UNLOCKING US – Episode 1 July 2020
I’m going to get vulnerable for a few minutes. I want to tell you about a hard experience I had this weekend.
Do you remember, I’ve been really working toward this impossible goal of mine to submit an article to a publication, in hopes of being published. I have been dreaming about this for years, and working on my “do goals”, toward this impossible goal, for months. I am right on track. I am thrilled.
This past week, I prepared my semi-final draft to be read and critiqued by a few people I have chosen because of their experience in writing and publishing – people I really respect.
A little background: The article I am writing is religious in content, and meant for a religious publication with a religious audience. One of the women I chose to read through my article and suggest edits on my article is not religious – in fact, she is, at this point in her life, probably anti-religion. That didn’t bother me, of course. I didn’t intend for her to critique the content so much as to look at my writing style and give me tips that could make my article more powerful.
But the content did matter to her. And she sent back a harsh critique about the content, and maybe a little bit about me as a person.
And I don’t think that her intent was to criticize me as a person. But it hurt. She was wrong about me. But, do you know what, she was also right. I felt some shame, and I still feel that lingering shame today. And I didn’t recognize it until this morning when I was listening to Brene Brown.
I hadn’t chosen this podcast because I thought I was feeling shame. But as I got further into the episode, Brene described very clearly what thoughts I was having since that particular critique of my article.
Quick review: Shame is I am bad, while guilt is I did something bad. To better see which one of these we are prone toward, we can pay attention to our self-talk. Does our self-talk focus more on behavior or does it focus more on identity? And I looked at that this morning, in my morning thought dump. A thought-dump (Brooke Castillo’s term) looks something like this: I sit in my quiet room by myself, on my chair, with a pad of paper and a pen in hand. And then I just start dumping. Everything that is in my head gets put down on paper. Sometimes this takes 5 minutes, something is takes 25 minutes. I don’t time myself. But once it is all “out”, I take a look at what is in my brain, outside of my brain, and then I decide what it is that I want to put back “in”. I choose my thoughts intentionally – I choose my beliefs intentionally.
This morning’s thought dump was really eye opening to me.
In my self-talk, I was clearly focused on identity not behavior: I am a not as good of a writer as I thought I was. And not only that, I am actually not strong as a person, and as a woman. I am not good enough. I am not funny enough. I am not kind enough.
That, my friends, is shame.
Guilt would sound more like this: That was a stupid thing I did. I could have warned her about the religious content before sending her the paper. Furthermore, I have a lot of work to do on myself, and a lot of work to do on my article, before I submit it to a publication.
By seeing the difference, and identifying which “proneness” we lean toward, Am I more shame-prone or guilt-prone, I can get an idea where I am at, what is serving me and what isn’t. And what I should do next, right? And I can tell you, for me, that looks like moving away from that shame-proneness.
“The difference between proneness is everything. Shame-proneness is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, bullying, eating disorders… When you look at guilt-proneness, it’s the ability to look at behaviors without eviscerating yourself and your personhood.”
I wrote a weak article, but that’s not because I am weak. I just have more to learn.
Do you see how that would lead me from hiding my work from others – which is exactly what I wanted to do – to a willingness and even an excitement to share my work with others? Even if my work isn’t yet good, I am still good and worthy, and that means that I can improve. And I am taking the steps to make my work better.
“Guilt-proneness is inversely correlated with those outcomes – addiction, anxiety, depression, violence. Meaning, the more that we can separate ‘I’m a good person AND I made a bad choice’, the more we can separate those, the more the outcomes we’re trying to avoid are mitigated. In fact, guilt-proneness seems to be a protective factor against some of the outcomes we don’t want for ourselves.”
Guilt can lead to change. It gives me room to look at myself and my choices, and then look at my values, and, if I want, change myself to make those more congruent. Because, again, that incongruence is where the feelings of guilt come from. And that’s okay. Sometimes we have to deal with incongruence.
I gave the example before: I have two different values. I value being a law-abiding citizen, and I value getting to dinner with gramma on time. And I sometimes have to make a judgement call. We actually do this all the time – make a judgement call when we can’t act on both things we value. And we may feel some guilt when we have conflicting values. I would feel guilty for speeding. But I would also feel guilty for being late to dinner.
And maybe that needs to be resolved, and maybe it doesn’t. But that is what guilt is. It’s just data, right? What I am doing is not, at the moment, in line with my values. And that data can really help us.
Okay, let’s take just the last part of today’s post to talk about applying this to motherhood, on MONDAY MOTHERHOOD MATTERS.
“We cannot shame anyone into being better.”
And sometimes it is used in the home as a form of correction. For example: You are a liar. If that bad thing is what I am, then how could I ever make a different choice? How can I ever improve? If I am a liar, how could I ever tell the truth. If I am mean, how could I ever be nice. If I am weak, how could I ever make strong choices for myself.
“Shame is a tool of oppression… Shame corrodes the idea that we can do better and be better… Shame is dehumanizing.”
Shame versus guilt.
“When you see people apologizing, making amends, changing behavior, that is always around guilt. Guilt is cognitive dissonance. It causes cognitive pain. ‘I have done something that is inconsistent with my values or who I want to be…. It’s uncomfortable but it’s helpful.”
This is really good for me to learn, as a mother, trying to raise these children in love, specifically when it comes to correcting their behavior at times.
How does understanding shame and understanding guilt change the way I want to mother?
- It changes my language. Not, You are messy. But, You are making a mess.
- It changes the way I love myself. Not, I am a bad mom today. But, I made a bad choice today.
- It changes how I talk to the children about guilt, and teach them to understand guilt. You made a choice that isn’t consistent with what you value. That’s why you feel guilt. This is an opportunity to, if you’d like, use that guilt to change you behavior.
- It changes how I feel about guilt in myself, and how I understand what my feelings of guilt are communicating to me.
- I want to teach my children to recognize how/where they feel shame in their body, so they can label it, and address it.
- I want to be able to do that myself. The healthier I am as a mom, the more I show up for my children.
Back to my article and the woman who critiqued it, at my request. She, I doubt, meant to shame me. It turned into shame because of where I am right now. She was holding me accountable, as I’d asked her to do. And as I do my children.