This meant no day care for her, no working for me and a dilemma of how to get firstborn to and from school.
My husband sent me the following picture from his trip to Cape Verde, where he is, alone.
My to do list is two pages, written with font 10.
Do I manage to convey the enormity of my pity party this morning, at all?
The icky, slimy bug of self-pity started hissing in my ear. Thought by thought, my energy faded away. Powerlessness started seeping into my muscles. My ability to receive any nourishment from interactions with my kids or with my friends and family started receding, until I could feel the slippery frosting of self-pity, coating me from head to toe.
Now, rationally I know self-pity is an attempt to defend myself against overwhelm, expectations and demands. On an emotional level, it’s another story.
The thing is, while self-pity may feel like relief, or like self-love – it’s anything but. It shifts the locus of power on the outside of ourselves, puts us in the back seat of our lives.
Of course, the row of set backs continued. My friends couldn’t help with getting firstborn to school, the taxi driver was rude, there was less money on my account than I remembered, my website crashed… It wasn’t until I had sent my website provider an e-mail to ask for help, and they responded they couldn’t and I just had to google the answer, that I remembered Veronica Torres’ tool: “How ridiculous does it have to get?”.
What else would have to happen, until I took responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings.
Ah, well. I asked myself what would take me closer to self-compassion and loving myself in the moment. After a shower, a glass of water and a loving discussion with my daughter, I came back to the computer and easily updated the theme of my website. Now she’s sleeping and I’m feeling happy for the frolicking Engineer again.
I drew this picture to remind myself that there is a better way than self-pity. What would take you one step closer to self-love and self-compassion today?
Yesterday I read somewhere that when there is fog, the inside navigation system in people is disturbed and we start walking in circles. I’ve been walking in circles for a few days, wondering what the heck is going on. But today I caught on. I’ve been preparing for an art show opening on Friday, it’s the first art show I’ve had for two years. I just now spread all the framed water colors on the floor, to start making the catalogue and I realized, this is shame raising its head again.
My particular brand of inner programming makes my most successful moments, the most shameful ones. So while I’m tearing up, looking at six months of ideas and art work that didn’t yet exist a year ago, I at the same time feel the fog of shame rise up to my eyeballs.
I, Marie, physically sense shame as a white fog around me that blots out all sound and light. If I would touch shame it would be like alien goo and stick to my fingers. The trigger right now are my wonderful, beautiful color babies and taking them out into the art show to be seen.
2. Practicing Critical Awareness.
☆What are the social-community expectations?☆
I am aware of an expectation to make “good art” and the unsaid suggestion that money is bad, a good artist shouldn’t think about profitability. As a business owner, I am required to plan for profit, because otherwise my family doesn’t eat.
☆Why do these expectations exist?☆
Because artists are confused by the real needs of living on this planet and the discrepancy between that and the high values of art and having an independent “voice”. My own experience is that the need to make a living has a grounding effect on art, it sets a structure for the creating that ensures productivity, connection to my audience and tangible results.
☆How do these expectations work?☆
They’re a Catch-22 and make art making at best very difficult, at worst, very destructive. I had to untangle myself from that whole system of beliefs in order to find my way back to my ability to create. I believe art making can be an experience of interconnection, interacting with a living, breathing, vital world and expressing the knowledge that arises inside as a response.
☆How is our society influenced by these expectations?☆
There is this black and white thinking that fine art is shut into galleries, far away from most ordinary people and every day life, while all other art is seen as worth less and not real in some way. I love Hugh Mc Leod’s thoughts about “making small art”. He says that making small art makes it possible to create lots of it. I would include that when you create lots of art, there is also this connection that is born to your tribe, to the kindred spirits.
☆Who benefits from those expectations?☆
The existing structures of fine art maybe?
☆How realistic are my expectations?☆
I expect from this art show to meet lots of people, talk about art, celebrate the highs and lows of creativity together and sell art to the people who are moved to buy.
☆Can I be all these things all the time?☆
I think these expectations are realistic, but I will probably have to lessen my expectations about cleaning our house, cooking organically, making fantastic breakfasts, checking all the things on my to do list and being a calm and sane wife during this week.
☆Am I describing who I want to be or what others want me to do?☆
I am describing who I want to be, and I feel more grounded, doing it.
3. Reaching out.
So here in this blog post today, I’m reaching out to you, dear kindreds out there. At which moments do you feel shame? Do you recognize feeling shame when you’ve succeeded with something, or is your experience different?
4. Speaking of shame.
I’ve vowed to speak of shame, because I believe it has such a deep and penetrating effect on creating and enjoying the fruits of what we create. So here you have an example of active work in progress. Having experienced this, I feel ready for lunch and for some rocking of the boat of shame. Next, some dancing.
I painted the first version of this picture on a t-shirt, almost twenty years ago. That was the year I put in an ad on a newsboard [on text-tv, laughing at that a bit now], so I could find out the truth about men. Were they simple beings who could not think, as my mom was fond of saying, or was there something more out there? My soulfriend, the Engineer who would become my husband many years later, bought the t-shirt with this turtle on. He wore it everywhere. The memory still makes me smile.
In addition to musing over that memory, I have been reading and translating parts of this important book about self-harm for a youth project I work in. The book is written compassionately and the text validates the inner reality of anyone who self-harms. Punishment in order to dissolve feelings of shame and guilt, search for emotional relief, making emotional pain clearer and more tangible are just some of the functions that self-harm can have. Most often, in our outcome directed, fast-paced world, an understanding for inner phenomena is lacking. Not so in this book.
Loving ourselves is a skill that is learned when our needs and feelings are heard and responded to, when we see people close to us love themselves and take care of their own needs responsibly, when we can express what is inside and have that received. It is never too late to start learning this skill and building habits that support loving self.
This tea party has been a transforming experience for me. As usual, when I focus on something, everything leans in that direction. Friends, articles, comments, e-mails, there has been a lot of beautiful interaction with shame this week. When we started out, shame was something ephemereal, scary, foggy and vaguely threatening for me. There has always been something about my making art that I haven’t been able to shine a light on. Like a shiny, slippery surface that I haven’t been able to get through or see clearly. At surprising times in my life, I’ve suddenly been surrounded by fog, not able to see, with no clue why. As if that hasn’t been confusing enough, the shame has sprung on me both when I’ve succeeded and when I’ve failed.
After this weeks exploration, writing, dancing and painting, shame feels accessible, an emotion among others. I know where it lives, I know what its hair looks and feels like when I brush it. I know what it needs from me. I know it, I see it, I feel it. No more secrets. The phleghm of shame is just green goo. Slimy, yes. But not threatening.
What I’ve learned about shame:
I’ve identified many slightly different kinds. The shame that goes through generations, passed on by shame bearing parents to their children. The shame that is interpersonal, that arises when I try to connect to someone and that person turns into a stranger, distant, odd. The shame that comes from feeling there is something wrong with me, that I am damned, broken, hopeless, doomed. The shame that comes when I create something from my core, from my deepest joy. There is institutional shame that may arise from being different than the expected norm, for instance homeless, unemployed, overweight or something else.
One thing that’s for sure is that trying to be perfect does not protect me from feeling shame, but stifles creativity and aliveness.
So, in Beckoning Shame Out of Hiding, Here Are Some Things to Remember:
“Our internalized shame began as somebody else’s shame. And once we’ve internalized it, it is ours to deal with. It is ours to feel. It is ours to heal.” says Julie Daley.
When I choose to be aware of what is happening inside of me, I break free and my shame is transformed from a lurking fog behind my back, into tangible feelings, experiences, something that can be shared and seen. This feels uncomfortable and stinky, but when I persevere, something fresh starts to open up, that’s been hidden behind the shame. If I don’t dare be vulnerable, that gift remains hidden.
I can trust my impulses, even when they seem cruel, wild or infathomable. When I trust them enough to follow them in writing, painting or movement, they can unfold and lead me to the wisdom that is waiting inside.
My shame responds to experience, painting, sound, writing, moving, sharing, breathing, but analysis seems to stop everything in its tracks and produce pain. Experiencing the shame opens it up in a different way.
When I check in regularly with myself and hold a safe space for all of my thoughts, feelings, experiences, for what I see, hear and sense, in their entirety, no matter how uncomfortable, with compassion and acceptance, inner phenomena always has a meaning that I can understand.
Creativity and Shame
We are all invited by life to be vulnerable in order to be able to create, that is what activates creativity – our core, the essence of who we are. Part of that vulnerability is the willingness to feel your shame and allow it to move. Creating brings forth what is real. What is real can be explored, moved, expressed, shared and encountered compassionately.
Thank you for participating in this tea party with compassion, thank you for exploring this intense topic together with me so authentically and bravely. What have you learned about your shame?
I’m sitting her in the light of the setting sun. Everyone is sleeping, they day’s work is almost done. I’m listening to Ayreon. This week I have been more aware of feeling shame than ever before in all my life. This awareness has changed a lot. I notice I feel ashamed about many of the expectations I set upon myself. For instance, cleaning, a sore spot here at home, what with small children and all. Usually I collect tension and irritation, until I burst into blame like a bomb. Often it’s the Engineer who gets the brunt of my anger.
This week, instead, I’ve said: “I feel ashamed that I can’t keep our house clean. I feel ashamed that I’m so tired.”
It feels different. Vulnerable. It opens up a discussion. It opens up.
What are your favorite defenses against shame? Do you hide? Do you get angry and lash out? Do you blame yourself or others? Or do you avoid the whole thing? Mine seem to vary, with hiding being one definite favorite.
Shame and Darkness: Secrets
Another thing I have spent the morning writing about in my personal writing is secrets. It seems to me, shame grows in secret, yet when the secret is written down or shared, the shame disappears. Try it if you’re curious, in a safe space.
Shame and Light
If you, like me, have been shamed in moments of deep enjoyment, joyous expression and creativity, it may be that you feel unbearable shame when you succeed with your truest dreams. It’s the most confusing phenomenon in the world. You finally achieve your dream or get noticed, or express something wonderfully and next there is a sledgehammer of shame, a valley of brain fog or piercing pain all around. I’m still exploring this, but it seems a different kind of shame. This one is a doorway to the core and if we can sit with it, share it with someone else, be vulnerable, the shame can open up to reveal our innermost beauty.
I’m a firm believer in awareness, in our right to learn to know ourselves and gain access into all we are. I believe in the basic goodness of us all. I believe feelings and emotions, when followed, felt, moved, can bring us back to who we are. Again and again. Tomorrow is the last day of the Compassionate Shame Tea Party. This exploration has a petal of sacred in it – the comments, e-mails, meetings, connections, sharing and insights this has led to, has once again shown me that there is a whole world to explore inside of us and that adventure is so worthwhile.
Today the blog has to take last place after Saturday writing retreat, playing in the park with the wonderfabulous kids, meeting a friend and now some chat youth work. Here’s some cake to tide you over. The blog will be posted in the wee hours. Until then! <3
Deep frozen pizza for dinner
and deep frozen shameful longings
in my dreams
as long as I keep my expressivness secret,
the shame doesn’t thaw
I can keep walking in the mists
of my own mysteries,
never coming alive fully
never risking feeling everything I am.
Sandy Talarmo and her shame are honored guests in our tea party, and she graciously agreed to share her authentic and vulnerable drawing & photo here in my blog. Thank you Sandy <3
Limits and Borders as a Doorway to Who We Are
Yesterday I took a break. Napping away my flu, shame and I took a day of self-care, away from everything. Today, I synchronistically stumbled upon this video from Amy Purdy. She lost her legs, just when she was about to fly out into the world and talks about, not just recovery, but about how her life was transformed through the struggle & creations that followed.
She talks about how she feels more free when she is who she is, walking openly on her bionic legs [as she calls them] than if she were pretending to be someone she is not. Amy suggests our borders are what we can use to push away from. She asks if it is possible to see our challenges and limits as blessings, that ignite our imaginations and help us go further than we ever thought we could. As I look at Amy and her pictures of all of her different legs, I feel this deep joy inside of me – what variety! What a creativity in the midst of the unpredictability of life.
The Source of Our Shame is the Core of Our Beauty
Amy inspires me. My challenges are different, but equally vital to how my life has turned out. Since I was a little girl, my emotions have been racing up and down. Highly sensitive to stimuli, like sounds, scratching clothes, smells, lights, colors and even more sensitive to the moods of others, their reactions to me – life has had an element of the unbearable. Added to this I was born with an emotional intensity, where I can go from a feeling of bliss, through all the nuances in between, all the way to suicidal desperation, in a time span of ninety seconds, no matter how calm I seem on the outside.
Feeling life in all of its nuances can be exhausting and talking about feeling so crappy you just want to die freaks everyone out. I learned to push my feelings deep inside of myself and use the great social pacifier of a smile to put everyone at ease. Inside I felt completely and irrevocably broken. There was no amount of squeezing that could make me fit into the role models I saw around me, no matter how I numbed my feelings.
Living with this kind of an internal reality can be difficult to fathom. One way to describe it is this: Imagine you are severely sunburnt throughout your body, wearing a scratchy sweater. There is loud heavy metal music playing all around you, you can hear what others are saying, but you need to strain a bit. Behind every person you see, there is a billboard, with different kinds of emotional information showing (Anger! Irritation! Sadness! Joy! Suspicion! Enjoyment!) in blinking neon lights. There is the smell of too strong, musky perfume in the air. You have a test ahead that you are unprepared for and your hopes and dreams are riding on it. In the midst of the intensity, you. must. perform. well.
[And I would really want to go hide right now, rather than be writing this blog.] The turning point for me came when I sat with my second therapist and incredulously asked her: “Do you mean that getting well from depression means that I need to feel all of my feelings? ALL of them?” Slowly I learned that wanting to die was a signal from inside that could mean different things. That signal could be listened to, befriended, seen, said aloud, encountered compassionately. From recovering all of my feelings and my search for a life that wouldn’t be just bearable, but worth living, has sprung art, coaching, entrepeneurship, poetry, friendships, a marriage to a soulmate, two beautiful children. A life that is handmade, tailored to embrace my sensitivity, my dancing emotional weather and my need for freedom, as well as built on the strength that lies in all of this vulnerability.
I am not broken. And neither are you.
At this point of this tea party experience, I believe shame can be a pathway to self-compassion and to the very core of who we are. We can trust ourselves and we always begin exactly where we are.
How do your challenges and limitations ignite your imagination today? What is the color of your longing?
And it is quite a journey. Whoa! So, the next painting was a very different drawing when I started this morning’s work. As I listened to Bon Jovi [again] and painted, ever so often I had to get up and dance. The Engineer sat safely in the kitchen, working through his flu and I was painting in the living room, dancing like mad to keep the shame from paralysing my body. So what you see is as much a “dancing” as a painting.
The shame kept wanting to grow in the painting, so I let it grow into its true form. At some point, though, Fant (the elephant) decided that T. (the tiger) had been alone in the hot spot long enough, so he jumped into the fray to hold his friend’s hand. I am reminded and want to gently remind you, to choose a safe place for anything concerning shame – painting it, expressing it, exploring it, feeling it, sharing it. You’re not alone.
If you want to purchase this as a print, click here.
Shame and art
Shame is s physical emotion. Do you recognize the hot flashes, the blushing, the looking down, the foggy thoughts, the paralysis, the curling into a fetus position, the fountain of sweat, aching tummy, headaches, breath taking anxiety, hot flash of anger? I do.
The two years after I graduated from art school where a walk of shame. I longed to make art, it was almost a physical yearning. Yet every time I grabbed a brush, a pastel or a pencil, self-hatred started gushing.
There was no escaping it. I had a tape of particularly hurtful critiques and comments that I had collected, that started playing in my head, LOUDLY. It seemed that the very act of making art triggered shame, hatred, anger and it was all directed at myself.
For the longest time I blamed art school and the art world. Yeah, like until five minutes ago. Ugh. :/
But I’m realizing now that the fact that my deepest shame and deepest joy were bound together is nobody’s fault. Not even mine.
When my son was three and a half years and my daugher was one and a half years old, I had a moment of panic. Returning to work kept coming nearer and I knew how the demands of generating money could suck all the time from art making, especially if the art maker was crippled by creative self-hatred.
One day I put down a paper on the floor. Armed with colors, brushes, stickers and my little daughter, I started painting together with my little fire cracker. Safe to say, I was so busy with the raging fire of impulses from my baby daughter, I had no time to hate myself or what I was doing.
After this painting, I still felt the yearning to paint. Love yourself. That was the need I kept hearing inside of me. In order to be able to create, I had to start loving myself and creating from where I was. The following week, when my children were napping, I sat down and fervently asked my inner world to help me combine my inner power and ability to love. Stroke by trembling stroke, I painted this painting.
Brené Brown, who researches shame and vulnerability, talks about shame resilience. Because we all have shame triggers and experience shame, the important thing is not to avoid it, but learn to know those triggers and develop shame resilience. Here is what is included in shame resilience.
1. We recognize when we are feeling shame.
2. We recognize our cultural and social expectations and how we react to shame.
3. We make meaningful and empatethic connections to others.
4. We share it with the right people. Shame cannot survive when we encounter it with empathy and compassion.
Today I invite you to bring your shame into this Compassionate Tea Party and share something, it may be just a symbol for the thing you are thinking about. There is tea, sympathy and compassion here for all of our shame.
How can you let yourself gently move through your feelings today?