The Distinction – Part I

Tree

The Wisdom of a Tree

Life is complicated but there are times when a simple shift in our understanding brings clarity. Something as small as a minute detail can open up pathways in our brain that create an entirely different outlook. This was the case for me on February 22, 2013, the day to which I fondly refer as my own Independence Day. My therapist was explaining the meaning of shame and how it ruled my life. That day, the light came on and everything after that changed.

One of the first things I discuss with my clients is the distinction between shame and guilt. It is vital in our own healing and growth. While many want to define the two with similar meanings they are quite different. Because we process them physically and emotionally similarly, that may be why we tend to give them the same meaning. However, they are quite different.

How would you define each word and what is your distinction between the two? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and we’ll discuss the answers in “Part II”. Meanwhile, please enjoy this poem that I wrote a few weeks before my Independence Day. Yes, the picture is the tree which inspired the poem. I look forward to your comments.

I took a glance at this lonely tree

And when I looked closely, what did I see?

Its bark had withered, its branches the same

But it still grew tall because it had no shame.

What did it do to be shameful about?

It caused no harm no created any doubt?

Its purpose in lie was clearly to be

Simply one thing; a beautiful tree.

It stood there proudly on the cold mountain top

Without ever wondering if it would ever stop

For how long it was there I had no way to know

And how much longer it would continue to grow

As long as it had purpose in life to be………

And I felt at that moment, the same as the tree.

There’s no reason at all to continue with shame

I wasn’t born in this world with doubt or blame.

Somewhere in my journey I learned how to add

Blame, guilt, and thoughts that I was bad.

After these long years of blame and self-doubt

Now is the time to realize i can live without

All of the notions I’m not worthy enough

Which hinder my way and make my journey tough

So the time is now to look at myself plainly

And realize I’m worthy to live life more sanely

Get out from the past move forward right now

Put away all blame with a solemn vow

I choose from this day that when I do have a choice

I will take the step and speak with stern voice

And not let others or circumstances provide

The answers to life which I will now decide.

When guilt or shame tries to rear its ugly head

I will dismiss it quite firmly as though it were dead.

I am worthy of great things to come

And will gladly accept wherever they’re from.

What life has to give me and what’s still in store

I am now worthy and open for more.

……And for the last time I gaze at that tree

Wondering now what life has for me.

With a tear in my eye and a big smile on my face

I will live to my fullest touched by the tree’s grace.

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The Two Faces in the Mirror

Damask mirror

Courtesy of Venicio Inc.

A mirror is a quite useful object and without one it could create a large amount of inconveniences. Mirrors help us get ready in the morning, they assist us while driving, and can even help us see what is around corners.  Mirrors also have multiple metaphorical meanings. In my last post, I discussed how when finding fault, we should try to first point at the mirror (click here to read the post). A mirror definitely shows our flaws but it can also help us improve what we see. If there is something wrong with our appearance, the proper action can be taken to fix it. Similarly, a mirror can help metaphorically us as well.

 

One great technique I use while working with clients during the session, is to request them to stand up, walk over to the mirror, look at themselves directly in the eyes, and say “I AM PROUD OF YOU”. Strangely enough, it is a difficult task to accomplish. I have had clients who were in tears and asking themselves why it was so difficult. However, with continued encouragement, all of them were eventually able to complete the task.

If there is something with which I am able to relate, it is this. For years, shaving was one of the worst parts of my daily routine. I made it a habit not to look into my eyes. It made me very uncomfortable. But the truth was that all of the discomfort was self-imposed. I didn’t understand how shame – the negative things I learned to believe about who I was – created this difficulty.

The mirror was not the cause of the problem. What other function did it have than to reflect back everything it was seeing? The mirror did not exaggerate any peculiarities. If there were anything awful, it was based on my perception and not what the mirror was doing or saying. I chose to see the flaws, weaknesses, and shortcomings and gave them top priority. I wasn’t doing this intentionally but the shame had convinced me that all these negative things were true and once we perceive something to be a fact, there is no reason to change it.

There is, however, a simple antidote. By forgiving ourselves we can begin to heal from all of the shame that was piled on us. Even if at the time we truly believed that somehow we deserved all of this mistreatment, we were still trying to do the right thing. By understanding this and forgiving ourselves, we can now look in that mirror and say, “I AM PROUD OF YOU!”.

This is not arrogance. Wouldn’t you want a good friend to be able to do the same thing? We all should be able to look at that mirror, literally and figuratively, and say that we are proud.  Yes we are always a work in progress but we need to recognize the personal efforts and have self-validation.

It’s possible there are more than two faces in that mirror but metaphorically speaking, we can use it to find our flaws and appreciate our strengths. As always, I look forward to your thoughts. If you’d like to know more about shame, I’ve written a book on how I learned to overcome mine. It is called, “Shame On Me – Healing A Life Of Shame-Based Thinking” and can be found on Amazon (click here for the link)

Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

colors of inspiration

Photo By E. Rachel Thompson

My last post was inspired by the first 100 days of the U.S. President (click here to read it) and what better way to follow up than be inspired by the runner up in that election. This week, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, made a public appearance and presented some of the reasons why she believes the election was lost. Again there is no political motivation here but rather what can I learn from these events.

There are lessons in just about everything we do and the lessons are different for each person. I do not wish to criticize her actions nor do I wish to give a commentary from my perspective. Without walking in her shoes or for that matter not walking and knocking on doors for the cause, I have not earned the privilege of weighing in on the matter in a public forum. Dedicating so much time, energy and effort to this cause and losing what seemed a certain victory would have been devastating to anyone in a similar position.

What is the important lesson in this news story at least for me? I have learned that the first thing to do when finding fault is to point my finger at the mirror. What is it that I can do or change to make things better the next time. When we allow ourselves to focus on someone or something else, it means that change can only happen outside of our control and that is not an effective or efficient way to make change. Here’s an example.

One day I got a call from someone who was purchasing my product – a  beautiful art glass table – through a designer. The original quote was too large and when we re-quoted the slightly smaller table, he was complaining that we didn’t discount it enough. As much as I wanted to tell him where he could put that table, I did my best to remain calm. The conversation lasted a few minutes and my displeasure grew with each passing second. When the phone call was over, I had to let the steam out and my girlfriend was the recipient of this outburst. Although she knew I wasn’t upset at her, I was verbalizing the complaints as though I were. The last thing I bickered to her was something like, “I can’t believe the nerve of that guy…… Now I need to figure out what is making me so angry!” After that, I exclaimed, “Sometimes self-growth sucks!” and actually laughed at myself.

The point is this; I had been given plenty of reasons to be angry but I didn’t use that as the excuse. Yes, his actions contributed greatly to it but I allowed myself to become upset. Ultimately, I accepted responsibility for becoming angry.  All of us encounter incidents which happen out of our control. These can be quite challenging and even devastating. But WE have the opportunity to control our own response. When someone cuts you off in traffic, you may have every reason to show your displeasure in any number of ways but YOU ultimately make the choice to do so. In this type of incident, it may provide temporary relief to respond with a simple gesture but we also don’t want to allow our emotions to create further actions that may have other adverse effects.

In some circumstances, using the actions of others as motivation can be an effective way to take bad behavior and flip it on its head, turning someone’s negative actions into a positive outcome for us. This stops the negativity from manifesting itself within us and instead channeling those emotions in a more positive way.

When we blame others for our conduct, it doesn’t resolve the issues. In fact it may even prevent us from finding the right solutions or actions. This week when something or someone makes your blood boil, see if you can catch yourself and utilize the emotions in a positive and meaningful way. You just may find yourself saying, “Sometimes self-growth sucks!”

As always, I look forward to your comments and thanks to E. Rachel Thompson for the beautiful photograph.

100 Days

 

See the light

Photo By E. Rachel Thompson

I assure you this is not a political post. Yet with so much scrutiny in the media about the U.S. President’s first 100 days, it would be an understatement to say that I was thrilled not to be the one whose every move was under such immense examination. But what if I were the object of such intense analysis? How would the national and international media rate me? How would that light shine on you and what would be written about your accomplishments, successes, or perhaps shortcomings or failures?

 

A candidate running for office puts in a tremendous amount of effort to win an election but the work doesn’t stop after the victory. On the contrary, the responsibility and amount of work to do becomes far greater. So it is with us regarding the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our being. We don’t simply reach our goal and then have the luxury of discontinuing the struggle because we feel in some way the job is complete. Even maintaining these objectives require work on a regular basis.

Consider for one moment if your life were to be lived for the next 100 days under the watchful eye of your fiercest critics. Would that change your behavior and/or your approach in day to day tasks? Between now and August 9th – 100 days from today – take on the challenge of living under this type of scrutiny; as though you were the one being critiqued on the front page of every imaginable news publication.

It is easy for anyone to closely examine the actions of others and express opinions on what they have or have not accomplished. And when those actions are juxtaposed from our own, the thoughts seem to flow easier and harsher. I asked myself if this amount of critical assessment were suddenly thrust upon me, how would it influence my thoughts, actions, and priorities. Being completely honest with myself, there is no way it wouldn’t become a factor in nearly every move I make! Although what ultimately counts is our own “editorial” on how well we did, often we find ourselves striving to do well in the eyes of others including some of our toughest critics!

What would be some “campaign promises” you would achieve? Ironically, several promises which politicians make are suitable for personal goals as well. Many hope to strengthen their economic situation, improve healthcare, and create a better environment where they live. When we think of how this can be accomplished in our own lives, it’s quite similar to the way politics works. We don’t live our lives in a shell; everything we do includes others who may have similar goals which are in direct conflict with yours. The key is coming together and working it out as a community. The more we become self-absorbed in having things go only the way we see them, the more opposition we will get and sometimes from those with whom we have tried to work successfully together.

I’ve decided to keep a journal over the next 100 days and write my own “article: on how well I performed. If it warrants publication, I’ll be happy to face my harshest critics.

Thanks as always to E. Rachel Thompson for the beautiful photograph and I look forward to your comments.