Turning Towards Life – The Longing for Realness

Our Turning Towards Life conversation of Sunday 8th October Lizzie Winn and I took up the topic of our longing for realness, and the many ways in which we hold back from being real and truthful with ourselves and with the people around us.

You can join us live at 9am next Sunday morning here.

 

The source text for our conversation was written by Lizzie for her Sacred Rebellion blog:

The Longing for Realness.

As we commute with our hair washed and our smart clothes on,
Nothing is truly hidden of our flailing marriages, our domestic madness, our financial ruin, our anxious bodies.

Because we, ourselves can see it and feel it, even if we’ve become expert at hiding away and letting it all fester in our bodies and homes.

We get so lonely in our own, small worlds of circles upon circles of self criticism, questioning and confusion. Compensation, defensiveness, self-absorption.

We look good, like we should. Function well as the world tells us to do.
And mostly inside there’s much occurring, that doesn’t get to the light because keeping up appearances is safer in our world than being straight and honest.

What if we’ve got it horribly wrong?
What if our humanity has a requirement to be joined by other humanity, to remove the shame of our messed up minds, hearts and bodies?

What if our dark bits are there, calling us to bring them to the light, and we keep shutting them in. Until they make us ill, make the world ill?

What about us is really unacceptable? In truth, the full spectrum of our experience is acceptable. Surely it has to be.

Here’s to a world where we are each other’s acceptance as well as our own. A world where looking like we’ve got our shit together is less valued and approved of than being real, vulnerable, disclosive and open.

— Lizzie Winn

All that has come before is preparation

If you were parachuted into your life from outside – into your life and body as it is today – you might start to see what’s there through new eyes.

Perhaps you’d be more immediately grateful for the people around you, for the love, support and attention they bring you that you had to do nothing to earn. And perhaps you’d see the difficulties in your life for what they are – difficulties to be worked with, rather than confirmations of your inadequacy.

Enormous possibilities and freedom to act might come from inhabiting this world in which you’re both supported and have problems towards which you can bring the fulness of your mind, body and heart.

Being parachuted into your life might put an end to self-pity, because you’d come to see how the body you inhabit has been training, practicing all these years building skills, strength and an understanding of the life it’s been living and the difficulties it’s been facing. Maybe you’d see that you are precisely the one best equipped to deal with the detail and intricacy of this particular life. And perhaps you’d discover a way to look honestly at your situation and the resolve to deal with it, step by patient step.

Maybe if you were parachuted into your very own life, you’d understand that everything that has happened to you – so far – is not a shameful failure but the exact preparation you need for living today, tomorrow, and for the years to come.

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Safe, or so it seems

Our fear of freedom is a profound source of difficulty in our organisations.

We’re afraid of taking up our own freedom, because with freedom comes risk, and with freedom comes responsibility.

If I speak up, create something new, make a dent in things, allow my feelings to show, do what matters, say no to something, or question a process, person or idea… then who knows what might happen? I might inspire someone, influence a whole system, do something that really matters, fail, be embarrassed. I might be loved, adulated, judged, hated, despised or – for some of us worst of all – not noticed at all.

No, better not to take up our own freedom.

It’s way too risky.

And we’re afraid of others taking up their freedom, because we fear our own wishes will be thwarted or we’ll be ashamed.

If others are free then I might get questioned, I may lose my sense of control, I may get judged, my ideas might be sidelined, I might be less powerful. I might feel vulnerable, afraid, surprised, opened. I might find out I don’t know as much as I thought I knew. I might find a whole new path opening up before me, or end up somewhere quite different from where I expected.

No, better not to allow others to take up their freedom.

And so we curtail our liberty in every direction. We become the inventors of and followers of rules that don’t serve us. We declare boundaries where none are needed, or fail to declare them when they could help. We stay small, in predictable bounds. We bury ourselves in email. We invent processes that keep us feeling safe and secure. We try to fit in at the expense of standing out. We do things because they’re ‘best practice’ but not because they help. And we do what we can to avoid making a ruckus, inviting trouble, or allowing ourselves or others to shine.

It’s tiring. It leaves us diminished and scattered and at odds with our own aliveness.

But at least it’s safe.

Or so it seems.

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The non-obviousness of what’s obvious to us

When I feel ashamed, particularly by something someone else has said, my body quickly steps in to defend me. I tighten up, contract, shut down, back off, go silent, get out of the way. It protects me from the feeling of being wounded, but it makes staying in conversation and in relationship quite difficult.

Other people I know, in exactly the same circumstances, have bodies that have them rage, or puff up, or cry.  And some step in, opening, softening, allowing themselves to feel and be vulnerable, coming into closer contact and into questions and curiosity about the other person.

Knowing this reminds me that what seems so obvious and familiar in my body, because it’s been practiced for decades now, is not the only path. Seeing how other people are able to respond shows me that there many different responses to shame, many different stories about it to live. And not all of them involve freezing, or running.

And all of this is a source of hope for me, because I see that with diligence, and practice, and kindness, and some measure of courage – but mostly with practice – I, too, can find a way to stay in contact with feelings I really don’t like to feel. And, as a consequence, to be more open when I’m shaky, to be more present when I’m suffering, to maintain integrity even when I want to give in, and to be curious even when I want, most urgently, to get away.

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Protector Parts, Defender Parts

We are rather less a single, unitary ‘I’ than a system or community of parts, each in relationship with one another. And it can be so very revealing, and practically useful, to get to know the parts – their intelligence, their blind-spots, and the very particular projects they’ve each taken up in our lives.

I’ve written before here about shame, a familiar background mood for me, as it is for so many people. It turns out that there are at least two parts of me that are actively involved in protecting me from shaming by others – one which pre-emptively shames me, and one which more directly defends me from shame. Each has its own form of good intention, and each often causes me difficulty.

The first part is an inner critic part. It’s so dedicated to me not being shamed by other people that it will frequently take pre-emptive action by shaming me itself. The logic is clear, and compelling: if I can be made to feel sufficient shame beforehand, then perhaps I’ll hold back from acting in a way that would cause others to shame me. It’s a simple exchange – the lesser pain of my own internally generated shame to protect against the more soul-searing shame that comes from the disapproval of other people.

This is the part which would have me hold back from speaking my mind, from becoming angry with other people, from showing too much love, from being a surprise or a disappointment or a bother or mystery. This is the part which, for years, held me back from dancing, having me be ashamed of myself even before I begin. It’s dedicated to forever scanning the horizon and keeping me within very tightly contained boundaries so as to avoid the kind of pain it knows I could, once, not tolerate. It is willing to exact quite a price in order to do this: the inner price of feeling some level of shame at all times, and the outer price of holding back what is, most truly, mine to bring.

The second part is a protector part. Should the antics of the inner critic fail, so that I actually get shamed by someone else, it throws itself into action. It’s not interested in waiting, nor does it have any time for curiosity or learning. What it most wants is the shame to go away. The protector part brings forward my defensiveness, my justifications, my denial. Insincere apologies, pretence, lengthy justifications for my actions, tuning out, disconnecting from people, freezing, abandoning my commitments, bending myself out of shape – all these are the order of the day for the protector part.

The protector part is also willing to pay a price to protect me from shame, most notably having me act at odds with myself, with a relationship I care about, or with my deepest, most sincere commitments.

And while both these parts have honourable and noble intentions, they are way out of date, having swung into action when I was very small and really needed some protection. They don’t take into account that I am an adult now, and that there is another part of me, more akin to the me-myself that exists over the entire span of my life, that no longer needs their help. This part, which could be called essence or self, is really quite able to be in the world alongside shame, and anger, and hate, and disappointment. It is vast enough, deep enough, alive enough, and quite strong enough to experience whatever comes its way. It is curious, open, timeless, and willing to learn.

Naming the parts has power. When I see that I am had by the inner critic or inner protector, I am increasingly able to ask them to relax, to step aside – to reassure them that I’m quite fine, whatever happens, and that I do not need them to protect me any more. And, in the space that this affords, I’m more able to step, willingly and without panic or rush, towards genuine relationship and inquiry, and into the world as it is rather than the world as smaller parts of me imagine it to be.

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Putting arms around it all

Parker Palmer writes that “The only way to become whole is to put our arms lovingly around everything we’ve shown ourselves to be”. 

Today, I’m seeing this in a new light, discovering with more depth that I am loving and infuriating, disciplined and irresponsible, caring and wounding to others, easy-going and obsessive, thoughtful and forgetful. I can be vibrant, hurtful, boring, confusing, maddening, inspiring, unbelievably annoying, wildly unreasonable, spiteful, deceitful, trusting, dedicated, principled, forgetful, fierce, loving, lazy, generous. I can act with deep intelligence and astonishing stupidity, even when I am most dedicated to taking care of others, and of life.

Some years ago the idea that I needed to be perfect and always good started to undo (I wrote about that here, a year ago). Now, what seems to be crumbling is a project, often hidden to myself, that has me imagine I can always make sure people are ok around me. And as this crumbles I can see more clearly that my very being alive means that I cannot control how others around me will experience me or the things I do. People will be brought to life, inspired, but also frequently hurt and disappointed around me – simply because I am, and often as a direct consequence of what is most deeply loving and most fully alive in me.

The more I see and welcome about myself – my light and my darkness, my brokenness and my imperfection – the more here and whole I seem to be. The less ashamed. The less afraid. The more able to take responsibility and care for others. The less in denial about who and what I am. And, I hope, the more able to be with others in their broken, imperfect, wild and beautiful wholeness too.

I’m seeing what I can do to live with my arms wrapped around all of it.

Amends

You’re furious at her.

The update was late, twice as long as you’d wanted, and not written for the audience you had in mind. And the meeting where you have to present it is first thing in the morning.

You’re not just furious. You’re frustrated, and not a little bit scared about what’s going to happen as a result of all this.

And in your fury you’ve said some things you regret. Some things that fail to see her dedication, the hours she put in, the way she set aside her own concerns in order to help you. By not seeing her good intentions, and by being so sure of your rightness, you’ve left her feeling hurt and wounded and confused, and wondering if her commitment to your project was well placed.

And, when you’re brave enough slow down a little and start to look more closely… which is difficult, because looking honestly hurts you, too… you start to see what you’ve known from the moment you asked her to take this on. You weren’t clear. You were in too much of a rush. You assumed she’d know what to do without checking it out with her (“that’s what she’s paid for after all”). You were afraid to show her that you didn’t, really, quite know what to do yourself.

When you look closely, you start to see that your anger – real as it is – is not so much anger at her, as it is anger with yourself.

And this is the crucial revelation.

Because you see that you projected your own shame and your own self-criticism towards her. And you see that this primarily played a self-protective role. By being angry at her, you did not have to feel your anger with yourself. Covering up your own vulnerability and uncertainty allowed you to shift the burden – and the blame – her way instead of yours.

And it is this revelation – seeing what you were really up to – that allows you to take responsibility, and to make amends.

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Dusting off

When you consciously take up an ongoing practice – running, saying no (or yes), meditating, delegating, gratitude, kindness, speaking up for yourself, writing – and you fall out of your rhythm, out of your commitment for a while… when you find that it’s just not happening, what else is there to do but stand up, smile, and jump back in again?

Excuses, justification, apologetics – none of these do much, in my experience, other than produce a momentary boost of self-esteem.

Even harsh self-criticism and shame are rather wonderfully twisted ways of producing self-esteem by showing you that you care and are not indifferent.

After a rather interrupted August, here I am, standing up, dusting myself off, writing again.

I’m pleased to be back.

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All the same

Seen against the ever-present certainties of our lives – we will die, we will grow old, all that we build or create will eventually fall apart – differences between us drop away. We are all the same.

It’s so hard to live consciously with this in mind, to reach out across the space we imagine separates us and be open to one another. So hard to share our fear, our longing, our truest hopes. So hard to stay present long enough to look deeply into the eyes of others, to fall into them, allowing ourselves to know and be known.

Why so difficult? Perhaps because of the shame we necessarily picked up along the way: sharpened every time we had to be told not to do this or that, to be this way or that way in order to fit in with our families or with our culture. Because of our self-doubt and our inner-criticism, which make it so hard to love ourselves fully (a pre-requisite for allowing ourselves to un-self-consciously love others). And because we are afraid.

And so we hold back, always reserving some distance even from those who love us the most, because that way it feels as if we’ll hold on to some measure of safety. Or we judge others, resent them or hate them, turning them into less than human-beings in our hearts, because it makes us feel better for a while.

Even though we know that our deepest connection with one another is precisely that which can save us from the void.

This is the great ethical work, so difficult to do and so necessary, which calls to us – learning the sensitivity to respond and be open to other people, who we take to be so different from us but with whom we share common ancestry, and common destiny.

For we are intimately related.

Family.

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Sleep

Sleep.

Source of our energy, our creativity, our compassion, our sanity.

And in the buzz and rush of our culture, in our

always-on,

‘but they need me’,

‘I’m so important’,

endless to-do-list,

‘I should’,

‘I ought’,

‘I want’

target-driven,

shame-filled

always-more society

in which we wear our busyness,

and our exhaustion

as badges of honour

perhaps the most undervalued currency of all.

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Looking good

Could it be that it’s time for you to give up looking good so you can be real instead?

I’m not saying this lightly.

Two summers ago, I found myself rendered momentarily speechless, mid-conversation, as a dear friend and I walked together for lunch. A few minutes later, flat on my back on the pavement, heart pounding, short of breath, mind racing.

I knew for certain only after a few days – but had an inkling as it happened – that an undiagnosed blood clot that had been forming in my leg for some time had at that moment broken loose from its moorings.

Terror, love, longing, hope, confusion.

I called home while we waited for the paramedics to arrive.

“I’m fine,” I said. “There’s nothing to be worried about”.

Not, “I’m scared.”. Not, “Please help me”. Not, “I don’t know if I’m going to be ok”.

“I’m fine”.

It was a hot June afternoon, blue skies, but there must have been clouds as I remember watching a seagull wheel high overhead against a background of grey-white.

“I’m fine”.

Just when I most needed help and connection I played my most familiar, habitual ‘looking good’ hand – making sure others around me had nothing to be worried about. A hand I’ve played repeatedly since I was a child.

Even in the most obviously life-threatening situation I had yet experienced: “I’m fine”. Too afraid to be seen for real, to be seen as something other than my carefully nurtured image of myself.

It was there, on the pavement, that I started to understand in a new way the cost of holding myself back from those I most care about; the power and necessity of vulnerability and sincerity; that my humanity, with all its cracks, complexity and fragility, is a gift to others, not a burden.

I began to see that the realness I treasured in the people who love me the most was my responsibility too – a necessary duty of loving in return.

I’m still learning, slowly, how to fully show myself.

One step at a time.

And I’m learning, too, that sometimes we’ll carry on trying to look good, even if it has the potential to ruin our lives as we do so.

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The cycle of ennui and distraction

Here’s a self-perpetuating cycle that may be familiar to you:

ennui

The way out? Through the body.

Give up trying to distract and numb yourself. It only lands you deeper in.

Instead turn towards the experience. Understand that your anxiety, fear, shame are teaching you about the world. You cannot finish everything. You cannot know everything. This is the way of life, and you cannot change it.

There is nothing wrong with you.

And so instead turn into life. Step away from the screen, the to-do list. Run. Walk. Dance. Or sit quietly for a while feeling the simple presence of your body, your breathing, your aliveness.

And then, only when life has taken hold of you, return to your work and your commitments.

They – and what’s important – may look very different to you from here.

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Tight spirals

We discover early in life what the people around us expect from us. And we find ways of doing just that. Even if we’ve completely misunderstood what was being asked.

Meeting these expectations becomes, before long, central to our identity. We know ourselves as this or that kind of person, and then actively work to keep the identity we’ve established going. It feels familiar and comfortable to keep having people around us respond to us in the way to which we’ve become accustomed.

I learned early on to be the peacekeeper: the pursuer of harmony, making sure I and everyone around me remained undisturbed and untroubled; listening, supporting, staying quiet, defusing conflict, avoiding anger (my own and other people’s).

All these ways of being seemed, unquestionably, to be me.

And of course they affected and shaped what was possible in any kind of relationship with me. Peacekeeping can be a great gift to the world, but also stifling and frustrating for others when anything genuine and troubling and sharp needs to be said.

Other people around me took on other kinds of identity – the helper, making sure everyone is cared for and nobody is left out; the achiever, getting ahead and making things happen, knowing themselves through the outward signs of success; the challenger, being sure to be in control, using assertiveness and power to have things happen.

We have powerful inner forces that keep us inside the bounds we’ve established – among them the inner critic, and shame. For years, if I would be ashamed – mortified – if I said anything that I thought might hurt or upset another. And I’d be eaten up by my inner critic if anyone dared express anger towards me.

This is such an important topic because most of the time we can’t tell that this is what we’re doing – manipulating the world so it’s just so – not too hot, not too cold, but just as we expect it to be.

We lead this way. We relate this way.

This is why we all need people around us who can see through our strategies and habits, who can see who we are beyond the tight spiral these identities produce in us – a spiral which keeps the horizons of the world smaller than we imagine, and smaller than we need.

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We don’t do introspection

“We don’t do introspection”, they said to me. “None of this fluffy, self-indulgent, navel-gazing here”, they continued. “We do action.”

Of course. If you’re going to lead as they were, in a global organisation, then right action is critical. But what they meant by “we don’t do introspection” was “we aren’t prepared to look at ourselves”.

If they had an inkling, and most of us do not, of how much their actions were being shaped, out of their view, by

their personal preferences,
by their fears,
by years of habit,
by their avoidance of reminders of childhood experiences (mostly shame),
by the expectations their parents handed them,
by their inner critic,
by their longing to be appreciated, liked, respected, feared, in control

then they would perhaps have taken introspection or some rigorous self-observation more seriously. They would have been brave enough not just to look at their actions, but to look upstream at what was giving rise to them.

But they didn’t.

They had asked for help because they’d been amazingly effective in taking action – action that had landed them and their organisation in deep trouble.

And now they were trying to get out, with the same excuses, and by doing more of what had got them into difficulty in the first place.

Crazy, and sadly all too common.

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When we do the running for others

If you’re avoiding fear, shame or anxiety – as many of us are without realising it – you may also be avoiding, unbidden, on behalf of others.

Your insistence that others participate in your

perfectionism
rushing
detachment
being super laid-back
harmony
conflict-avoidance
being in control
never stopping
knowing about everything
being right
making sure everybody is cared for
winning
avoiding all risk
keeping your options open

might just turn out to be your way of ensuring your colleagues, your team or your family don’t have to experience what it is that you never want to experience.

I’m bringing this up because I think it’s a topic we could all do with observing in ourselves.

Running away, and denying that we’re running, constrains us enormously. And our unknowing projection of it onto others profoundly constrains their freedom too. Whole organisations have been constructed on meeting the avoidance needs of their founders and leaders, at huge cost to everyone.

As we gradually free ourselves from this compulsion, we each earn a much better chance of doing what it is that we actually came here to do.

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Running away

How many of your decisions and plans are attempts to avoid one of three primal emotions – fear, anger or shame?

How much of your way of relating to others is part of the same strategy?

And perhaps even what you call your ‘leadership style’?

We often kid ourselves that we’re exercising rational, conscious choice in each of these, when in fact we’re running as hard as we can from experiences we never wish to have again.

And how different is a life lived or work done on the run, from a life lived or work done out of love?

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Speak to me from the darkness

Compassion is knowing our own darkness well enough that we can sit in the darkness with others.

And it is a relationship between equals, never a relationship between the wounded and the healed.

— Pema Chödrön

When I’m feeling ashamed at what I’ve done – an ordinary, human course of events in which I’ve made a choice I regret – the last thing I need you to do is to tell me what I could have done differently.

The judgement inherent in your advice prolongs my shame, and increases the distance between us.

Speak to me instead from that part of you that knows you could find yourself in a similar situation.

And, please, show me you see my humanity, and that you share it too.

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What we’ll do not to feel it

A story about the trouble caused when we can’t talk about shame and anxiety in organisational life:

A global retailer struggling to meet the expectations of the markets, brings in a new measurement system for its stores, with more than sixty targets to meet.

A daily ratings table of stores is published internally, naming those meeting the targets and those falling short. It’s described as a logical move to increase performance in difficult times. And at the same time, it allows the board to deny the anxiety they’re feeling: “we’ve done everything we can do, and we’ve responded in a clear and rational manner to market conditions”.

Meanwhile, the ratings system has very effectively pushed the anxiety onto the store managers, where even respected, skilful, long-serving managers are reduced to a daily jostle for the top few spots. Unable or unwilling to challenge the system itself (after all, it’s apparently a rational response to the current difficulty), they start to put pressure on their department heads for the daily delivery of the targets. And, unable to start a conversation about how all of this feels to everybody, the department heads – fearful of being shamed – look for whatever they can do to hit their targets.

This is where the real trouble begins.

Because in the face of unnamable anxiety and the unbearable threat of shame, even respected, diligent department heads start to look for ways to game the system.

Numbers are fiddled. Statistics reinterpreted. Orders are left piling up in the warehouse because nobody can keep up with the new standards for shelf layout. Items in the store are relabelled so that products look like they’re available when the mystery shopper team comes around. Staff members are taken off other important duties to work on the tills when queue-length is measured, but the queues are allowed to reach enormous and frustrating lengths at other times.

The target numbers are, frequently, met – aside from for those few unfortunate store managers who aren’t wily enough to play the system – but standards drop relentlessly across the group and customers start to take their business elsewhere.

Public shame, skilfully dealt with. Skilful gaming of the system, denied. The organisation becomes a system for avoiding anxiety rather than serving customers. Nobody talking about it – “it’ll open a can of worms”.

You can see this same drama played out in hospitals, whole health systems, schools, retailers, service industries, transport, government, with huge and debilitating effect.

And in most places nobody’s talking about what’s really going on, because we’ve made mood undiscussable.

If we’re going to deal with all of this – and we must – we’re going to have to wake up to the fact that organisations are always made up of people, and people are always caught up in moods that shape what can be seen and what’s possible. Our insistence on understanding people as detached, strictly rational parts of a well-oiled machine is not doing anything to address these difficulties.

And without the courage to do this, we’re going to condemn ourselves to a future of looking good while we undo our best and most important efforts.

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Owning up

If you want to take action on the almost-invisible ways in which shame shapes your workplace, you could start with looking at how you project your own shame on others so you don’t have to feel it yourself.

Do you blame other people when some share of the responsibility is really yours? Do you cool towards them, or withdraw? Do you explode with rage when your expectations aren’t met and you fear being shown up? Do you make sure they feel the shame that you don’t want as your own?

Shame and the fear of it ride quietly under the visible surface of even calm, polite, ‘civilised’ organisations which claim to treat people with respect and dignity. And it can take quite some courage to look at all of this, because when you start to see your part in it, you might well feel some of the shame yourself.

If you’re going to lead in a way that allows other people around you to bring their aliveness into their work, you’re going to be called upon to look at the shadow side of your policies, your relationships, and the way you speak: to see what you’re denying and to discover what effect it’s having.

And you need the people around you to be alive rather than sleepwalking if you’re going to have any chance of doing work that actually matters.

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Almost invisible

Take a look at the many ways the threat of shame is used as an almost-invisible shaping hand in your own organisation. Or in your family.

Can you see its unspoken possibility embodied in the way you do appraisals, award bonuses, promote people, speak to your colleagues, give feedback?

How do your organisation’s values, frameworks, and stated mission work to keep people in line because they’ll feel shame if they stand out?

What about all the ways you keep people feeling insecure about their positions – working harder and harder, but not necessarily more creatively or effectively, to avoid the shame of redundancy or losing their job?

And how about the ways you quietly support people working crazy hours, giving up on their family life, and being seen to do the ‘right thing’ even if it’s not, actually, right for them or for the situation?

Or do you support a culture in which people are instead very nice to one another, and so are unable to bring up what they see that might be troubling, upsetting, or challenging to the cosy picture you’re promoting?

Shame must be almost invisible, but not quite, for it to have its powerful effect. Its invisibility means many of us simply get on quietly – not standing out too much, taking it as a given part of the background of working life.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful act of leadership to start to point out the hidden threat of shame everywhere you see it, and to begin to undo it so that the people around you can at last begin to flourish?

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A hidden currency

Shame is a powerful, primal human emotion, stirring up for us as it does the overwhelming sense that ‘I shouldn’t be here… I cannot be here…’. It has us contract, freeze, mute ourselves, and make ourselves acceptable at the price of our aliveness and creativity.

It is the perfect mood for forcing us to fit in, to withhold anything that might cause others trouble, to keep us in line. Which is why it’s used so powerfully and effectively in the life of organisations.

And because owning up to shame is, for most of us, itself shameful, we hide it from others and deny it to ourselves, living quietly with the suffering and wounding that it brings. We pretend we are not feeling shame even as we experience it most acutely.

And we pretend not to see how our leadership and organisational structures actively promote it – how shame is often the unspoken currency of organisational life.

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by schlissm via Compfight cc

What you do with shame

Shame is among the most hidden of emotions because being ashamed is, itself, considered so shameful. So we develop strategies to hide it and to project it, particularly in organisational life.

Projection:

Shaming others because of your own shame. Even better if they’re more ashamed than you are.

Blaming them for the very actions that shamed you. Blaming them for something else entirely. Yelling at them. Judging them (so that you can convince yourself you’re better than they are). Telling them how unreasonable, how inattentive, how self-centred they’re being.

Saying: “I’m doing this to you because it’s company policy”; “I’m doing this for your own good”; “We’ve decided to measure things in this new way (that will spare me shame and transfer it to you)”

Managing them out (of the room, the meeting, the company).

It’s no wonder we do this, given how often parents and teachers used shame to keep us in line (or project their own shame) when we were small. And it’s no wonder we work so hard to hide it.

But the extent to which you do this in your family, in your team, and in your organisation is the extent to which you’re actively increasing the shame in those around you.

Once you know this, you have a choice. Are you prepared to own up to your own shame and work with it courageously when it occurs?

Or are you going to continue constraining everyone’s capacity to create, to imagine, to stand out, to step forward, and to take responsibility, simply so you can feel better?

Photo Credit: mr. Wood via Compfight cc