencing the same feelings, challenges, desires and frustrations can equalize things and help us to find empathy for him/her.

Terence Real, who wrote The New Rules of Marriage (Ballantine Books, 2008) and other books explains that many of us get caught up on an “escalator of contempt” which shuttles us back and forth between grandiosity (better than) and shame (worse than).

Terry Real, escalator, contempt, grandiosity, shame, same as

Escalator of Contempt
Grandiosity —— Shame

When we think we have all the answers we look down on others with contempt and disdain. We pump ourselves up as more important than, smarter than, more talented than, etc. and grandiosity reigns. When we put ourselves down as stupid, unworthy, inadequate and unlovable we are in shame and are treating ourselves with contempt.

What gets missed is the experience of same as. We are fundamentally the same as everyone else, with inadequacies and amazing traits; quirks and gifts; bad behaviors and generosity; wisdom and foolishness; strengths and weaknesses. We are all human.

In recent years I have experienced some painful conflict in personal relationships. Some of it related to miscommunication and misunderstandings, some to unrestrained words of anger and judgment, some to differences that got translated into weaknesses and shortcomings. I was forced to see attitudes and behaviors in myself that were extremely hard to admit. The primary thing I must acknowledge is that I can be critical, shaming and grandiose. I also can feel rejected, ashamed, misunderstood, mistreated and unworthy.

Terry Real recommends stepping off the contempt escalator and remembering the other person is much like I am; not less than me and not better than me. It helps me manage my reactions and feelings when I remind myself, “same as.” The other person is struggling just like I am, feels similar feelings, and has many great qualities as well as shortcomings, just like me. The other is trying to be understood and get needs met just as I am; and is NOT out to get ME.

And I began to use a phrase in my head when I was feeling frustrated with someone and thinking, “they should have…” or “why don’t they…” The phrase I said to help me let go of judgment, anger and hurt feelings was “JUST LOVE ‘EM.”

It serves to remind me that the most important thing is that I DO love them, and that calms me down and allows me to accept them just as they are, which is, after all, what I want them to do with me. It takes me off the “contempt escalator” and allows me to change my thinking, which changes my feelings and actions.

I try to say this to myself, as well, when I get a case of the “I should have…”

The pain of alcoholism – Part 1

Monday, March 26th, 2012

In my work as a counselor, sometimes I see and hear “themes” for the week; common threads woven through the tapestry of stories I’m hearing. Although I am a generalist and work with many types of mental health issues, this week the theme is alcoholism and its effects. It is synchronistic, in that I celebrated 34 years sobriety on Monday, so my awareness of how different my life would have been had I continued to drink (if I were still here at all) is heightened.

I happened to see four clients who are sober, and work a “program,” and are back in counseling working on other issues. They all feel the same gratitude and humility I feel, to be part of the lucky group that are surviving alcoholism and drug addiction, and have a shot at living a full, rich life.

Others are struggling still, and facing many of the consequences which accompany the poor choices made as a result of chemical use. This includes loss of driving privileges, conflict with family, legal problems, health troubles. One is dealing with chronic relapse coupled with long-standing mental disorders and going to treatment yet again. One is beginning to look at the role alcohol plays in his life. Another is starting treatment at an early age, rather reluctantly, in the hope of avoiding worse consequences and losses.

treatment, recovery, group therapy

Group Therapy

I saw a number of people whose lives are or have been deeply and frustratingly affected by someone else’s chemical abuse. The lies, inconsistencies, and cycles of problems they experience and the abandonment and confusion they feel is tangible. Those that grew up with alcoholic parents are trying to figure out exactly what happened and understand the lasting effects they experience, with difficulty trusting, believing in themselves, and coping with their emotions effectively. They are angry, confused, feeling guilty and grieving.

It is unspeakably painful to watch lives disintegrate due to chemical use.

It is incredibly rewarding to see lives saved, knit back together, and hope renewed, when a person grabs hold of the lifeline and does the work to get sober. It is inspiring to see a person work through ACOA (adult child of an alcoholic) issues and live a meaningful and balanced life.

It is terribly frustrating to see how casually our world treats chemical use, and encourages it.