Browsed by
Tag: emotions

Isolation, Shame, and Guilt. And Grief. [en]

Isolation, Shame, and Guilt. And Grief. [en]

[fr] Réflexions sur la honte, la culpabilité, l'isolement et le deuil. La honte nous isole et nous laisse seuls avec nos peines et nos problèmes, nous privant de l'apport extérieur qui est souvent la clé pour avancer.

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about the professional turning-point I’m at. What allowed me to write it (and by doing that, become “unstuck” about it) was that in the course of my phone call with Deb, I realised that the situation I was in was not my fault. This freed me of the guilt and shame I was feeling, which allowed me to break my isolation. On a different scale, this is very similar to what I went through regarding childlessness.

So, a few words on how I see this relationship between guilt, shame, and isolation (and grief, too, actually).

Threatening storm and lonely tree

I’m sure I’ve talked about this before (but where, oh where): in today’s world, we are in charge of our lives. Overall, I think it is a good thing. What happens to us is our doing. We are not hapless puppets in the hands of God or Destiny.

But it is not the whole truth. There are forces in this world that are bigger than us, and to deny it is to give ourselves more power over the world, others, and ourselves than we actually have. Accidents happen, and there isn’t always somebody to blame. This is also where the difference between “things I can change, and things I can’t” comes in. The things we can’t change can be part of who we are, but they can also be bigger than us as individuals: social, political, economic contexts and the like.

Some people think they are more powerless than they are. Others feel responsible for things that are out of their reach. For the former, recognising that they are responsible for things and make choices they were blind to can be empowering. For the latter (I count myself among them), it is the opposite: feeling responsible for things you are powerless against is guilt-inducing.

Unhealthy guilt is something else again.  This occurs when we establish unreasonably high standards for ourselves with the result that we feel guilty at absolutely understandable failure to maintain these standard.  This kind of guilt is rooted in low self-esteem and can also involve a form of distorted self-importance where we assume that anything that happens is our responsibility; it may come down hard on anything perceived as a mistake in our lives and has the added anti-benefit of often applying to other people too, so that we expect too much from family and colleagues as well as ourselves.

Source (emphasis mine)

Failing at something you believe should be in your control to succeed at. This is what it’s about. Failing to find a partner. Failing to conceive a child. Failing to sustain your business.

Guilt and her sister shame step in, and with them, isolation. Shame shuts you up.

So, discovering that the dating field may very well be stacked against you, that being single doesn’t have to be your fault or a sign that you’re broken, that 1 in 4 women of your age group do not have children (not by choice for 90% of them), that other pioneering freelancers in your line of work are facing an increasingly competitive and specialised market requiring them to adjust their positioning and sales strategy, well, it kind of shifts the picture from “gosh, I’m failing everywhere” to “oh, maybe I’m not actually doing anything deeply wrong after all”.

Now, “not my fault” does not imply giving up all agency. We remain responsible of our lives — of what we do with what is given to us. I may not be able to make my ovaries any younger, but I could think about whether I want to adopt (I don’t). I can think about how involved I want to get in finding a partner (move? go through a matchmaking agency?) or if I’m actually happy enough on my own to take my chances with the opportunities life (and Tinder) might throw at me. I cannot change the market I work in, but I can work on my sales and marketing skills to make sure I communicate efficiently to my clients what value I can bring them (not my strong suit so far).

Solutions to challenging situations rarely appear spontaneously in the vacuum of isolation. They require interacting with other human beings. Often, the first step out of the isolation shame and guilt bring about is opening up to a friend. And another. And another.

Blogging and Facebook are optional 😉

A word about being “out”, however. When shame and guilt wrap themselves around something, there is often some kind of loss at stake. Even when it is something the do with our professional lives: it can be the loss of a job, of a career, or even of face, in a way, when something we believed in doesn’t work out the way we hoped.

We deal with loss through grief. Grieving requires company. And company doesn’t come knocking when you lock yourself up.

Similar Posts:

Faire preuve de courage face au deuil [fr]

Faire preuve de courage face au deuil [fr]

[en] Being brave in grief is not hiding outward displays of pain or sadness. It is, quite on the contrary, daring to face the full extent of our pain. That is way more scary than sticking a lid on things and pretending it's ok. (Inspired to write by this article).

Quand on parle de courage dans le contexte du deuil, on entend généralement ça dans le sens d’être “fort”, à savoir ne pas montrer à l’extérieur l’étendue de sa peine ou de sa détresse.

Mais le vrai courage, face à un décès ou une perte qui bouleverse notre existence, c’est d’oser sentir combien ça fait mal, combien on souffre, combien on est triste et désespéré. D’oser sentir le trou béant de l’absence, que la vie a perdu tout son goût, qu’on ne peut pas imaginer aller de l’avant ainsi. Sans.

Neige et chalet 126 2015-01-18 17h40

Notre douleur est à la mesure de notre attachement. Et c’est uniquement en prenant la mesure de celle-ci, en seaux de larmes, qu’on peut espérer accepter cette inacceptable absence.

La tristesse, c’est en fait le signe qu’on accepte un peu plus. Le refus de faire face, le couvercle qu’on met sur nos émotions, c’est ce qu’on appelle le “déni”. C’est essayer de faire semblant qu’on ne souffre pas tant que ça. Et c’est cette attitude, justement, qui risque fort de nous empêcher de retrouver goût à la vie, voire même de laisser des séquelles.

J’entends parfois des personnes en deuil me dire qu’elles n’arrivent pas à pleurer. J’ai passé par là aussi. L’antidote est plutôt simple, en fait: il s’agit de prendre conscience que la force de notre “refus” (“je ne veux pas qu’il/elle soit mort, je ne veux pas qu’il en soit ainsi, je ne veux pas vivre avec cette absence”) est le reflet de notre peine. Dans ces moments de refus ou de rejet, on peut rentrer en contact avec sa peine simplement: “si, il va falloir…”

Le courage, c’est ça. C’est oser sentir sa tristesse, oser plonger dans ce puit sans fond qui, nous le croyons, va nous anéantir, avec la conscience que c’est à travers cette tristesse que l’on va finir par accepter l’absence que l’on refuse absolument d’accepter.

Similar Posts:

Music and Sadness [en]

Music and Sadness [en]

[fr] Musique, émotions, larmes.

This is a post I wrote over a year ago, in December 2014, but never published. It’s still quite true today. Since his death, I’ve been listening to David Bowie. I was very unfamiliar with his music and wouldn’t have listed him as an artist whose work I “liked”. Now, I’m discovering that there is actually quite a lot of his stuff I do like, and that I am finding an interest in the rest, even if it’s not my favorite kind of music. It feels like a different way of appreciating music from until now.

Emotions have always been hard. As far as I remember. Especially one, which all the others seem to hang on to. Sadness. Grief.

I can have trouble connecting to these sometimes difficult emotions. We all do, to some extent. Maybe? I’m not sure. Well, I have trouble connecting.

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve realised that there are two things that I do to help me connect, to help me feel: listen to music and watch fiction. Reading sometimes does it too, but less — I suspect it’s the music connection. Movies and TV series have music, in addition to a story.

Until about 18 months ago I was singing in a local choir. Too much going on, I had to make the difficult choice to stop. Since then, I haven’t been singing much. I got a car again earlier this year, and I sing in my car, when I listen to music.

Singing while commuting is what made me realize how important music was to me. When I was a teenager I would drive to school on my motorcycle, singing at the top of my lungs under my helmet. If I’m alone in a car, I’ll sing along to whatever I’m listening to.

Over the last year, despite the car, I have been listening to less music. I’ve been listening to podcasts, or more recently, audiobooks. Or I just haven’t been listening to much. The cable to connect my iPhone to my music player in the car is shot now, so I drive in silence. And I find that I’m not even really singing.

This year has been a difficult year. There will be more — much more — to write about on that topic. I have been keeping myself busy. With work, of course, but not being too much of a workaholic, with other things too: helping people around me with their problems (a big favourite of mine it seems), consuming fiction and non-fiction in various forms, and having an active social life, online and off.

And now that I’m stuck on a plane with my headphones in, listening to music because I’m tired and don’t trust myself not to fall asleep while listening to a podcast, I am taken over by a big wave of sadness. It’s not even very specific, sadness about this or about that. Oh, about a bunch of things, but it moves around. I don’t try to catch it. It’s just there.

And music brought me back to it.

Similar Posts:

My Journey Out of Procrastination: Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping [en]

My Journey Out of Procrastination: Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping [en]

In addition to the five principles I described in my earlier post, two more really important things to understand regarding procrastination are:

  • how perfectionism ties in with it
  • how having trouble starting and trouble stopping are two sides of the same problem.

So, perfectionism. I think the link between procrastination and perfectionism is perceived by most people, but it remains a superficial understanding. Like procrastination, perfectionism is not something you get rid of by just “accepting you’re not perfect” or “lowering your standards”. It’s not that simple.

Perfectionism is often rooted in deep-seated fears of the sky falling on your head if somebody says something negative about you or what you’ve done. Just willing away this emotional component will sadly not be enough to free oneself, in most cases. So, just like procrastination, one’s tendancy to go for perfection perfection perfection needs to be treated gently and with understanding. Where does it come from? Do I really believe that people can love me and appreciate what I do even if it’s (I’m) not perfect? (Don’t answer that question too quickly… The answer is often “no” if you’re really honest with yourself.) What small experiences can I do to show and teach myself that the sky will **not** fall on my head if I don’t do things perfectly?

It’s also important to understand that one of the things perfectionism does is make mountains out of molehills: if your standards for what you want to accomplish are very high, it’s discouraging. You think about decorating your flat to make it the perfectly decorated place of your dreams, and before you’ve even finished imagining it you’re already discouraged and don’t have any energy to even get started. This is where tricks like breaking up big projects (or aspirations) into smaller pieces can come in handy. (For example, I’ll accept that my flat isn’t decorated, and take the small step of putting up one picture on the wall, even though that won’t make it “perfectly decorated”.)

When I was a teenager, I understood rather quickly that my desire to do things “well” was getting in the way of my simply doing them. In a way, I’d say I’m a reformed perfectionist: I’ve long ago decided that I’d rather do things imperfectly than not do them (I have a “just do it even if it’s crap” mode). I also learned that what I considered “crap” was often considered by others to be “great” — like that time when I wrote a quick and dirty page on what I’d done at a job, mainly for myself, and sent it off to my brother who was working at the same company, who then (to my horror) forwarded it to the manager, manager who then (to my utmost disbelief) got back to me praising the professionalism of my crappy document.

In some cases, you might discover that perfectionism is not the real problem, but a “constructed” problem designed to achieve a goal like help you procrastinate. It might sound a bit crazy, but sometimes causality doesn’t really go in the direction we imagine.

Starting and stopping are a good example of this. Almost all people who procrastinate will at some point say something like “Oh, my problem is just starting — once I’ve started, then there’s no stopping me, I’ll do what I set out to do. I just really need to find a way to get started.” I said the exact same thing. Then one day I realised (I had a little help for that) that the real problem I faced was not that I couldn’t start things, but that once I was started, I just couldn’t stop.

I’m a little obsessive, and once I’m doing something, I get completely absorbed in it, don’t see time go by, forget to eat, forget to feel, forget to breathe (!), lose myself. It’s clearly one of the things that helped me develop RSI all those years ago, but that’s not the only problem. It’s that although I’m being productive, I’m “not there”, I’m out of touch with myself, and I’m not really enjoying it, except in a kind of manic, compulsive way. This is not flow, by the way — it’s something else and it’s not healthy.

So in a way, I have a very good reason not to want to start things. I have a very good reason for procrastinating — it’s my healthy reaction against behaviour that makes me lose myself.

The way out, therefore, is to learn to stop. If you know you can stop, then you are free to start. FlyLady understood this very well, and this is why the “you can do anything for 15 minutes” mantra works so well. Trust me, learning to stop is not easy. Once you’re finally doing something and getting into it, stopping after 30 minutes (or whatever time you’ve set) is going to feel very counterproductive. But remember where the real problem is here: if you don’t make the effort to stop, you’re cheating yourself (specially if you coaxed yourself into starting because there was a clear time limit to how much time you’d spend on the task) and it will make it even more difficult to start next time. I find the way FlyLady puts it in her “How to Declutter” page pretty inspiring:

Decide how often you are going to declutter a zone. Do a little every day – use a timer. But be warned – this can become compulsive! Once you get started you will want to clean like a banshee! Don’t burn yourself out! Only do small amount at a time. The house did not get dirty overnight and it will not get clean overnight. When you set the timer you can only do two sessions at a time. This goal may seem unattainable right now, but you can do it in little pieces. In a couple of months, the whole house will be decluttered.

So, concentrate on stopping things, rather than on starting them. Set time limits. Flip the problem on its head, and you should soon see things changing.

Similar Posts: