Dee's Blog
Fri 11/28/2008
Down with Perfectionism
Topic: Shame

Perfectionism is an enemy for anyone seeking to live authentically. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that we need to do very well, if not perfectly. Certainly this is true when it comes to our professional roles.

As a piano teacher, I do not feel the need to make music perfectly myself, but I want to demonstrate a sincere desire to obtain a high quality to the music I attempt to play. I expect to struggle, but to struggle efficiently. I encourage students to experiment and accept the fact that they will make mistakes as they are learning to develop a piece. What I do NOT want them to do, however, is to memorize their mistakes. In spite of me, they often do to the point that they do not even hear the mistake.

That’s a lot like life. Our habits are so ingrained that we do not recognize them as “mistakes” that need to be corrected. Although the problem with correcting bad habits is a lot like ironing out the mistakes in piano. Did you know that one study has shown that it take 35 times of playing a note correctly before we get a memorized error “erased?” What’s more surprising: it only takes playing it the same way incorrectly for 7 times before it is ingrained, requiring the 35 times of correctly doing it.

As you begin looking toward Christmas, 2008, please do not try to make it a perfect Christmas.  Just make it one that fills your heart with more love for life than you've ever known.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Thu 11/27/2008
Be Thankful
Topic: Shame

Happy Thanksgiving! 

May you bask in the joys of seeing what you and your family have learned this past year. 

2008, of all years, is a time to look at what we have of great value, rather than what we may have lost in these days of dismal economic predictions.  Take stock, and you'll find that you are rich!!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Fri 11/21/2008 8:37 AM CST
Wed 11/26/2008
Nurturing Resilience vs. Nurturing Shame
Topic: Shame

When we recognize how shame is operating within us, we are able to diminish it. It’s not up to others. It’s not even up to professionals to do this. All of us can contribute to the diminishing of others’ shame by recognizing how people that we know uniquely experience shame. We can learn how to better empathize and be compassionate.

Here’s the clincher, though: It’s impossible to achieve courage, compassion, and connection effectively until we’ve done our own hard work of tackling the shame we feel, it’s origins, and how we contribute to “nurturing” shame within ourselves. Of course, we do this destructive “nurturing” best whenever we fail to examine our irrational beliefs or the irrational beliefs that are voiced by others toward us.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Fri 11/21/2008 8:32 AM CST
Tue 11/25/2008
Living Authentically and Changing Our World
Topic: Shame

So each of us has shame. No exceptions! No exemptions! To be a part of the human race is to have experienced shame and to carry some residual shame. While there’s no way to measure shame, Brene Brown reminds us that we can certainly know what it looks like when shame is largely replaced by authentic living.

People who live authentically know that they are worthy of belonging. They do not have to belong to anything except the human race, but authentic people experience a sense of being acceptable. Acceptable to self and acceptable to others. Therefore, they can engage the world as the need arises to do so in a wide variety of capacities.

Not needing to always be the same, people who live authentically aren’t afraid to speak up when they have something to say--if they want to put forth the energy to say it. They make wise choices in this regard, choices that may not be the choices that everyone else would make. They sometimes do stand out in the crowd and to lead people. It challenges us all to think differently and to move in new directions--sometimes as individuals, sometimes in great mass, such as we recently saw with the election of Barack Obama.

Shame resilient people feel confident, but maintain a realistic understanding of what they are capable and not so capable of doing. They aren’t ashamed to say: “This isn’t one of my strong points or skills.” Being a work in progress doesn’t mean to the shame-resilient person that she or he is flawed because of the rough edges. Having rough edges just makes us know that we belong. We don’t have to pretend, and we aren’t necessarily running ourselves down by admitting our weaknesses. In fact, we can even smile at ourselves as we look in the mirror.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Mon 11/24/2008
No End in Sight!
Topic: Shame

We don’t do the work of maturing or changing our shame resilience level by going through twelve steps. The steps can’t be counted or measured. We don't get a grade at the end either.  The steps are going to be different for each person, based on needs, personality, and history. Like theology, we long to put it into a simple little box. Forget it!

The work is circular. We get this complex life figured out, along with ourselves, for a brief season of our lives--usually when we’ve had time to reflect and resolve the major issues of some trauma. Then--boom! Suddenly we realize that we didn’t have it figured out so well after all--not the trauma and not life either.

The secret, seems to me, is to be grateful for the struggle. For when we stop struggling, we’ll be six feet under. The only people I’ve ever met who wanted to exchange the struggle for the grave were either in severe physical pain (most with a terminal illness) or severe emotional pain.

Sometimes the struggle is to simply find hope so that we can climb out of the current hole. I’ve been in some pretty deep holes, and I know there will be more to come. Sometimes it would have been so much easier just to give up. Yet I’ve been fortunate to have experienced bright sunshine after each long, dark struggle because of what I understand as a faith that is ever-changing, deep inside. I rejoice that I’ve had the privilege of struggling and growing in spite of the challenges. And I rejoice to have had the privilege to walk with others as they find ways to love themselves and climb to new heights of understanding.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Fri 11/21/2008 8:28 AM CST
Sun 11/23/2008
My First Shaming Experience--a Moment of Truth Revealed!
Topic: Shame

Sometimes, according to Brene Brown, what psychologists label a "narcissistic wound" would better be described as a "shaming moment."  That's certainly what I now realize happened to me during my first conscious recollection of shame. 

Believe me, it was traumatic!  Unlike children who have been traumatized by their parents into believing that they are not worthy, I was conditioned to believe the opposite!!  My first shaming moment came when I was eight years old. 

We moved.  Moves weren't usually all that difficult for me.  Compared to how most children experience them, I often welcomed the change.  Good thing, since I had several big moves as a kid, though a lot fewer than during my preschool years when my preacher-father was still trying to "find himself."

The problem was that third graders in the new city were doing much more difficult work than I'd ever seen.  In second grade, they'd learned to write in cursive and learned much more difficult math concepts than I had.  I was totally behind and scared to death.

It didn't help at all to have been led to believe that I was the smartest kid in the world. I had been the smartest kid in MY world, up until then.  If they'd had double promotions, my old school would have already had me in 4th grade cause I was a "problem child."  I could do anything the teacher handed me before she could finish passing out papers, never missed a word, but certainly didn't get along well with my peers.  Socially, I was a dud.  For I'd been raised in a world of adults. 

Frankly, I was a spoiled brat with an over-sized brain!  I know that now.  Though neither my parents nor I saw the "brat" part.   What a shock to find myself as "less than average" at school, and still struggling to gain the relational skills that were lacking!!!

That experience altered my world--perhaps, unlike most incidents of shame, it served some good, along with bringing me down closer to the reality that I had needed to have about myself and the much larger world. 

It took a long time to get through the grief that allowed me to come to grips with who I really was.  I'm not saying it was an experience every child should have at all.  It took time to recover and to grieve over my loss of status.  Perhaps it was a rather unique process of recovery from shame, as I learned to better integrate into the flow of traffic, where I wasn't the only kid in the fastest lane that seemed to be built just for me.  Where I could learn, as I'm still learning, that it's okay to just be normal.  Where to struggle with the wounds of shame IS the normal.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Fri 11/21/2008
When Trauma Lowers Shame Resilience
Topic: Shame

Children who carry a lot of shame have a fear of being unlovable. They have experienced a lot of trauma; and the more trauma they experience, the more the shame builds up. From my professional work with severely troubled children, I’ve noticed that it eventually takes very little trauma to send these children into an acute crisis. Their stress tolerance is SO low. They get pushed over the edge under normal, everyday expectations.

Already believing themselves to be unloved, already believing that they stand on the brink of being shamed by adults or peers, with their beliefs being based on a good deal of reality because of their increasing inability to meet life’s demands, they find less and less empathy and compassion in a world that doesn’t just FEEL hostile to them. Truth is, it often IS hostile. Sometimes through abuse or neglect, sometimes because these children’s chronically unacceptable behaviors annoy the greatest saints among us!

I’m talking about kids who, in their anger or rage, have decided to strike out before the world strikes first. Working with these children, if we are able to reach them and find an opening into their little souls, can be a deeply rewarding experience. It requires patience with a king-sized, capital P. Patience and persistence, laced with just the right mix of firmness and kindness, a mix that is tailor-made for each particular child.

Try working on a unit of 20-25 children like that. Now you understand why we often said behind closed doors, giving reports to the next shift: “It’s just a zoo out there today!”

Of course, not all kids who lack the basics in shame resiliency are hostile to others. Some are just hostile toward themselves, with even some elementary kids attempting suicide and needing to be watched to protect them from themselves, as well as others, every minute of the day.

Adults who have experienced far less shame than the kids I just described or those who learned to cope by over-compensating, even while internalizing their extreme fears that are impossible to really measure, have to learn to love themselves and play beautiful internal “music” that is soothing and compassionate. Harder for some than others, but something that all of us have to learn in order to be healthy. The sooner the better. Since we truly need most to belong to ourselves in order to find that we are extremely worthy of love; and love is something we can always give ourselves, no matter how much betrayal we experience.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 7:45 AM CST
Thu 11/20/2008
Over-Reacting, A Sign We Need to Adjust?
Topic: Shame

Today I got some good news.  It came when, after three weeks of allowing my body to fight off what I thought was a cold that wouldn't go away completely, I decided it was time to go have it checked out by my very wise and friendly nurse practitioner.

Always fearing the over-use of antibiotics and knowing how providers are in a double-bind, sometimes fearing the loss of patients if they do not provide them, I assured her that I would very readily accept it if she told me just to go home and keep resting and forcing fluids.  "just need some reassurance," I said.

Her conclusion, after a good exam:  My body is probably just fighting the original onslaught.  Fighting overtime, that is.  Even though the threat is probably no longer there for me at all!  Nothing of a bacterial or viral nature appears to be present anymore at all!  I'm wondering if that's what often happens with me.  Since I was a kid, my "colds" seem to have lasted 3 weeks on a regular basis--though this time, for whatever reason, it just feels worse than usual.

Ironically, before my horrific bout with cancer years ago, I hadn't had a cold in years.  I later learned that's common with cancer patients.  Not having colds occasionally isn't normal.  In fact, it's a sign that our immune systems may not be working well at all--unless we live in a world that is unusually free of viruses.

This time, to get things settled down, I got a steroid injection.  In less than 3 hours, signs are already decreased.  Signs of a body "fighting" against the enemy that has already ceased to be a threat.

Seems to me this is how our internal emotional "immune system" can sometimes work, as well.  With shame resilience, we can learn to protect ourselves from behaviors that will end up causing us more discomfort because of our tendency to over-react to perceived threats to our own well-being.  Or to our precious ego's. 

Wonder if steroids might help to short-circuit that process?  Otherwise, I fear it could take more than a lifetime for all of us.

I think colds and cancer and shame may all have something in common.  We need ways of fighting them off efficiently, so that we remain solid in our inner core, recognize problems when we see them, and learn not to have our reaction mode on "automatic."

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Wed 11/19/2008
When Shame Comes from the Group
Topic: Shame

When it comes to group dynamics, we all have some sense of longing to belong.  In families, we want to feel at least peripherally a part of the family.  We may choose to not attach ourselves at times and still feel very much a part.  Same goes for the community of faith. 

While we hold beliefs, practices, behaviors, or attitudes as "foreign" to what we choose to espouse, it's possible to still connect with families or other groups.  To connect on some level, that is. 

Healthy families and organizations--healthy countries and belief systems, too--accept differences that are within the bounds of what is healthy.  People in these systems do not make excuses nor fail to hold accountable those who do not operate within the bounds of healthy. 

Problem comes when the "normal" or "healthy" varies widely by members within a group.  For example, let's say a 10-year-old lad, at a family reunion, goes around and takes money from the purses that have been left trustingly by family members in a back bedroom.  A younger kid sees his cousin in the act and cries out.  Half of the adults laugh it off as "boys will be boys."  Or make excuses like:  "Oh, Johnny just has Attention Deficit problems."  The poor kid who calls attention to the problem is the one who gets shamed more.  He's labelled "tattle-tell." 

In this situation, the whistle-blower is shocked to find someone acting outside the bounds of what is healthy.  Why, the very act of stealing from others within the family is an act of betrayal of the very principles he thought the family held dear!  Yet Johnny may go on for years, being treated with "compassion" while the nameless child carries the sense of shame for expressing his horror at the serious problem.  The family may even shun him or minimize whatever he says for the rest of his life with "that's just him" comments.

What will be most important here is whether the nameless child continues looking to the family for signs of validation.  Unless he is a very spiritually and emotionally precocious child, he will not dare to imagine that he has other options.  Perhaps he will go outside the system, though this is unlikely for a child or an adult who has already been permeated by endless acts of shame.  In going outside the system, he may learn, as Dr. Brene Brown teaches that the most important person to belong to is "ME."  That's authenticity.  And that's what allows us to still move in and out of groups with a resiliency to what they may do or say that would be shaming.

The problem that the nameless child did not see is the same problem that people living authentically may fail to notice:  The spontaneity that often springs us forward to speak with boldness, unintentionally, can shame others.  Even people we love and care about deeply!  How complex the applications!  The more I think about them, the more questions I have.

To act with authenticity, we must me in possession of the key ingredients.  Brown says that these are courage, compassion, and connection.  (See ) 

To take it one step further, survivors like the nameless little boy above may need re-connections.  First with self, then with others.  Even though the people to whom he deeply re-connects may not be those who have shamed him.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 8:31 AM CST
Tue 11/18/2008
Eliminate Perfectionism

If we want to start feeling less shame, we must start having less perfection and idealism.  That one hits pretty hard.  "it would be nice" must replace "I have to" or "they have to" (in order to feel okay). 

We hear it all the time "nobody's perfect."  I love to remind my students that they can have high standards and know how things need to be without expecting themselves to always reach those standards.  They can be great students without being perfect.  In fact, the perfectionists almost never feel good about themselves.  I think that's why so many of them give up trying.  It's all or nothing.

Truth is it's not.  To expect perfection is to set ourselves up for feeling a lot of shame every day.  Cause we'll always have something that we think makes us "not good enough."  The trick is to realize that not doing something well enough doesn't mean WE aren't good enough to accept our own humanity, our place in the world that will not always be the best of the group we are in.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 3:16 PM CST

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