When I think about relational safety with someone who is experiencing intense internal shame, I think about boundaries and acceptance. I’ve blogged about boundaries before. Usually people that experience this kind of shame have had their own boundaries, physically or emotionally, violated. It makes it very difficult for them to regulate their own or respect another’s. That is why it’s important as caretakers to have a strong sense of our own boundaries so we don’t become dysregulated, we can stay attuned to the other and help them by constantly modeling healthy responses.
I believe one of the most important things is to continually view what they do in the context of needing to protect themselves which often includes rejecting others. Rejection is a hard thing to feel even when I know it isn’t personal. It is made easier if I can remember that she is either trying to get me to reject her (which happened most of the time) or she is rejecting me first and that this struggle really has nothing to do with me. She can’t find solid ground.
When I do take it personally, I find myself trying to feel better which usually means making her feels worse (It’s not so obvious in the moment, until I began to be more aware). And of course she never looked like she felt worse, the shame inside of her took care of that. Although my responses usually made me feel better—it only reinforced her shame. So a good question ask is, “Am I doing this to make me feel better? How is this helping the relationship?”
And when it comes to boundaries, do we have a fence with gates or a wall?
Acceeptance has a lot to do with grace, which is an unearned and unbroken relationship. There is so much safety to be found for V in me loving with no strings attached. It is risky. It requires that we become vulnerable. It means we will get hurt. I don’t know any other way for me to get stronger or for V to get better. I have got to provide her this relational safety through boundaries and acceptance. Boundaries are not rigid rules.
Relational safety really has everything to do with our responses—that they are appropriately soothing and positive. This doesn’t mean we can’t experience disappointment, hurt, or irritation but that our responses help strengthen and organize their emotions instead of weaken and cause more chaos. This doesn’t require perfection. I’m just shooting for more often than not.
I’ve talked about this negative lens that V views the world through. It tells her that she is unlovable, that she isn’t enough. It invokes feelings of helplessness and rage. It is full of fear and avoidance. It treats others badly. It doesn’t ask for help. It feels unworthy.
It is shame.
We all have some. There is adaptable shame and there is intense, toxic shame. I now see and understand that because I carried so much of my own, V’s just intensified mine. I really think resolving trauma is resolving shame. Shame is said to be internal—believing that there is something inherently bad or insufficient about oneself. You may recognize shame in your life if you have heard yourself say that you are not good enough. A good enough mom, student, employee, sister, daughter or friend. And then when you’ve finally gathered enough strength to accept that your are good enough—shame knocks you down by berating you with, “Who do you think you are?’ It is constantly minimizing, making small and messages of rejection are replayed over and over. Those with toxic shame find themselves minimizing others before they can be made small. They are found rejecting others before they are the ones rejected. It is a relationship breaker with people that can’t see past themselves to even consider repair.
So many of V’s behaviors and my early reactions to her can be understood through the framework of shame. The first thing that needs to happen in resolving shame is to have relational safety. I was lucky enough to find a therapist to create that safety for me. He helped me recognize what I was so desperately avoiding because I didn’t realize it. And it took for me, a spiritual healing through Christ to take my painful feelings of shame. I then could create new meanings and truly a more accurate narrative of my life that was so freeing for me. This freedom then allowed me to provide relational safety for V because her fear responses were no longer scaring the hell out of me.
I’ll blog more tomorrow about creating safety in relationships
“I’m beginning to accept there’s something beautiful in being imperfectly me,
like the woman who carried water in a cracked pot everyday…
and because the water was leaking, she created a path of flowers everywhere she walked.”-rachel awes
This reminds me how often we are quick to define ourselves and others by their imperfections. When our focus is on what is broken, we may not see strengths, we may miss the flowers.
I’ve become a TED talk junkie. It’s my escape when I need a break from studying. A powerful message packed into twenty minutes. You will always walk away with something.
One of those “somethings” was “Fake it until you become it”. What I loved about this was it replaced the “Fake it til you make it” mantra that I’ve struggled to embrace.
This was especially true in raising V and being the parent I so desperately wanted to be and the mother she desperately needed. I couldn’t seem to get there. The “Fake it til you make it” only seemed fraudulent to me. As I did finally make it through the bed time story, or cuddle time, or the therapy session, or the grocery store or the ride home, I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. I felt inadequate and inept.
So when I heard “Fake it til you become it” it gave me license to fall short and keep trying. I know, one word “make” and “become’ seem insignificant but for me one seems demanding and the other patient.
So if you are thinking “I’m not the best parent for this child” or “I’m not cut out for this” or “Someone could do so much better” or “I should be…” I say:
You are the best parent for this child.
You belong here and things you don’t feel now…fake it til’ you become it. It will happen-more patient, more forgiving, more understanding, more loving and more gentle with yourself.
Every morning and throughout the day find that powerful pose and draw on the power within you that your thoughts and feelings often want to make small.
Life is a process not a pinnacle. There will always be more to strive for and to become.
Healing can only come in the context of a relationship. Being that “other person” in a relationship with someone w/ a disorganized attachment is at times grueling and yet, at times so profoundly rewarding in the moments of connection. Caregivers aren’t adequately prepared nor supported for the demands. It seems like professionals are just now beginning to understand this and pay attention to the parent’s plight.
When I think of healing, I think of trust, emotional regulation and moral development. I think of reducing shame and offering an endless supply of forgiveness. I think of learning how to repair a relationship. I think of helping them learn empathy through trial and error that often weighs heavy on the heart. I think of digging deep for strength and doing my own work so that I can sit with V in those moments of dysregulation and be a secure base.
I think of the hours of helping them rewrite the negative scripts in their head. I think of the endless opportunities for connection created in an environment of safety that are left empty. And in that emptiness my own insecurities question potential, the past and fear getting hurt.
It is said that empathy is the antidote to shame. To help them experience empathy, it requires vulnerability, in both of us. It takes courage, compassion and connection, in both of us. It is scary. It is a risk. And it will hurt. The relationship will break and require repair. I don’t know any other way to teach them this pattern except from someone that is brave enough to be vulnerable and at the same time maintain healthy boundaries that says which part is yours and which part is mine.
I wrote a blog post about the swampland of shame. It’s a place to visit to heal but no place to live. I listen to this, and agree with it wholeheartedly