Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Tender Place Between Shame and Blame

old stuffed

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When I was a younger, I was bullied and excluded a lot.  It happened in elementary school, and in middle school, and in high school.  The people and the circumstances changed.  But the feeling inside didn’t.  It felt numb and distant and hot.  It still feels that way.  It felt that way this past weekend.

It is hard for me to not carry inside of me the belief that I deserve to be excluded or ignored if I act a certain way.  To avoid being excluded, over the years I have learned to push out and be charming and witty and social.  I like that “me” much better.  Other people like her better.  I am ashamed of the “me” that is awkward and silent, that doesn’t know how to be part of the group.  I am angry she still exists.

If I am not blaming myself, I get angry at the world.  At the way that we hurt each other so deeply.  At how heartless it can feel.  But as much as I hate the system, the truth is that I have been in the other position.  I exclude others.  I would exclude the “awkward me” too.

There’s a middle place in between the shame and the blame.  It is soft.  It is the part that can actually feel pain.  No story that anyone is right or wrong.  I just let myself hurt.  And strangely, it feels oddly peaceful in this soft painful place.

I can feel that my mind wants to pull me out of there.  It feels nervous, like it has nothing to do. It wants to get back to the shaming and blaming, where it can comfortably gnaw away for eternity.

I have this one particularly strong reoccurring belief that there are some incredibly cool, gorgeous, perfectly loved people who never have to visit this place–so if I am here then it must confirm that I am a loser.  I really used to believe that story. I would inevitably respond by doing anything to avoid admitting I felt pain.  Now, the story has loosened its grip, but it hasn’t entirely left.  It gets really close and scary and I have to remember not to buy into it.   It’s just a story.  It’s not real.   I practice letting it go by me.  I can feel the whoosh as it whizzes by my cheek.

Today, when I did yoga, I made my whole practice about staying in that tender open place. At first, I felt like an animal who is so used to protecting her wound that she doesn’t even realize that she is doing it anymore. I was nervous and skittish on the mat.  My breath sucked in with a rush every time I thought about how awkward I can be, about the pain of being ignored or disrespected. I left my body regularly.

Gradually, with each breath, I asked myself for permission to enter that space, to feel how hurt I was.  Slowly, slowly, I relaxed.  Slowly, I opened up to myself.  I stayed present with the pain.  It really hurt.  I cried.

And then, when I came home, I felt the desire to share this place with you.  I am learning to stay in the spot that hurts.  I can even open it up and let you in here.  I want you to know that if you have a place that hurts, you can learn to stay there too.  I think a compassionate wisdom arises when we learn to stay in this place, and can greet each other from that place.  It feels welcoming and kind.  I am glad for the thing that brought me here.  I want to be a person that knows this pain.

As Pema Chodron (“When Things Fall Apart, p. 109-110) says:

“Compassionate action, being there for others, being able to act and speak in a way that communicates, starts with seeing ourselves when we start to make ourselves right or make ourselves wrong.  At that particular point, we could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where we could love.  This place, if we can touch it, will help us train ourselves through our lives to open further to whatever we feel, to open further rather than shut down more.  We’ll find that as we begin to commit ourselves to this practice, as we begin to have a sense of celebrating the aspects of ourselves that we found so impossible before, something will shift in us.  Something will shift permanently in us.  Our ancient habitual patterns will begin to soften, and we’ll begin to see the faces and hear the words of people who are talking to us.”

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Stop Being a Victim in One Powerful Shift

finger trap

I recently did a free webinar with a woman named Sharon Strand Ellison, who teaches Powerful Non-Defensive Communication.  One of the most critical things she taught is what it means to be a victim, and how to get out of that mind-set.

Of course, no one wants to be a victim.  It feels horrible!  But there are so many times in our lives we truly feel helpless or attacked.  Even if we recognize it and tell ourselves to stop it, it can feel like a band-aid affirmation if our fundamental mindset remains the same.

Sharon’s definition of victim helped me understand, in a way I have never gotten, the way out of this trap.  Often times finding the right solution is just a matter of defining the problem in the right way.  She taught: being a victim is the act of refusing to accept anything other than your ideal choice.  

Wow.  What this does is let us understand that we are the ones who make ourselves into victims. We are the ones who choose to stay locked into that ideal choice, absolutely unwilling to consider any other less-ideal alternatives.  It is that choice that leads to us feeling trapped–not other circumstances, or other people.  We lock ourselves into a situation where we can’t win, because we are unwilling to redefine the prize.

It is only when we let go of our “ideal” choice (our ideal self, our ideal of other people, our vision of how things “should” be, the way the world “should” operate), and begin to work with the way that the world actually is that we regain power and agency.  It’s not a fun process– it can involve grieving, and humility, and (the worst) accepting that other people CAN hurt you and do not HAVE to love you.  But on the other side is a calm surrender and a noble power.  Once you let go of your myopic focus on the one “ideal” choice that you cannot have, you begin to see the infinite number of choices that are still open to you.  You regain freedom.

Sharon gave this brilliant example of refusing to think like a victim:

Sojourner Truth, a strong African-American abolition activist who had escaped slavery, delivered a powerful “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at the National Women’s Suffrage Convention in Akron, Ohio. Only women were allowed to speak, and her speech was so compelling that opponents of the movement attempted to discredit her by humiliating her. She was ordered to go to the women’s room and bare her breast to prove that she was a woman.

Sojourner Truth was offered a choice between not speaking and being humiliated. But she refused to stay in the confines of that “no-win” choice. She refused to think like a victim. She chose to speak — and as she went to the women’s room under the demand to “prove” she was a woman, she said with power and grace, “It is to your shame, not mine, that I do this.”

I recently had a chance to practice getting out of victim-hood with a friend with whom I was arguing.  He said some things that really hurt me.  I could feel a voice rise up that said: “He has no right to talk to me like that!”  “He cant possible be saying those things!”  “He needs to be nicer!”  Well, guess what?  He can and he did.  I can not control him.  I had to let go of my ideal “choice” of having him treat me with the respect and love I thought I deserved.

As I saw this and let go of my “ideal” choice, I could feel power flooding back into my body.  I was no longer engaged in a power struggle where I “needed” him to act a certain way.  I could accept that he had acted the way he did, even if I didn’t like it. Most importantly: I could stop holding on to the vision of the “ideal” Nicole who these things would not happen to if only she were more awesome.

And I could see that I still had lots of choices left. I still had the option of staying open and attempting to connect. So that is what I did.  I told him I respected his boundaries and decision not to engage, but I would remain open and available.  At that point, he told me that he did have desire to connect, and a whole new possibility of engagement opened.  By not playing the victim, I stopped making him the perpetrator who was “doing” something to me. 

The biggest shifts are often the most subtle.  Sit with this definition of what it means to be a victim.  See if it illuminates choices where you thought you had none.  Let me know how it goes.

love and light

PS. After so many months of not writing, it is amazing to come back and see that people are still visiting this site and reading my posts.  After a long period of being full to the brim with internal exploration, I am ready to push out again and continue to share.  Thanks for being here!