Boundaries Practice 004
On eradicating shame
The past two weeks of BP have focused on Self-Control and Rules, respectively, and the conversations helped me reach an exciting if ridiculous determination: I decided never to feel shame again. This new rule I’m setting for myself is one I will almost certainly break and possibly quickly abandon (and has not been evaluated by a mental health professional). In only the last few days I’ve felt a sense of liberation from negative self-talk and from being overly defensive. Now I can fuck up freely, without beating myself up about it. And others can make mistakes around me — I’m not allowed to shame them, either.
Turns out, I’ve been unwittingly carrying around shame from things I said and did as a kid for decades. I’ve also experienced shame or guilt as a sort of baseline, waking up many days in a sort of mild panic that I’d somehow made someone upset or said the wrong thing or done not enough or too much or otherwise behaved badly, but had momentarily forgotten about these transgressions due to sleep. In the 72 hours since dispelling all shame, I’ve heard several women I’m close to worry about what someone might think of them or about how others might feel as a result of actions that feel good for them. I’ve spent some hours in front of television or social media in which people who seem to lack this very filter are the opposite of the person I want to become. And I’ve also been curious about shame as a cultural and historical beast, inherited from our mothers and grandmothers and all of the injustices throughout history. Can it possibly be set aside at will?
I do want to delineate shame from remorse, which I consider to be a feeling that crucially helps us all move in accordance with our values and principles for the common good. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately, for pandemic- and vaccine-related reasons, but also because of cancel culture and racism and mass shootings.
While remorse may be necessary if we’ve hurt someone, I don’t want to cling to it too much. In certain work circles (and during our talks in Clubhouse), there’s now a moratorium on saying “sorry.” It’s remarkable the number of sentences I want to start that way, which now I must simply say without the preface and deal with the fallout. Spoiler: there usually is none. In emails, I’ve revised my standard “sorry for the delay” (delay being such a small period of time at this point as to be comical) to “thanks for your patience.” The thing I’ve come around to is that good work and thoughtful communication take time, so people can wait. And because things come up for everyone all the time, people can also understand.
As novel as it seems to me, radical shamelessness cannot be new. Isn’t it a component of the overreach and entitlement I’ve experienced with mostly-white, mostly-wealthy men? If so, then it follows that I should reconsider my new mindset so as not to follow in their missteps, or, more likely, become a Karen that doesn’t know she’s a Karen (if I am, I must either resign myself to this fact or act, but not feel shame). I trust that my experience on the receiving end of such behavior will help keep mine in check; just because some shameless people are awful, it doesn’t mean that feeling shame is useful or necessary. Quite the opposite: the feeling of shame probably results in the more shameful acts we see on the news, as well as ones we never hear about but which affect our communities every day.
As women and dancers I think we internalize criticisms — which are often deeply personal, for example about our bodies, our potential, or our passion/artistry — to such a degree that we begin to use shame as a self-regulating mechanism. Shame helps us not be overly obnoxious, not speak out of turn, not eat too much, and generally not surpass expectations.
Shame feels like a critical ingredient of the recipe that underestimates women because it teaches women to underestimate themselves.
In our self-control discussion, we touched on body dysmorphia, which, NO WONDER, standing in front of all those fun-house mirrors all those years? While such a diagnosis can be deadly serious, I’m amazed by how poetically it ties to boundaries — being unable to recognize where our skin begins and ends. In my experience, it was the extreme sensitivity to my responsive body that facilitated my dysmorphia — the beginnings and endings were always changing, and I could always tell that they were changing, but I couldn’t objectively see how. And when we equate where the edges of our bodies lie with how we measure up in life, we’re basically doomed to feeling inadequate all the time.
We also compared the words self-control, deprive, and restriction with discipline, edit, and restraint — the former group seemingly tied to unhelpful behaviors that diminish self-worth and the latter, oddly, to art-making, which can bolster it. In our Rules conversation, we talked about rules that are self-imposed vs. imposed by an authority, how both categories might be useful or not, and how identifying as a rule-follower is both an exhausting limitation and a badge of honor. The conversation concluded with a discussion of power and the question: who gets to make the rules? If setting stronger boundaries leads to ownership — over our actions, our time, and our emotions, like shame — then the answer may be, we do.
A friend mentioned The N-Word episode on the Still Processing podcast. Listened yesterday and I’m (of course) still processing it!
I’ve also been playing The Atlantic’s podcast, The Experiment, where they most recently discuss the imperialist history of the national parks (and propose a solution).
Emotional intelligence is hot (thanks, Bennett!), but this article recommended by a friend finally challenges EQ’s role as a function of capitalism.
Last week, we discussed Aline Mello’s quote from the NY Times’ coverage of how the coronavirus is changing lives: “I am not going to try to be polite anymore. I am going to hopefully become a less behaved, less likeable, ballsier, more outspoken, more dangerous woman. All these rules I had followed, these rules will not save me.”
Boundaries Practice is on tonight at 7pm where we’ll be discussing Parents. Join us here!