Rising Above Shame: Owning My Part in Someone Else's Struggle With Shame Resilience

Recently it’s been dawning on me that many of the challenges my qualifier had in relating to people were rooted in a lack of "shame resilience": trouble asking for help, trouble taking responsibility for mistakes, trouble owning or expressing her preferences, people-pleasing, evading/escaping, deception/covering up, blame shifting, comparing, perfectionism, etc. It seems to me that shame has robbed her of so much.

Before I go on, I should mention that I am making a distinction between shame and guilt. By shame I am referring to the belief that, "I will never be enough". By guilt I mean the belief that I have done something wrong. Someone with low shame resilience can struggle to distinguish between guilt and shame because they will often slip from doing something wrong to believing that they are fundamentally unworthy of redemption. This can happen so quickly that the opportunity to distinguish between true guilt and assumed guilt often passes by unrecognized.

"Shame derives its power from being unspeakable." -Dr. Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, p67

For my part, when I was disappointed, overwhelmed, or frustrated I was a "dealer of shame". When I was being critical, judgmental, harsh, or over-responsible I was not a safe person to show weakness around. I was not a safe person to reveal a lack of initiative or reliability around. I see now how I triggered shame in her when I expressed my critical spirit or took things over. Basically, there were periods when my attitudes and behavior made it very difficult for a person with low shame resilience to be vulnerable and authentic.

While I am not responsible for someone else’s shame resilience, I am responsible for how I deal with my disappointment and frustration. I value learning along the way, by going and doing. I value do-overs for people who take responsibility for themselves. So, it is against my values to contribute to an environment of harshness, arrogant judgment, or embarrassment. It is against my values to contribute to an environment hostile to growth and learning as you go. It is against my values to hijack a person’s sense of agency. And yet I found myself doing these very things.

I find it hard to live out my values, even my core values, when I am in pain, anxious, exhausted, or overwhelmed with unprocessed emotions. It's nearly impossible to live out my values in the midst of my own shame attack or vulnerability hangover; when the conflict between my values and my behavior wages a pretty ugly war inside me. In these moments it’s easy for me to succumb to the lie of, “They made me feel x, or y, or z.” and use that to rationalize my behavior when it is contrary to my values. Believing that someone else made me feel something and that my feelings are adequate justification for violating my values… this is a trap. Falling into this trap has serious life-altering joy-robbing consequences.

Pain and strong emotions are the normal result of pain, like being betrayed or living with an addict. Anxiety and overwhelm are a natural consequence of being a leader with codependent tendencies. While I acknowledge strong emotions like anger and hurt are normal, I also find it’s rarely productive for me when I express strong emotions unwisely. As difficult as it may be, it’s my duty to take responsibility of me. It’s my job to create margin in my life. It’s my job to reduce my anxiety level. It’s my job to graciously express my expectations and maintain my boundaries when they are violated. It’s my job to process my emotions in healthy, productive ways. No one else can do these things for me.

In the moment it often seems easier to blame the other person for how I’m feeling and behaving. While it may be expedient in the short run, I have come to realize that in the long run this is a destructive way to operate. It is the opposite of the gracious tenacity I aspire to. It also works contrary to my desire to cultivate life and agency in others.

I will incorporate this new insight into my amends to my sons and my qualifier. I will pray for each of them, and for myself, that we would develop healthy shame resilience. I will add the following core values to my playbook: 1) personal agency - Taking responsibility for yourself; Exercising dominion and initiative in your god-given realms of responsibility, and 2) learning along the way, as I go and do - Learning from feedback, reactions, results; valuing do-overs for people who take responsibility for themselves. I will continue to learn how to create margin and reduce my anxiety. I will develop my ability to process my emotions productively. I will be of service to others by sharing my journey of recovery.

God, you are the only mirror that tells the truth about me. Please forgive my harshness and intolerance of disappointment. Please forgive the harm I have caused to the loved ones you have given me and heal the wounds I have created. Please, bless me with the awareness that you are my only judge... and your judgments are perfect. Please grant me humility when I am guilty of wrong and clear boundaries when I am tempted to assume guilt that is not my own. Please grant me resilience in the face of shame attacks and other hostilities so that I will not behave rashly or harshly. Grant me a strong sense that you are presiding over every situation and bless me with your wisdom, composure, and graciousness.

For my family, grant us the presence of mind to take every thought captive and submit it to your judgment. Please increase our shame resilience. Grant us the wisdom to discern what is truth, what is falsehood, and what to do when we need more insight. Grant us growth and the ability to humbly reflect with sober-mindedness on our thoughts and behaviors. Grant us the courage to take healthy initiative in the realms of responsibility you have given each of us. Grant us wisdom and willingness to make healthy amends. Please cultivate in us a spirit of gratitude for all the ways you care for us and a sense of deep grounded joy.

-Steve M.

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