Dee's Blog
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
Sat 11/29/2008
The Truth about Finding the Truth
Topic: coping

Finally got around to seeing "The Secret Life of Bees" this week, even if I did have to go after 10 p.m. to fit it into my schedule.  Certainly was worth it!

Sometimes I take one little gem from a movie, one that I know I'll always remember.  From this movie, it was a young boy telling the main character that finding out the truth isn't nearly as significant as what you decide to do with it. 

As you all know well, deciding can take a long time.  Deciding WHAT to do includes HOW to feel, which is probably a pre-requisite for making a good decision. 

We have choices in how we end up feeling, though the initial, gut choices are likely to simply be spontaneous.  Our choices need to involve considerable thought.

Among the choices: 

--- shame that leads us to believe we are flawed because of an experience (because we were shamed at one time by someone

--- guilty when we have actually made a choice that showed poor character or wrong-doing

--- blame, which puts total accountability on others for everything we do, negating our responsibility for anything in the past, present or future, keeping us stuck in anger far beyond what the initial truth discovery reveals.

Being stuck in either blame or shame keeps us stuck in the past.  Taking things as they come today allows us to move on, continuing to make the wisest decisions for effective living.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
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

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