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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: October 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011


According to Wikpedia shame is "variously, affect, emotion, state or condition." In here, in my office, it's what sometimes comes up when unpacking feelings, events, memories, and things that have shaped us. It seems to be lurking sometimes, underneath anger, exhaustion, fear. It often gets mixed up with regret, remorse and rumination. It comes out often during discussions about actions and choices, past and present, relationships, fantasies and wishes. We are ashamed about all sorts of things.

Sometimes, we are ashamed about what we have done because of what someone else might think or expect of us, or what we think they would think or expect of us. Sometimes, it is our relationship with ourselves that brings it on, when we believe we have crossed over a line and nicked our own values, beliefs or self respect. Or when we think we are out of control in some way, or have made an unforgivable mistake.

And of course, many folks carry a lot of shame from the past, from childhood wounds or violations, from the actions of parents, from having bad feelings about actions of their parents. Shame can be confusing and painful all at once. And talking about it can be far from easy.

While some shame can be simple, uncomplicated and fleeting, from, perhaps, a passing thought, or a feeling we don't think we should have, the other kind of shame is deeper, darker and seems settled into the psyche. It is this kind of shame that requires more tenderness, more airtime, and more studying. We cannot just wish or ignore it away.

People often ask me, "so, what do I do with this feeling?" I don't think there is any one true answer. It does help to study it though, I think, a bit, before deciding what you might like to do with it. I think when a feeling is so bad, we tend to think we should or would like to just get rid of it, make it stop. But shame, like any feeling, can be put to good use. Getting rid of it may be the ultimate goal, but sometimes feeling it, considering what beliefs are holding it in place, and how it may help to move us out of a bad situation, or dangerous behavior can be helpful. Sometimes shame is blocking our self esteem. It may be standing in the way of genuinely good feelings about ourselves.

Sometimes, shame, like grief and anger, while difficult to bear, can be a connection to a person or time that we miss or long for, even when, confusingly, the situation caused us pain or trauma. Feeling shame can be a way punishing ourselves for something; we may be confused about what we really deserve, or what our role was. It may be a way of protecting ourselves from acknowledging the shortcomings or errors of others, or protecting them and ourselves from anger or disappointment. It may be a way of holding us back, if we are afraid to move forward in other ways.

When shame is a deep emotional imprint, it does not generally go away by instantly changing the thought behind it. It takes a bit more than that. It's not as simple as knowing that everyone makes mistakes, or that you are not the only one, or it wasn't your fault, though these may be helpful and true. It takes talking, and bravery and a willingness to reveal it, and then it can be decided what to do with it and why.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Single and Looking for Love...

Or at least a date?

You are not alone. Seems that meeting someone has become more tedious. Why is it that so many people are finding that it's so hard to meet the right (right-enough) person. The difficulty meeting someone seems not to be biased towards men or women. In my office, I work with singles of both genders who interestingly enough have many of the same concerns about how and where to meet someone these days.

Most have tried online dating, the bar scene, a meet-up or two. A few have tried speed dating, bachelor auctions. A bunch more have tried flirting at concerts, on cruises, and at the grocery store. Some venues, it seems, work better than others. And some singles tell me that they are decidedly biased against certain kinds of venues, and for a variety of reasons. Some say having to be proactive at all feels wrong, who wants to feel "desperate" enough to have to actually go looking for love. (Though feeling desperate and being desperate are not the same. Feelings are not always facts, after all). But many believe you shouldn't have to look. Love - initial meeting and all - should just happen.

I agree. It should. But it doesn't always. One of the things that many singles who venture out looking must face is the slamming loss of that fantasy. The deeply romantic wish that love would just happen. The romantic in me must tell you that I do believe that it does happen. But the pragmatist in me also must tell you that going out looking can help things along.

Someone told me recently that she decided that she would have coffee with 200 men. (Not at the same time). She tenderly took her perfect "how I will meet the love of my love" fantasy, and all the longing that went with it, and tucked it safely away in her heart, and made a list of every possible way to meet a man. She then picked the three "best of the bad" options and committed to having coffee with 200 men. She married number 162.

I know the bar scene can be tiresome. I know that online dating is risky. I know that speed dating can be daunting and frenzied. I know that it's hard to bump into all that potential rejection and disappointment, to have to put in time, emotion, hope and effort. It does seem easier to curl up with a good book, a cup of tea and your cat. And your fantasy.

I think though, that there is an aura to meeting someone. The things you try may actually yield results, or sometimes, just by opening one door, somehow, another door opens too. I do not pretend that this is easy, not at all. It can help to stay curious about what the options are, what it means to try them, how and when to stay the course and when to take a break. It helps to unpack what gets in the way of making the effort, everything from fear to frustration. Usually, there is quite a list. And to consider that there is a difference between waiting and preparing. Doing what is possible to learn about ourselves, about what has shaped us, what holds us back, what we really long for, can go along way towards new doors opening. And of course taking exquisitely good care of yourself by nurturing your friendships, your body, your spirit and your creative drives goes a long way toward helping your resiliency during the search, toward surviving loneliness when it bites, and toward fostering a strong sense of self, which you can carry with you when love does, at last, knock.