Healing Shame by Being Ourselves

Coaching Session

December 17, 2021
Today’s episode involves a coaching session between Joe and a man in our community who has expressed the desire to have the courage to be himself despite fears of offending the people around him. By exploring triggers and feeling into the shame that underlies conflict avoidance, our guest finds that he can stay in connection with himself, even when others are angry with him. "To heal my shame, I need to feel it and like feel through it and learn about it."

Episode intro:

To heal my shame, I need to feel it and like feel through it and learn about it.

Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment, where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease.

Joe: Yeah, tell me what’s happening. What do you want to work on? What’s going on? Smile, look at that smile.

Guest:  Oh, yeah. I’ve been doing my best to find out where I am stuck and what I have landed on is being myself and like how I do that, for example, at work. How do I interrupt people? How do I say what I want without it feeling like I am attacking them?

Joe: Feeling like it to you or feeling like it to them? What do you mean?

Guest:  A projection, I guess.

Joe: There’s actually something you said before, which is really interesting to me. You said I am trying to figure out how I am stuck, but what makes it not obvious? What makes you need to figure that out?

Guest:  I was feeling like I was doing great. I am in a good place now, a good process. Things are moving. I am working with Joe. Let’s find a stuck place. I can’t just say everything is going well.

Joe: What makes you not able to say that?

Guest:  This is great. Oh yeah. Because I have to deliver quality.

Joe: It is the same thing. It is the same thing. Not being able to say what you think, whether it is positive or negative, whether you think you are interrupting, I am wondering if both of them are around quality. How is your mind conflating, if at all, quality and being polite or quality and offending people?

Guest:  I’m sure you are on to something because now my mind just went ooh. I want to deliver quality or maybe I have a ‘should’. Then there is this that I want to be myself.

Joe: What makes you think that who you are isn’t quality?

Guest:  I have this belief that people can’t handle me. I am confident within myself. I know shit. I know stuff. I am good at my work, for instance, but people get offended.

Joe: Who has provided quality who hasn’t offended people? Can you point to one person?

Guest:  I felt like Martin Luther King was the name that showed up.

Joe: He offended the heck out of people.

Guest:  I know so very little about him.

Joe: There were a whole bunch of white folks that were totally pissed at that dude.

Guest:  You are right. Maybe he showed up in my mind because it is so clear, the clips I have seen from his speech. He is just himself, one hundred percent. That’s what I am scared of.

Joe: You say it is about quality, but let’s go back to the question. Who has delivered quality who hasn’t offended people?

Guest:  No one. That guy, no. People are popping up in my mind.

Joe: It is a bit of a trick question because who do you know that hasn’t offended people.

Guest:  Now that you say it like that. What makes me want to?

Joe: Let’s say I could do it. Let’s say there’s a button, and we could push that button. You would never offend anybody again. Would you want me to push that button?

Guest:  There is a hesitation. At first, it is like yes, and then quite quickly no. But then I can’t be myself or I can’t say my meaning or do my work.

Joe: What would it look like if you couldn’t offend anybody? That’s it, button pressed.

Guest:  There are two versions, the one where I am going out being an ass to everyone and they are all okay with it, but then it is like they don’t accept me. They just ignore me. They don’t deal with me.

Joe: I mean the other way.

Guest:  The other way is when I don’t do anything, then I am not myself.

Joe: Beyond who you are, literally what would it look like?

Guest:  It would look like what I am trying to do, being this completely different person to everyone, but then once two people other than me get in the same room with people, it collapses because I can’t please them both.

Joe: Right now, say something you know absolutely one hundred percent won’t offend me.

Guest:  You have a blue sweater.

Joe: Right. That’s a pretty good guess, but there’s definitely somebody who would be offended if you said you have a blue sweater. Maybe some fashion person is like this isn’t blue. This is periwinkle. You stupid oaf. I put hours into this sweater because it is periwinkle, and you just called it blue. You don’t understand my genius of fashion. It is periwinkle. Somebody somewhere is going to be offended it is a blue sweater. Maybe it is a crip and a blood. I don’t know. Wearing blue could be offensive to some group of people.

Guest:  I got afraid of the sweater. Now I can only see your shoes.

Joe: I just don’t even know how it would look because you would have to be able to read everybody’s mind and know exactly what they wanted to say and never say anything besides that or say exactly what they wanted you to say, and you could never say anything besides that.

Guest:  Yeah, that doesn’t leave much.

Joe: But feel it for a second. Literally feel what it would be like to walk through the world only seeing things that you knew.

Guest:  It is like I am disappearing. I am meeting someone, and there is no me. There is just a reflection of their wants and shoulds.

Joe: Even that would be tricky because a lot of people get really pissed when you reflect who they are back to them.

Guest:  That’s true.

Joe: What percentage of the time do you want to not offend people?

Guest:  I don’t want to offend everyone all the time. That would even be hard.

Joe: That would also be impossible. The most offensive people still have fans.

Guest:  They are doing their best.

Joe: If you could control it, which you can’t control it, how would you control it? What would be the exact dial setting you would put towards your offending of others since it is not no offense?

Guest:  I want to not offend others somewhere above fifty percent.

Joe: The dial would be I can offend people fifty percent of the time.

Guest:  Maximum.

Joe: Maximum fifty percent of the time. Let’s look at that. Let’s see what that would actually be like. Let’s say there is someone who is just offended by everything. How would you deal with that?

Guest:  Then I would have to make up for it with someone else. You are one hundred percent offended. Then I need to find someone.

Joe: Name a person who you think operates in the world with a greater than fifty percent offense rate.

Guest:  Okay. I am thinking, going through people at work.

Joe: Just so you know, somebody is offended by you currently listening to this podcast but go ahead. He laughs too much. You smile. Notice you smile. You actually kind of laugh at it.

Guest:  Yeah. It is a part of me, smiling.

Joe: Who has the fifty-one or greater net offense average? Just that it is that difficult tells me. Even if you are right, just that it is that difficult tells me the probability of you being that person is pretty low by just knowing who you are.

Guest:  Yeah, I am thinking but that’s just my relationship to that person. Also, when I stop to think, I know I don’t offend most people most of the time.

Joe: Even somebody like the most offensive politician you have ever seen somehow, or another gets close to fifty percent of the votes. Even if people aren’t voting for them doesn’t mean they are offended by them. They might find it humorous or disturbing but maybe not offense.

If you had to choose, you could be yourself or you could offend people fifty one percent of the time, you either have to offend people fifty one percent of the time or you have to be yourself and offend people fifty one percent of the time or not be yourself and therefore not offend people fifty one percent of the time?

Guest:  If I got that correct, my gut tells me I want to offend people then. I want to be fine with it, and I want to do it in a way.

Joe: How are you not fine with it now? You are offending people now all of the time, daily, and yet here you are, sitting here talking about it. That might offend people more. You are doing this podcast, and that’s going to definitely offend some people. How are you not fine with it currently?  

Guest:  Okay. I’ll play. I’m fine with it now. Now I am curious. What happens today in a meeting? Someone was talking too much. I am confident. I have the information I need. I want to stop this meeting. I did eventually, but there is this I can’t, she is in the middle of a sentence. There she started another sentence. I will just wait. What happens then? What makes me lose this?

Joe: That’s a great question. What’s the emotion you are trying to avoid in that moment?

Guest:  Anger?

Joe: Her anger?

Guest:  Fear first and then anger came up.

Joe: The fear you are feeling because you are scared to interrupt her. You are scared she will get angry. What will happen to you, if she gets angry? What’s the internal feeling you are trying to avoid?

Guest:  Then my mom showed up.

Joe: What is it? What’s the feeling that comes in you when that person gets offended?

Guest:  There is this unconnectedness. I am shut out.

Joe: Often shame is what that feels like, but we will just say unconnectedness.

Guest:  Yeah, shame makes sense.

Joe: With humans, shame is basically the feeling you get with disconnection often. A little kid with a whole bunch of aunties, and the little kid farts. The aunties go oh my god, I can’t believe you farted. The kid is going to feel shame because of the disconnection. But if all the aunties laugh and are like you little totter, then they will probably fart again. They don’t feel shame. It is this pulling away, this disconnection. That’s the feeling. You don’t want to feel shame.

Let’s verify this. If I could snap my fingers and you couldn’t feel shame when people got angry at you for being rude or whatever.

Guest:  Problem solved. That feels very true.

Joe: What is so uncomfortable about shame? What’s wrong with it?

Guest:  It is like the manifestation of unconnectedness, of being alone.

Joe: Can we experiment with it?

Guest:  Yeah.

Joe: Your microphone is blowing out. This podcast isn’t going to be usable. You are wasting my time. Don’t disconnect from yourself for a moment.

Guest:  There’s sadness. Yeah. First, I smiled and laughed and then there is this emptiness and sadness.

Joe: What happens if you just say that to me? I know you are but as if we are in a real conversation. Not that this isn’t real, but if we were in a more normal conversation, and you were like it makes me sad that we are disconnected right now.

Guest:  I am starting to feel disconnected, and that makes me sad.

Joe: Don’t blame me for that. Don’t blame me we are disconnected. It is your microphone.

Guest:  I am fighting the impulse to say I am sorry.

Joe: Great. First of all, let’s try that. Try saying you are sorry, but that doesn’t mean to buy into the shame.

Guest:  I am sorry. Yeah. I am sorry. There is a different kind of sorry there. I can feel it. I am sorry about it. I am sorry my microphone is busted.

Joe: It is like I am sorry you hurt yourself. It is not like I’ve done anything wrong.

Guest:  I am sad about the situation, too.

Joe: Let’s try it again. Don’t blame me that you are sad. It’s your microphone. I am not the one who bought your microphone and said it was fine.

Guest:  I am sorry my microphone is busted. I am not sure how we can fix it right now.

Joe: I just can’t believe this. You have wasted my time. We should just end this thing right now, just end it.

Guest:  There is this wall coming or a bubble or pressure from my body.

Joe: The only thing that’s happening right that’s different from normal is that you are actually going into the emotional state instead of normally you are trying to.

Guest:  End it off.

Joe: Exactly. If you keep on going on, then you keep on being vulnerable. There is sadness, but what’s the problem?

Guest:  It stopped. That’s scary.

Joe: It’s not scary or it is not scary?

Guest:  It’s not scary.

Joe: Let’s try a different way. A lot of people just won’t get angry like that. Just say something to me that might be offensive as true as you can make it.

Guest:  Your hat is a bit off and looks weird.

Joe: Sorry, it is so true.

Guest:  Now it is less true.

Joe: No, I love it. It is also so you. Do it again. I have to be in character. Go ahead. Say it again.

Guest:  Joe, your hat is a bit off, and it looks weird.

Joe: Okay, fine. I’ve got to go. I’ll see you.

Guest:  Yeah, there is this freeze.

Joe: Be with the shame and what wants to be said.

Guest:  Don’t go. I don’t want you to go.

Joe: Yeah. I don’t want you to go.

Guest:  So vulnerable.

Joe: Right. Yeah. No, I am leaving. No. Don’t guilt me. Now I am leaving.

Guest:  I’m sad that you are leaving. I still don’t want you to leave.

Joe: It might even be sometimes okay, yeah. I understand you want to leave. You might actually not want them to stay. It could happen too.

Guest:  Yeah. At the other side of this, then both options are more clear.

Joe: It seems to bring us back to that question. What made you have to think there was something wrong? At the beginning, you said I’ve been thinking about what’s wrong.

Guest:  Finding where I am stuck.

Joe: It is an interesting thing. In a weird way, what you are doing right now is assuming there is nothing wrong with what’s happening in your system for you to get to the place you are getting to right now. They get upset, and you are like there is nothing wrong with this. There is nothing wrong with the emotional place I am in. How do I want to react?

Guest:  Yeah.

Joe: It is the other side of the offense story, too, which is if you never offend anybody, you can never really build trust.

Guest:  If I never offend anybody I can never really build trust.

Joe: Think about the least offensive person you know.

Guest:  Oh yeah, I am like where is [unclear].

Joe: Trust is built by having conflict and overcoming it together.

Guest:  I need to have conflict. I want to have. Oh. That sentence. I want to say it. I want to have conflict. I want to get over it. I want to really make sure that last part of the sentence is there. I want to have conflict and learn how to overcome it so people can trust me, and I can trust myself.

Joe: I am looking at your face. You are like ooh wait, that’s a different reality. The most trustworthy people are not conflict avoidant when you just look at them in the world. The best CEOs you would trust to put your money in aren’t conflict avoidant. The best social activists aren’t conflict avoidant. The best doctors aren’t conflict avoidant. The best CPAs, whatever it is, the best friends, people who tell you what they actually think instead of trying to make you happy, those are the ones we value.

Guest:  Then it is like okay, I will go back into the world, and I will make some conflict.

Joe: You don’t even have to make it. It is just what is going to happen if you are human. It seems to be the course of humanity. We have conflict.

Guest:  Like self-conflicts, feel into it and through it, and then it is like some friends won’t like it as much as others.

Joe: Correct. Here’s a weird question. How else are you going to heal your shame?

Guest:  How else am I going to heal my shame? Other than?

Joe: Conflict.

Guest:  Other than conflict and distancing myself from some friends in the process.

Joe: Maybe, who knows what they are going to do. You can’t control that.

Guest:  Okay.

Joe: You are going to risk it for sure.

Guest:  How am I going to heal? I know it is always a good spot when I lose all thoughts.

Joe: The question is: How else could you heal your shame if it isn’t inviting conflict? What’s another approach?

Guest:  To heal my shame, I need to feel it and like feel through it and learn about it. Then there would have to be another way than conflict for me for my shame to get triggered.

Joe: Brilliant.

Guest:  I guess I could shame myself. I don’t know. If I am in a desert, I could project my parents or something.

Joe: You are doing that.

Guest:  I am already doing that.

Joe: The broader point here is if you love the shame, invite the shame, can’t wait for the shame because that’s the chance to get to know the shame better and to integrate it, it is not to get rid of it. Because if you love it and you want it, then you are not getting rid of it. If you see shame that way, as just a signal you are disconnected, then it is like having a constant reminder whenever you feel disconnected. It allows you to reconnect. It is an amazing feature.

Guest:  When you say that, my comment about your hat showed up and I felt shame about it.

Joe: It is a pretty ugly hat. It is.

Guest:  It is very American.

Joe: Do you see the creases right here? It is because my head is so huge, and it is sun bleached and crooked. My offense at the hat is about me. This is the other point about it. You want to take away my healing journey.

Guest:  How do I know you are not just stuck? How do I know you will actually heal?

Joe: Correct, you don’t. That’s not your business.

Guest:  But I take away your opportunity.

Joe: Correct. If you look at Tibetan teaching, like one form of the Tibetan teaching, they take the monks in, and the first stage of the teaching is we are friends. You build this deep connection. The second stage of the teaching is they do everything they possibly can to offend the student.

Guest:  Is the student informed upfront?

Joe: No, of course not because if I offend you, then I am pointing to an ego that still is running your life. Granted, that’s a consensual agreement to some degree. You are there for the teaching. You trust the teacher to teach you the way. At the same time, there is truth to it, in every aspect of this. If you are constantly avoiding the conflict, then you are stopping the chance for people to learn. You see this in companies all the time. The conflict avoidant leader does not have a team that is transforming, evolving, overcoming. They just sit on stagnant problems.

Guest:  Yes.

Joe: Whereas leaders who aren’t conflict avoidant, Steve Jobs would be a great example of that, innovation all the time. Not that I am suggesting you have to yell at people, I am not, but my point is that conflict avoidance can pretty much guarantee stagnation in an organization and in people and in marriages.

Just to weigh this out, you can be yourself and you can heal your shame. You can give the opportunity for other people to grow. You can have a non-stagnant life, or you can try to not offend people. You can not heal your shame. You can prevent the opportunities for other people to grow. You can have a stagnant organization.

Guest:  I will take the first one.

Joe: The choice is quite obvious. However, we don’t make choices logically. We make choices emotionally. If I take the emotional center out of your brain, then you cease to make decisions. You spend half an hour deciding what color pen to use. There is great neuro research on this. It is really not a logical decision. It is just I don’t want to feel that shame. That’s it. We even turn that into a spiritual bullshit thing where we are like I am not doing as good spiritually because I am feeling shame. I am not making progress. There are all sorts of great reasons we have to get rid of our emotional states, whatever they are.

Guest:  This is scary as shit, so I want to do it. You said something about choosing the colors. I want to make a joke about choosing what color hat to use. That will lead to shame. I should say it.

Joe: Say it.

Guest:  I just did. Also, I felt shame for not saying it because I am not being a good coachee or whatever it is called.

Joe: This is where the voice in the head shows up. If you get mad at me, then I feel disconnected. If I am not myself, I feel disconnected.

Guest:  If you get mad at me, I feel disconnected, or if I am not myself, I feel disconnected. It is a lose lose.

Joe: It is a lose lose. That’s why the problem when you showed up was I am not being myself. That’s the problem because that’s disconnection. I don’t know any way to heal that. I don’t know any way that someone can be connected and not be themselves, but I definitely know lots of ways people can feel connected even when someone is raging at them or being conflict avoidant or being passive aggressive or whatever people’s reactions are. Your connection doesn’t require anyone else.

Guest:  My connection doesn’t require anyone else. I am thinking about my daughter. She is a good teacher. She gives me a lot of practice.

Joe: How old is she?

Guest:  Three and a half.

Joe: Oh yeah. Do you remember in the early days when you were flustered, and she would do something like say I love you?

Guest:  What’s flustered?

Joe: Agitated, you would be amped up, agitated or disconnected, and she would come over and say I love you, daddy, or do something to create connection between the two of you. Do you have a recollection of her doing that?

Guest:  I have one recollection that comes to me. I got mad because she spilled milk a couple of weeks ago. She is in a very solution mode. That’s some great problem solving.

Joe: That’s how she has found to find connection with you. She has started to realize at three and a half that the way to get connection with dad is to solve problems, to help him solve problems.

Guest:  Ouch.

Joe: There is a great book called Parenting by Connection by Patty Wipfler. It is called Listen, but it is based on Parenting by Connection. The whole thesis is if the kid feels connected, your whole job is to help them feel connected. If the kid feels connected, then there are no issues. It is only when a child feels disconnected that there’s a problem. I don’t think it is any different with adults. Teams that feel connected are more functional. People that are connected are more functional. When CEOs connect with themselves better, they become better CEOs. They are not acting out of fear.

Guest:  What I am experiencing with her is connecting on an emotional level with her and her emotions, and holding the space, not just saying that’s okay, that’s okay. But now I get the sense that there is also a job for me because she has learned from observing me that when I feel bad, I fix things. I need to stop fixing things.

Joe: You don’t need to do anything. You can just be yourself.

Guest:  What if that is fixing things?

Joe: That’s fine. Just notice what happened. You had this recognition that maybe I am hurting my daughter. Shame occurred. You went to fixing things by changing yourself.

Guest:  Yeah, it happened just now.

Joe: Instead of sitting with the shame and the sadness as if that’s not going to solve it quicker.

Guest:  Yeah. That’s like the shift inside me. It is scary, so scary.

Joe: Don’t worry. You won’t stop solving problems. I promise.

Guest:  It’s scary I am not really in touch with all the scariness. It is just I realized there is this huge wall. It is almost unimaginable to stay in the shame and vulnerability.

Joe: How long do you think the shame will last?

Guest:  Like minutes. I am glad I said it. No, but on the other hand, time doesn’t exist, so it is an eternity. But I don’t want those minutes. I want them. I am not able to access them. It is difficult. Now there’s that word again. It is hard. It is scary.

Joe: Reps help.

Guest:  I need shame reps. No, that’s fixing myself.

Joe: It depends on the approach. Is taking a walk every day fixing yourself? Or is it just more enjoyable?

Guest:  I am creating this meta loop. I shouldn’t fix myself because that’s everything, and then everything becomes wrong.

Joe: That’s what happens when you don’t feel the shame.

Guest:  What happens?

Joe: Everything becomes wrong.

Guest:  When I don’t feel the shame, when I avoid the shame, everything feels wrong. I don’t understand the logic, but I do understand it somehow.

Joe: You get it in your body, and your brain hasn’t caught up yet. That’s totally standard. Just to help with the mental part of it, if you are avoiding shame, if you are avoiding being yourself, then there is always a reason to be shameful.

Guest:  Then if I am avoiding shame, then I am also avoiding being myself, which is.

Joe: Disconnected.

Guest:  Which is disconnected, and then more shame, a shame loop. I am making it worse.

Joe: You are either looking around the room trying to figure out how not to feel shame, which is a disconnection, which creates shame, or you are saying something that’s not true so that you don’t get somebody upset so you can avoid shame, so that creates shame, whereas if you embrace it, then what’s to avoid? Then you can just be yourself.

Guest:  When I embrace it, it flows through.

Joe: If you are happy to embrace shame, then what would you stop from being yourself?

Guest:  If I am happy to embrace shame, then there is not much left. Then there is just me. Hello. I am offending you and I, feeling this shame. I am not shameful, but I am shameful. That’s okay. Then what? There’s life.

Joe: There’s just life.

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