Monthly Archives: March 2014

Dating Advice for the Shame-Based Man

Shame-based people unconsciously seek each other out.  Shame-based men and women both have low self-esteem and feel unworthy.  As such they each put on a good face to attract each other.  On the subconscious energy level, however, shame-based people recognize each other and are attracted to each other.  When shame-based people get together it is great in the beginning.  Both the man and the woman are “people pleasers” and will do anything to get the other person to like them and each feels gratified to have validation from another person.  Because the man feels unworthy he is motivated by a need to acquire something he can show to the world and himself that he has worth.  The woman may also have this motive but also has a fear of abandonment and sees the shame-based man as a reliable, non-abandoning replacement for her parents.

Because “people pleasing” is not an action of heart but rather an action of shame, maintaining it eventually becomes tiresome.   By “action of heart” I mean an act that is performed for the love of performing the act itself.   Actions of the heart are effortless, energizing and joyful.  An “action of shame” is an act performed because the actor thinks it will make him look good in the eyes of others. Actions of shame may start out effortless but eventually become tiresome, draining and bring forth a feeling of resentment towards the person to whom the act benefits.

Shame-based women will seek to dominate their shame-based partner.  Because the man in this relationship starts out as a people pleaser he will bend his will to hers.  Eventually, this will become tiresome and he will begin to let up on his pleasing behavior.  This will trigger the woman’s fear of abandonment and she will respond by becoming angry.  Shame-based men become very uncomfortable around angry women and so the man will back down.  The woman will hold this wounding (the letting up on people pleasing) over the man’s head as a means of controlling him and keeping him from abandoning her.  This cycle will repeat itself over and over until the chain is broken.

For the shame-based man in this position the only answer is to stand up to the woman.  If he does not do this he will become resentful and will eventually hate the woman and find everything she does irritating.  By standing up to her he will notice his resentment and irritation abate almost instantly.  Standing up for himself, however, is one of the most difficult things in the world for a shame-based man so it takes a bit of practice and outside support to come to a place where he is comfortable enough to do this.  The more he does it, however, the better he will feel.

If anger no longer works for the woman to control the man she may attempt to manipulate him trough tears.  It is very important for the man to stand up to this as well.  By “stand up” I mean the man must not give himself away.  I am not saying to be cruel or abusive but simply to not take shit from the woman whether shit comes in the form of anger, abuse or guilt.  He can only not give himself away if he keeps his center and rejects the attempts to manipulate him.  This may take anger on his part at first.  Part of the woman’s strategy will be to deny him his anger or to make him feel ashamed of his anger.  Here, she is playing the role of shame and will try to outflank him every time he stands up for himself.  But the man must weather this storm.

Why does the man not just leave the woman?  If he does without resolving this inability to stand up to a domineering woman he will simply find another woman to dominate him and the cycle will repeat itself.  This is actually helpful for the shame-based woman as well because she will be put in a position to learn the lesson that she should not blame another person for her own feelings.

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A General Overview of My Experience with Alcohol

I remember drinking vodka and fruit punch in the basement of my parents’ house in high school alone on a Friday night.  I felt the buzz.  It felt different, as if something uncomfortable was being erased. I liked it.  Throughout High School I would not say I was a heavy drinker.  When I did drink it was at house parties generally.  I remember the first party I went to and got drunk.  I do not think I got sick and I do not think I felt sick the next day.  I felt like I was doing something different that would put distance between the shy, awkward, geeky persona I projected and make me one of the cool kids.

Then there was the time a friend slept over and we drank, played Monopoly and dipped tobacco in the basement.  In the morning I was really hung over.  I think I told my mother I was sick.  My friend went home and I went to sleep in my room. My mother later discovered the half-finished bottles in a cooler in the basement.  She made me feel like I was the worst criminal in the world.  I think she also suggested sending me to a rehab or a counselor, which I refused. I did not think there was anything wrong with me.  I was just doing what kids my age did.  Later on my Dad drove me around in his car and interrogated me about what I had done. I remember him asking me if I had mixed the alcohol or drank it straight.  I remember not knowing why he wanted that information and feeling really embarrassed and frustrated about answering it.

In college I joined a fraternity.  I drank in the fraternity to be one of the guys.  For the most part it was the time of my life. The worst part was getting so drunk that the room spun or waking up hung over.  But there was also something in me that told me the more I drank, the cooler people would think of me.

I did the same thing after college when I worked and went out with friends (although not to the same degree or extent).  When I went to law school I did the same thing, perhaps to the same extent as in college, but I was living in New Orleans so that is probably an exception.

At some point after I got married and was working for a law firm alcohol became a way of coping with anxiety and depression. It switched from something fun and seemingly inconsequential to something I began to be concerned about and had trouble stopping.

The good thing and the bad thing about alcohol is that it obscures feelings.  It is bad in the sense that if my feelings are obscured then I do not deal with them and do not move past them.  It is good in the sense that sometimes feelings are too much to endure.  If there is no escape and no dealing then maybe it is a good thing to have alcohol around to escape.  Of course the danger of that is addiction and damage to health.  It is not easy to control and becomes more difficult if whatever feelings are being obscured by alcohol are never dealt with.  In my case that feeling was shame.

So the answer in the long run is of course to deal with feelings and ultimately that is how to overcome a problem with addiction.  It is a chicken and the egg type of situation (maybe).

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Am I Responsible for my Thoughts?

You have heard it said … “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  But I say to you that anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matt 5:27-28

At first glance it would seem that what Jesus is saying in this famous passage is that a man is responsible for the thought of lust that passes through his head at the sight of a beautiful woman.  Presumably this man is responsible for all his other thoughts as well and with this responsibility comes shame and guilt if the thoughts are wrong.  That is certainly the way I understood the passage growing up.  This is a very shame-based way of viewing the mind and places a heavy and unnecessary burden on impressionable minds.

This is true because the mind is constantly churning forth thoughts.  Anyone who has meditated quickly figures this out.  This is especially true for someone who is new to meditation.  Sitting still with closed eyes, trying to concentrate on a mantra or trying to clear the mind is a very difficult task.  Seemingly random thoughts will sneak in here and there and you will follow them until you remember that you were supposed to be meditating.  This will happen over and over again.  Performing this exercise will reveal how difficult and how much effort it takes not to identify with these thoughts.

Meditation will also reveal the several layers or parts to the mind.  There are at least three.  The first is the part that churns forth ideas without morals.  This is sometimes called the id or the ego or monkey-mind.  Sometimes this is associated with the limbic system or the primitive, reptile brain that seeks pleasure and tries to avoid pain.  This part of the mind lives in the moment and does not think ahead.  The second,  is the part of the mind that chastises the self for the lust, envy, anger that the first part thinks about.  This part is sometimes called the super-ego or conscience.  This is probably associated with the prefrontal cortex or modern brain that can think ahead and moralizes and judges.  Finally, there is the part of the mind that observes the other two parts.  This is sometimes called the true-self, the atman or perhaps the soul.  Most of the time the observer is asleep or identifies itself with one of the other two parts.  Meditation, is a way to keep the observer awake but that is a topic for another blog post.

In the shame-based universe, a person is responsible for their thoughts.  But how can a person bear the responsibility for something he has no control over?  Would it not make more sense to say that a man is not responsible for the initial thought but is responsible for how he reacts to that thought.  After all, it is possible to reject a thought or not act on a thought.  When this happens, this is the observer part of the mind not identifying with the thought churning part of the mind.  Adopting this way of looking at one’s thoughts takes practice in order to believe the truth of it but it does alleviate a great deal of unnecessary guilt and shame.

 

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part VI

After about a year of being unemployed I managed to land a contract position working for an insurance company auditing their legal bills.  The hours were full time and the work was a tedious, cubicle type job.  Because I was a contract employee I did not have medical benefits, it did not pay very well and I was treated like a second-class citizen compared to the full time employees. On the other hand, I did have a place to go during the day and I had enough income coming in where I was able to get off unemployment insurance. It was better place to work than Dechert because the hours were not as long and the people were a little nicer. For that I was grateful. Basically, I was working this job because it was better than being unemployed.  But I knew that I was working this job only until I could find something better.

The guys in my Men’s Group were supportive and happy that I finally was no longer unemployed. But they all encouraged me to look for a job that better suited my desires.  At the time I really had trouble articulating what I actually wanted.  When asked this question my mind would go blank.  I knew I did not like working in a cubicle all day.  I had a vague notion that I wanted to write but every time I tried to write I ended up getting derailed.

Then I heard about a history teacher position at the private high school I attended when I was a kid. I loved history and could picture myself moving out of my parents’ house and becoming a part of the school’s community.  The job sounded much more exciting than my soulless, corporate cubicle job. I started to get really excited about it.  I interviewed with some of the school’s faculty.  A few of them were teachers that I had in high school. I thought the interviews went well and I really started to get my hopes up.

I remember going to work feeling good about the prospect of not having to work there much longer.  I went to group and told them about the position.  They all seemed to think it would be a good fit for me.  Weeks went by and I did not hear anything from the school.  Every week in the mens’ group they asked me if I got the job.  I kept telling them I had not heard yet.  Then one day I got an email in my cubicle informing me they hired someone else for the position.

I was devastated. I went to group and told them what had happened.  I could barely get the words out when I described the humiliation I felt.  When I did I broke down crying in front of them. At first I tried to hold back the tears but Scott told me to let them out.  Against every fiber of my being and every instinct I had I allowed myself to cry in front of them.

Craig (one of the group members) told me he thought I was going to get the position but now he knew that I was meant not to get it because I had to go through this experience.  I did not fully understand.  But after that meeting I felt better.  A huge weight of humiliation and defeat had been lifted off my shoulders.

I sent Craig an email and asked him what he meant.

Hey Craig,

Last night seemed significant.  But now I feel like that significance is receding.  Can you please tell me your perspective on my work so I don’t lose what happened?  Does that make sense to you?

Thanks

 

He responded:

 Last night was a miracle.  You let people love you even though you were feeling humiliated.  No one attacked you for being who you are.  You let people witness your vulnerability and your perceived “badness” for lack of a better word and you were loved through it, not beat up.  You let people see into your soul and you survived it.  You jumped from a cliff that you could never survive jumping from and landed on your two feet completely unhurt.  Not only unhurt but a better person for jumping.  George, last night was beautiful.  If there were words that would let me relay the true significance of last night I would share them with you.  Words will never do justice to what we experienced last night.  Please let me point out that I did say “we.”  Every person in that room last night was taken to a place we could never be alone.  I feel sad that Dave and Marc weren’t able to be in your presence last night.  It was easily the most significant night in my group experience other than my own major breakthroughs which I can count on both hands.  Stellar.  I hope this puts a little perspective on what happened last night.  And as an addendum, we can never lose what happens to us spiritually and I mean never as in eternity.  Can we feel that always, I don’t know but I can appreciate it when I do.

Love,

Craig

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part V

Over the course of the next three years I worked almost every group meeting.  I was usually the first person to show up and I never missed a meeting unless it absolutely could not be avoided.  I possessed a strong inner motivation to be there because on some level I knew it was working for me.  Over time I began to see things about myself more clearly.

I saw that I grew up feeling deeply flawed and at my core I did not trust anyone.  I developed an isolated and easily wounded personality.  I compared myself to everyone else and found myself lacking.  If I witnessed anyone succeed I felt ashamed that I never succeeded.  If I did succeed, I down played my success as if there was a reason I could not fairly claim my success or else be branded a liar or a braggart.  If I failed I felt cruelly and unfairly judged by the world and bitterly angry under the surface.  If my anger surfaced I was made to feel ashamed for being weak and selfish.  In short, I realized that there was no way to win in the world in which I lived.

As I became more aware of this anger within me, I could see how it manifested itself in my life.  I found myself lashing out at former tormentors when I was alone.  Interestingly, when Scott tried to get me to display this anger in a therapy session around other people I found it very difficult to fully get in touch with it.

I also became aware that I self-sabotaged myself when I did something that I wanted to do.  At the time I had been trying to set aside time to write.   But every time sat down to write I became easily distracted or my mind would blank out.  I also became consumed by the potential reactions of other people who might read what I have written.  I then felt ashamed.  “What a stupid, self-indulgent, pathetic thing to write,” I would tell myself. All of this would cumulate and I would find myself not writing.

Scott and I did some “pillow work” on this subject.  He threw a pillow on the floor, pointed to it and said, “That pillow is you and you want to write.  Will you try to discourage the from writing?”

“Get your work done first then you can spend time on your hobbies,” I said to the pillow.

“But he wants to write,” said Scott addressing the force I impersonated, “why can’t he do that?”

“It is irresponsible to not get your work done first,” I answered as the force.

“Why are you smiling?” Scott asked.

I then noticed that I was smiling and felt amusement and shame at once.

“So you’re fucking with me?” said Scott.

“No,” I denied.

“Then why are you smiling?” asked Scott.

I said nothing.

“Who are you?” asked Scott.  “Who is this force you are impersonating”

I knew the force was my father but I was reluctant to say this.  It felt disloyal.  At the same time I could picture him making me feel irresponsible for doing what I wanted to do.  It surprised me that he experienced pleasure in doing this.  I did not want to believe that.

“Okay,” said Scott, “now you be yourself and let the pillow be your father.  What do you want to say to him?”

It feels very awkward but I summon the courage and say in an unemotional voice, “Dad, I think it’s really unfair what you did to me.  I don’t want to carry this burden of shame around.  I want to follow my passions and not constantly be derailed.”

“I hear what you are saying,” Scott said to me, “but it sounds more like reasoned discourse.  Where is the anger behind it?”

I understand what he said to me but it seemed like an impossibility to display the depths of my anger in front of him.  I think deep inside on a very basic level I do not fully trust that he would not shame me if I displayed my anger.  Or perhaps I will shame myself.

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I Wish I Was Dead

I say “I wish I was dead” involuntarily to myself many times a day.  I say it when I think of something embarrassing I have done in the past.  Often when I utter this phrase I feel guilty like I should not have said that or by saying that I have committed some offense.   I am sure it is the same force that makes me say this phrase that also makes me feel wrong for saying it.  It is shame.

Fuck you shame!  Leave me alone.

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part IV

My wife and I started to see a couple’s therapist named Dori in Connecticut who was part of a larger practice trained in the Gestalt method.  Her office was an upper room in a large, formerly residential house that had been refurbished into therapists’ offices.  She primarily had us “mirror” each other whereby one of us would state an issue and the other one would repeat what the first one said starting with the phrase, “I hear that you feel…”  This was very difficult and after several sessions it did not seem like we were making much progress.  We were still angry with each other all the time.  During one session I had expressed that I felt a lot of shame and that I was trying to get past that and that was the reason I had seen the psychic.  And I did not like how my wife had shamed me into not seeing her.  Dori suggested that I join a “men’s group” that two of her colleagues ran in the same building.

I showed up to the first session feeling very awkward and nervous.  The group was made up of six men and two facilitators (Scott and Dave) who were trained in Gestalt, body centered therapy.  I remember that first session everyone took their shoes off in the hall so I did too.  I saw some other people bring in folding chairs so I grabbed one and set it up in the room. Other people sat on couches already in the room.  Once everyone had settled in the facilitators went around to the group members and asked them if they wanted to “check in” or “work.”  If a member checked in he would briefly describe how his week had gone and how he was feeling generally.  If a member chose to work he would describe something that was bothering him and the two facilitators would probe him until they got to the bottom of the issue.

Often the method employed was called “pillow work.”  If a member said they felt anxious about something (for example) the facilitators would put a pillow in a chair facing the member and say, “That pillow is you.  Make you feel anxious.”  Then the member would try to put himself into the mind of a person who would try to make him anxious.  Often this process resulted in the member lashing out in anger and then breaking down crying.

Each member checked in or worked and I grew increasingly nervous as I felt my turn approaching. I remember one member, Rick, announced to the group that he was dying of prostate cancer.  He had just been diagnosed with six months to live.  He seemed pretty balanced about it.  I remember thinking none of my problems were significant in comparison to his.  When it was finally my turn and everyone turned to me I remember saying that this type of situation was very difficult for me.  Scott told me he thought I was courageous for doing what I was doing.  I did not believe him.  I thought he was just trying to make me feel good about myself.

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