Thursday, July 09, 2015

Bridging the Gap of Shame

I met with a client this week via Skype. She lives in another country. We have been emailing weekly for the last six months or so. After she took some writing classes with me, first when I was visiting on retreat, then online, she realized she wanted to get back to other kinds of making. Writing isn't her main form - getting a regular writing practice got her into realizing she wanted to get back to other kinds of physical making - sewing, drawing, photography.

She was the first "client" really, the first official person to take me on in my newer capacity as creativity coach. I was nervous - could I help her get her creative juices flowing? I had all kinds of doubts - self-doubts, not about her - and went forward anyway. I am so glad I did.

I deeply love this person, feel a strong heart connection with her. I am strongly committed to helping her make what she wants to make. Most of the time, what she simply needs is for me to keep in touch, watch out for her, read what she writes and reflects back.

But this week, in our mostly-monthly Skype meeting, she wanted to reconfigure. Maybe checking in weekly is too much pressure? Maybe we could check in monthly? She'd still like to send things to me regularly for me to see, simply acknowledge. What if she leads, and I follow up, a reversal of roles so far?

I noticed a sense of guilt, of shame*, even, creeping up in me. I have failed her, my voices started to say, her tender face thousands of miles away blinking back at me. She is not creating like she wanted to, even though she didn't have a goal. It's my fault. Maybe she should just give up on me as support.

I didn't say these things aloud, though I did express that I could get caught in a swirl of guilt about this, that I haven't done enough or not the right thing. Then, just a few sentences later, she expressed her own shame. I asked if she wanted me to check in with her weekly, after she sends me whatever she's made. Yes! She said, immediately. Then more slowly, I guess I still need that, though I shouldn't.

It was so, so, so easy for me to see her shame, to see her guilt, to see how absurd it is. How absurd it is that she thinks it is weak, lesser, bad to need help and support. To have someone who cares reach out a hand and touch her on the shoulder, give a warm smile, encourage her. It was so easy for me to tell her there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with her wanting that, asking for it, needing it.

And I could see how we are both there - believing that we are wrong if we don't live up to our own expectations. How many of us are there. Feeling tremendous amounts of toxic shame about our need for support, about the gap between who we want to be and who we are.

The gap between who we think we are, or think we should be, or others are, and who we actually are, at any given moment, is huge. It is rarely close, rarely bridged. And we fill that gap, that groundless, unsure place of insecurity, we cram it full of guilt, then shame. Why do we feel so lonely, so isolated, so off? Why aren't we able to make what we want to make? 

Because there is something wrong with us, we tell ourselves. And the trick with shame is that we believe it is only us. No one else has this problem, so we tell no one. Telling them, we are sure, would make it so much worse. So we keep it to ourselves.

Here's to speaking it out loud. Here's to learning what we need and asking for it proudly. Here's to knowing, really deep down in our bones knowing, that all of us, every single human being, needs others - needs support, love, check-ins, cheering on. No matter how famous, how successful, how self-sufficient, how confident. Here's to turning the gap we fill with shame into a bridge between hearts. Stopping the comparison, as a friend said recently, between our insides and others' outsides, and instead letting it all hang out. Here's to learning there is nothing fundamentally wrong with us.

Oh? You have a heart, too? Me too! Messy, isn't it? I guess everyone's is messy. 

I guess I am ok, then. And so are  you.

*Hat tip to Brene Brown, who has a course on shame and vulnerability on Udemy, available to take any time. Her research, writing and speaking on shame has influenced me strongly:

And hat tip also to Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before, a great book on getting to know our own tendencies and habits in order to engender changes in them with compassion. There's a button at that link where you can take her free "tendencies quiz" to find out your basic relationship to rules and obligations. A great, simple, free tool to get you started in non-shaming recognition of your needs for creative habit building.

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