Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Men and Worthiness

It felt like a dam had broken, behind which debris had gradually collected slowing the flow to a trickle. Such a relief, such a renewal to finally blast through the seemingly impenetrable mass that had lodged itself in my heart and loins for far too long.

What am I talking about? I am referring to what I call the “dam of shame.” And no doubt most men and boys can relate.

It’s become clear to me over the years that lack of self-respect, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth, self-love lies at the root of any darkness, any shadow, any violence done to self or others at the hands of men, from the bedroom to the boardroom, from addiction to depression to suicide and homicide. I learned this on my own personal battlefields as a boy and as a man and could see it clearly in those I worked to help liberate from the confines of their isolation, protection and defensiveness in the face of societal and self judgment about one’s worthiness.

What I’d not yet taken full measure of in myself though was the depth at which the silt had deposited behind this dam of shame. And that shame is by quality and degree a different animal that strikes at the very soul of a man and his sense of worthiness…. deeper than guilt, deeper than humiliation and embarrassment.

With the help of social work professor and author Brene Brown whose work with shame is groundbreaking in this generation, I’ve come to understand that shame is a feeling that cuts you off at the knees because it gives you absolutely no where to go. Unlike guilt which is about something you did being bad, shame internalizes the message that YOU are bad and unworthy of love or belonging. Unlike guilt, with shame there is no bad behavior to stop or change. It’s all about you. As Brown says, “Shame corrodes the sense we can do or become better…..You need a platform of self-worth to change.”

What’s shaming for me may not be shaming for you. In my case, earning less money at some point or having less intimate connections than what I expected of myself as a good provider and a good lover gradually slowed the flow of generative and sexual energy. It was that continuous crippling self-judgment drawn straight from the blueprint for a man’s success referred to in my previous post that began the construction of the dam of shame.

The question is, how does one tear it down, releasing the debris and allowing the larger flow of life, lightness, creativity, love and connection to course through one’s life again?
Brene Brown speaks about the concept of “shame resilience.” Two characteristics that come up in definitions of resilience are “toughness,” and “elasticity.” In neuro-science resilience depends partly on communication between the reasoning circuitry in the brain’s cortex and the emotional circuitry of the limbic system.

Deconstructing the shame dam takes some mental toughness, only established by repeated rejections of any idea that I as a man am anything less than lovable and worthy just for who I am. Yes, my actions matter, my deeds count but they do not justify my existence. My existence needs no justification. I am here and I belong or I would not be here. That’s the conversation the cortex needs to have with the limbic system to pull apart and defuse the feeling of shame.

Sometimes the shame dam can only be pulled apart one chunk at a time. Once the first chunk is removed though, it can become easier to pull out more chunks until it feels as though the whole thing can finally come tumbling down.

One way to begin for me was to share with a non-judgmental friend these unwanted messages and dreaded feelings, in this case another man who is well aware of the damage and incapacitation of shame. Someone who cannot only listen but also encourage and cheer me on.
I found it essential to face the beast and name it out loud for starters. Literally say,
I have shame about_______________________. Interestingly the moment I did that, just that alone, the monster immediately downsized.

This was after listening to the two one hour recordings of Brene Brown disclosing about her own shame, how to understand and deal with it. And considerable soul searching on my part.

Then, I finally felt prepared to talk to the person most affected by my shame other than me, my life partner. We had a heart to heart that I know had been a long time coming.
In my case, the results were pretty immediate. Breaking open the dam meant that I could get a bunch of that energy flowing again, into my creativity and into our intimacy.

I felt like I had my mojo back! Cause for celebration.

Another ring of support was my ongoing men’s support group, more great guys that care enough to share and share what’s most important in life.
In years past I recall joining circles of men, sometimes men and women around a fire to perform a “banishment ritual.” In that ritual ceremony one writes down on a piece of paper something that no longer serves them that needs to be released in order to move forward in life. Then each person says out loud or keeps silent what needs to go and tosses the paper into the fire, watching that shedding of the old go up in smoke.
The deliberate intention, heightened emotion and group solidarity involved makes ritual a powerful agent of release and transformation.

I am not going to say it’s easy, it’s not. I do believe and can testify that the benefits of deconstructing and releasing shame are enormous. If you can commit to that kind of "tough," I know you can achieve the ultimate elasticity and gain or regain your most shame resilient self.

Highly recommended up close and personal talk by Brene Brown:

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