Dee's Blog
Thu 12/11/2008
The Greatest Darkness, the Greatest Fear
Topic: Shame

Ironically, the place of greatest darkness is fear and apathy.  That place sits just outside the very place where we meet the opportunity to go into the depth of our souls, examining the darkness of past or present.  For it is only in this examination that we are able to find real light--a light that allows us to walk with others, in a wide variety of circumstances, as they find the courage to go into the depths of their own souls. 

"Men love darkness rather than light" the scripture says.  I now understand this on a deeper level than I ever did.  Our human tendency is to love the common darkness of fear and apathy, rather than walking in the uncommon light of courage and compassion. 

It is the uncommon journey, however, that takes us to greater and greater heights so that we can see the blend of the darkness and the light in the threads of our own life, as well as in the larger world.  Seeing it all in full view and still smiling through our tears.  Not a smile of common happiness, but one of immense joy that comes as we learn to rest with the questions and be comfortable with the ambiguity.

That, to me, is the meaning of a real Christmas.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Wed 12/10/2008 7:39 AM CST
Wed 12/10/2008
The Value of Sitting
Topic: Shame

Sitting is not more important than doing.  It is a very necessary component, however, to doing.  As we sit in the darkness, we gain insight.

We also need to become comfortable in keeping a place to return to, to sit again and again, when we need the serenity of darkness.  Yes, serenity!  It truly becomes a place of serenity if we make friends with darkness.  However, not as an exclusive friend.  Just an important friend among many places in our lives.

It is in the darkness that we learn to dig deep, so we can return to the light with renewed energy.  Yet only if we remember that sitting is just a temporary condition.

In the type of advocacy work that I do, I find that the most important thing--sometimes the only thing--that I need to say to most survivors of sexual and domestic abuse is that there is light outside the darkness.  Even if that light does not come from the same sources that it once came.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Tue 12/09/2008
Wasting Time?
Topic: Shame

Is it wasting time to sit in the darkness?  A lot of us have thought so, from time to time.

Yet sitting there serves many purposes.  Not the least of which is sorting the shame from the blame.  And the blame from the guilt that allows me to take responsibility for my past actions, attitudes, beliefs, or approaches that will produce a very important change in me.

So that I can, in turn, sit in the darkness with others.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 7:48 AM CST
Mon 12/08/2008
A Precursor to True Compassion
Topic: Shame

It's impossible for me to sit in the darkness with another unless I've dared to sit in the darkness of my own life.  Sitting long enough to feel it, to accept it as a part of the process in life's griefs, and something for which I need not be afraid.   I must be willing to sit until I am no longer tempted to run.

Until the darkness becomes acceptable and is embraced as a normal part of every life, I cannot handle the darkness that comes with others' misery.  Especially, I believe, if that misery is far different than mine, requiring me to imagine myself being in that exact place.

It's much easier, therefore, to empathize with those who have suffered the same sort of pain that I may feel than it is to cross the bridge so that I understand the suffering that seems almost impossible for me to imagine.

Perhaps we need to think of a new serenity prayer: 

"God give me the courage to imagine the pain of people far from me--culturally, geographically, and socially.

Grant me the compassion to sit quietly, to walk with them, and perhaps to even take bold action on their behalf."

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Sun 12/07/2008
What about Humiliation and Embarrassment?
Topic: Shame

On some level, I've realized for years that being humiliated isn't the exact same thing as feeling shamed.  In the years between 1986 and 1988, my husband and I experienced heavy doses of intimidation that were intended to shame us as we stood up and spoke truth to an organization that didn't want to hear the truth about it's complicity and collusion with sexual predators in it's midst. 

I now realize that they were doing this because they were afraid and felt shame themselves.  What the shaming attempts felt like to me, though, were humiliation and embarrassment.  Until I attended Brene Brown's workshop, I did not know how to draw a line between humiliation, embarrassment, and shame.  Now I do.

When I feel shame, I believe that I deserve what happened to me.  Somehow what happened was because I did something or said something to "cause" it.  To take it one step further, I see myself as "one down" (or maybe "one hundred down") from the people who dished out the treatment.  Not ever feeling this way, in regard to anything that occurred in regard to our case of attempting to expose the unethical behavior of a predator colleague and the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention, I suppose I had experienced some extra-healthy doses of shame resiliency already--all due to a variety of factors over the first 40 years of my life.  Not that I was 100% shame-resistant.  None of us ever are!

It's very humiliating, however, to be punished for speaking the truth--especially in the form of career loss and all of the economic disaster that goes with having this happen 10,000 miles from home.   Isolation adds to the sense of helplessness.  If I'd felt shame on top of humiliation, I probably would not have survived, I now realize.

Fortunately, what I had along with the healthy doses of shame resiliency was what some called "righteous anger" that wasn't about to let power have the final say. 

Eventually, I ceased to feel humiliated and just started feeling embarrassed.  That happened when I recognized, whether people believed me or not, that I had a rather common story to tell--even though the drama of being overseas and a person in a career of ministry myself made the story even more shocking to many.  It was embarrassing to admit that I was seeming to "abandon" my career and ministry to which I'd felt a life-long calling.  It was and still can be over-whelmingly laborious to tell the story and embarrassing to deal with the disbelief when I've tried to explain.  It's embarrassing to be the underdog to this day. 

Brown says we can often, eventually, laugh at the embarrassing experience.  Odd as it seems to many, I DO find the entire story of the spiritual wilderness experience, with an acute stage that lasted several years, to be somewhat humorous now.  It's so ridiculous, and I often get a laugh as a reward for having dared to persevere. 

When I was a little girl, I considered "stubborn" to be a shaming word, often used by my mother.  Today, I consider it a complement, for I realize that this is what has kept me from hibernating or being shamed for my persistence on many occasions in my life,  in matters that I am thoroughly convinced are important enough to fight for.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Thu 12/04/2008 2:05 PM CST
Fri 12/05/2008
A Culture of Shame and Blame
Topic: Shame

As long as shame and blame permeate our culture, we find fear.  Courage is based on love, which cannot blossom in a culture of shame and blame.  Remember that perfect love casts out fear? 

It takes courage, though.  Courage to quit blaming people, as if blame cures anything!  Blame, as I see it, is just shame turned outward onto others.  When victims get blamed, people are really acting out of shame.

Shame, not guilt.  Remember that healthy guilt turns things around!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Thu 12/04/2008
Courage in a Culture of Fear
Topic: Shame

In order to find the power to overcome the darkness and shame, in a culture so filled with fear and so prone to shaming itself and blaming others, it is necessary to reach out and connect with a world where EVERYONE has been wounded.  Wounded, yet unable to admit to the shame.  So that we have a world of warring factions--Western countries and leaders FAR from exempt--who go on the defensive in order to "protect self" from having to face the sense of vulnerability that connects us all in a deep, unacknowledged fault line that seems to be invisible to the vast majority on our planet.

I'm wondering if the current world economic crisis may be giving us an opportunity to see that fault line and address it in new ways.  If only we'll learn to deal with the collective shame.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Wed 12/03/2008
How Feeling Vulnerable Is Self-Destructive
Topic: Shame

Trauma initially leaves any of us feeling vulnerable.  When trauma is internalized so that our inside and our outside is permeated by it's effects for an extended period of time, it is very difficult to feel fully alive and thrilled with events that would otherwise leave us feeling that way by their very nature.  We cannot allow the joy to permeate because there seems to be no room for it. 

Sadly, I've noticed that some people I love dearly have an intense need to even remind anyone else to be careful about feeling a childlike joy.  After all, Humpty Dumpty did, and look what happened when he fell!

It's a distorted way of seeing the world, and it is all born out of a deep sense of trauma that has been unknowingly internalized as shame.  What a big ball of solid wax!  What a challenge to melt that wax and place the wick of hope inside it!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Tue 12/02/2008
Topic: Shame

When shame is reduced, we find far more self-compassion in it's place.  We do not need to look to others to determine if we are loved or acceptable.  We belong to ourselves and can face the world with much more confidence.  Even as the world around us seems to crumble, recession and all.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 7:05 AM CST
Sun 11/30/2008
Compassion Involves Holding People Accountable
Topic: Shame

While I do not expect perfection, I hold my students accountable. How else are we going to help young people develop a workable approach to life!!

I expect them to be committed to developing higher and higher expectations of themselves and to work very hard in preparing for lessons. Pieces done half-heartedly are repeated over and over again, sometimes for weeks, until the lessons embedded in that piece are mastered reasonably well. I expect them to think through what they are doing so that they make more music than they do annoying noise. My expectations of them often go unmet, of course. It is frustrating to see them wasting precious time and their parent’s money. Still, I continue to hold the standard, adjusting it somewhat, depending upon their individual abilities and what past accomplishments have taught me I can expect.

If I set the standards too high, making them unattainable for myself or for my students, it’s counter-productive. Why? Because the thinking of “No matter how hard I work, I can never be good enough to meet the standards.”

Same goes when we are working on shame issues. Dropping our perfectionism or unrealistic expectations, such as totally eliminating shame in this life, is just downright counter-productive. Beating up on ourselves because we have shame is a comical concept--it’s like trying to pound a thumbtack into a solid, concrete wall in order to hang a picture.

My best students learn, sometimes after years of struggling (with me refusing to lower expectations so that they do not have to struggle at all), that they can make great progress and become more and more efficient when they decide to do the hard work that is required, on a daily basis, whether they are in the mood or not. Of course, the best students set goals for themselves and meet them week after week, often exceeding what I think is realistic. The result is they are able to tackle lots of new music, with excitement and joy, each week. For learning is a cumulative process, whether it’s about music or authenticity and integrity or anything else.

While some have learned in the past to internalize the most constructive criticism I can give into “I am an awful student,” I try to make it crystal clear that it is their apathy that is causing the grief.  That's what is keeping them from doing the hard work of practicing what they know in their head, but their fingers haven’t yet mastered. I remind them that practice doesn‘t always “make perfect,” no matter how hard we try. Practice simply makes progress, and that’s what people who live authentically want to see. 


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST

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