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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.

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A Patchwork Post From The Chalet [en]

A Patchwork Post From The Chalet [en]

[fr] Plein de choses en vrac. Y'a des liens qui mènent vers des trucs en français.

I keep falling into this trap. I don’t blog about something because there is something else, more important, that I should blog about before and haven’t got around to writing.

In this case, it’s the fact that just over a week ago, I finally got to see Joan Baez live on stage. I’ve been listening to her since I was seven or so. I know most of her songs. I’ve always listened to her. And a few years ago I decided that I should really go and see her live soon, because, you know, she’s not getting any younger, and at some point people who spend their lives touring and singing on stage might decide that they want to stay at home and paint instead.

Joan Baez at Paléo

And she was coming to Paléo, in Nyon, just next door. I think I cried during the whole show — not from sadness, just from too much emotion. I was glad to be there that evening, because it was the evening to witness, with Patti Smith and Robert Plant, too. Isn’t it strange how somebody can be such an important part of your life (the soundtrack of many of my years, like Chris de Burgh) — and yet they have no idea you exist?

If you’ve never listened to Joan Baez, just dive into YouTube.

During the drive to the chalet a story came up on the podcast I was listening to which is exactly about that. The Living Room, a story from the podcast Love + Radio, which I’m going to add to my listening list as soon as I have a good enough data connection.

I finished reading “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson, after devouring “The Psychopath Test” these last weeks. It’s a great book. Anybody spending time online should read it. It’s important. With great power comes great responsibility, but we the people on Twitter and Facebook are not aware of the power we wield. The power to destroy lives. To get the gist of it, use 17 minutes of your life to watch Jon’s TED Talk.

My reading of this book coincides with the unleashing of online fury over the killing of Cecil the Lion. It has disturbed me deeply. I feel an urge to dig through my archives and see what my reactions to Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco were, because I remember the stories. I’m worried of what I may find. I will be watching myself closely in future.

I also find myself shy in speaking up against those piling on against Cecil’s killer. Oh, he has done wrong. And I have no love for hunters, and no love for hunters of big cats. But what is missing here is proportionality. And I am scared that by speaking up I will find myself faced with a wall of “you’re either with us or against us”, ie, if you don’t join the mob then you’re defending the killing of lions. Just the way last year I was accused of “encouraging pedophiles” and whatnot because I was opposed to a stupid piece of “anti-pedophile” legislation. To some extent, I feel like I have let myself be silenced. Parallels to be drawn with the harassment episode I went through earlier this year (more on that, someday, probably).

This interview of Jon Ronson for On The Media also gives a very good summary of his book.

(My only gripe with Jon Ronson and his book is that a blog is not a post, dammit!)

Two local newspaper articles made me react today on Facebook (they’re in French). One about “the ideal age to conceive” for women, and one about a carer who got bitten by a Komodo dragon at the Lausanne Vivarium.

The first made me jump up because alongside statistics saying “if you want three kids you should get to work at this age” we find things like “you still have a 40% chance of conceiving at 40” and “don’t worry, it’s still quite possible to have children after 37”. Well, at 40 your chances of success through IVF are more around 10-15% — I’m curious where that “40%” comes from, and what it’s supposed to mean. Certainly not “4 attempts to conceive out of 10 succeed” but more “4 women out of 10 who are ‘trying’ (define that) succeed”. Another topic that’s keeping me from blogging about other stuff, because I have so much more to write about not having children. Well, you’ll get it in tidbits, it seems.

As for the second, well, I was expecting a “scare” piece. “Look, the dangerous animal.” Or “look, another negative story for the Vivarium” (which was running out of funding a couple of years ago). To my surprise the article was really good (edit: wow! they seem to have changed the title!), with the carer explaining how she was actually responsible for how the animal had reacted, and that showed how affectionate she was towards it despite the bite. I realised that reading the title had prepared me for “bad journalism”. But going back to it, the title was quite neutral: “Vivarium carer bitten by komodo dragon”. And so I wonder: how could the title have been better? Tricky.

Up in the mountains, in my chalet with almost no data connection, it’s easy to slow down and “do nothing”. A couple of weeks ago I decided I was going to consciously try and do less things in parallel, both on a micro and a macro level. Monotask more, multitask less. Try and keep my number of “open projects” under control. My podcast-hopping brought me to the “Bored and Brilliant Boot Camp” episode the other day. It really drove home the fact that my brain needs downtime. Bored time. And probably a holiday (I haven’t had a “real holiday” (= with no work to do) in much too long, and I’m starting to feel it. How did that happen? I thought I was over that.) So now, I’m paying more attention to where my phone is, and trying to keep it more in my bag and less in my hand, more in the other room and less just next to me.

That’s it for today, folks. My plan is to write again tomorrow. Or the day after. Let’s see if it materialises.

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Brené Brown on Vulnerability (TEDx Talk) [en]

Brené Brown on Vulnerability (TEDx Talk) [en]

[fr] Excellente présentation de Brené Brown sur la vulnerabilité et l'importance de celle-ci pour notre capacité à entrer en relation. A regarder absolument (il y a des sous-titres français si vous en avez besoin).

After a pretty unproductive day watching cars spawn and unhacking my blog, I settled down to watch a few videos I had stuck in Boxee over the last months.

First I watched Alain de Botton, who said very eloquently what I’ve been thinking for a few years now: if anyone can be anything, and we owe our successes to ourselves, we are also fully responsible for our failures, and that responsibility is crushing us and our self-esteem. I then went on to David Blaine, who held his breath for 17 minutes — more scary than inspiring for me (kids, don’t try this at home in the bathtub).

Finally, I listened to Brené Brown’s talk on vulnerability and connexion. It hit close to home, and I took some notes, which I’ll share with you in continuation with my mad crazy live-blogged notes of the Lift conference. But do listen to Brené directly:

In order for connection to happen, we need to let ourselves be seen.

Shame: if people see or know this thing about me, then I am not worthy of connexion.

The only thing that separates people who have a strong sense of worthiness from those who struggle to feel worthy of love and belonging is that those who have this strong sense of worthiness — they believe they are worthy of love and belonging. That’s the only difference.

The only thing that keeps us from connexion is our fear that we’re not worthy of connexion.

Courage to be imperfect.

Compassion to be kind to oneself and then to others.

Connexion as a result of authenticity. Let go of who you should be to be who you are.

AND vulnerability. They fully embraced it. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. The willingness to say “I love you first”. The willingness to invest in a relationship which may or may not work out.

We numb vulnerability. But you can’t selectively numb the emotions you want, the difficult feelings. You numb everything else too.

We make everything that is uncertain certain. (Control.) We perfect. Including our children.

You’re imperfect, you’re wired for struggle, you’re worthy of love and belonging.

We pretend.

Let ourselves be seen. Love with our whole heart, even though there’s no guarantee. Practice gratitude and joy. Believe that we’re enough.

Thanks, Brené. You can follow Brené on Twitter or check out her blog.

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