Behind the Curtain

I love the annual event of seasonal movies.  Whether it is the time of year for White Christmas, Sound of Music, or the Harry Potter series, there is something about sitting down and relaxing into a familiar story during a specific season. Growing up, I watched The Wizard of Oz every year.  The monkeys were always freaky, the tin man caring, Dorothy focused. The wizard, believing everyone wanted him to be something he was not, hid behind a creation of his own making, terrified of being found out that he was human.  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”  The truth was each character was living life by what they had been told: they were heart-less, courage-less, brain-less, lost or powerless, and none realized they already had, exactly what they were seeking within them.

I have felt that way: perhaps you as well.  And, it is stressful.

Living with the feeling you/we are “not enough” is exhausting, defeating and shaming.  Believing we are not enough (of an employee, colleague, partner, child, parent) comes from our life experiences and is a very human reaction. Chris Germer, PhD, is a clinical psychologist from Arlington, Massachusetts, who specializes in mindfulness and compassion-based psychotherapy and has co-authored five books on Mindfulness and Self-Compassion. This quote is from one of his recent lectures: “Shame is not your fault. It is deeply human. It is, however, your responsibility.” Let me say that again:

“Shame is not your fault. It is deeply human. It is, however, your responsibility.”

Let me explain. Shame is a human response to life: we all experience it in our lives.  Knowing this helps us realize we are not alone.  Shame can feel isolating, and when we get an attack of shame, it increases our stress level and our feeling of alone-ness.

Chris does not leave us with a difficult statement without offering us an action to care for ourselves. Our “responsibility” lies in our response to shame. A friend described “responsibility” as “an opportunity to make a shift.” WWII author and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

As we continue to recognize shame in our stories, we can take a pause in between the shame attack (the stimulus) to observe what is happening in our experience, in our body. It is a space we can learn to create through practice. This is especially helpful during the storm surge stress when shame can be even more fierce than on ordinary days.

This week, take time to observe where shame shows up in your life. When you recognize it, place your hand on your heart, acknowledging the shame attack and remind yourself this is not your fault. It is part of the human condition. Then, take a moment and ask yourself this: “self, what do you need from me to move through this shame attack?” Our souls are wise, and they know what we need. We simply don’t know to ask. So ask. “What is it that I need at this moment, in this space for my well-being?” You may be surprised at what you hear.

Peace for the week,

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