Dee's Blog
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
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

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