Turning Pain to Power
Hey, there! It’s been a minute since I’ve written here. I started this blog back when I was healing from my breast reconstruction and oophorectomy (ovary removal) surgery 6 months after my double mastectomy. I wanted a space to share, engage, think, grow, and heal. I’ve read blogs to get through some new and scary experiences (hello, parenthood!) where I felt completely lost and inept. So, I thought I’d offer up my contribution of personal experience for anyone out there looking for something, anything.
Rather than rehashing the busy, crazy, tumultuous time of the last two years, I’ll just jump right into my current thoughts. People. So many thoughts about people.
This is an area where I fail over and over again. While my knee-jerk-people-pleasing-perfectionist reaction is to overthink, overanalyze, and agonize over missteps, misunderstandings, awkward articulation, and misinterpretation, I’ve been flipping this in another way to save my sanity and get some sleep. Thanks to the Noom app, I’ve learned about thought distortion! Wow. What freedom from guilt this has given me, and not just from making bad food choices. Whoops. See what I did there? Thought distortion. As someone who has been to the darkest side of shame and came to a peaceful place of self-acceptance, I started to catch myself slipping to internalize other people’s criticism of me. This generated anxiety, defensive behavior, and a distorted sense of self-worth. Thankfully, my people love me through it all. God, how wonderful grace is. And I am so grateful for it when it is offered to me. Grace, humility, gratitude — these are not things you can demand from others or from yourself. Through self-reflection, we can find our way there. And that is why I am blogging again.
That’s also why I’m not hiding from people. I’m leaning into people and figuring out how to act in a way that reflects my intent even when the words people are saying to or about me penetrate my deepest insecurities. “Not likable” “too much vinegar, not enough honey” “Be polite” “Not charming enough” “Not bubbly” “Slow processor” “surgical” “lacking accountability” “Taking credit for things you didn’t do” “Humble yourself” “bitch” “mean” “bull in a China cabinet” “replaceable” “binomial performer” “insubordinate” “crazy” “delusional”. These things sting a lot. Is there truth to these? Some, yes. Some, no. Regardless, none of these words elicited the response or behavior the shame slingers wanted.
Younger me would run from these words and the people speaking them. I still really want to run, but you can’t run. Running is only isolation, which is a downward spiral to darkness. The other reaction would be to lash, which I tend to do as well. These are common reactions to shame. I don’t recall which of the Brene Brown books this is in, but she talks about how shame triggers the flight or fight response and closely resembles our response to trauma. And I see this happening in me. Now, that’s not to say that sometimes the people slinging criticism are worthy of your effort and time or aren’t worthy of defending yourself against. There is something that Brene Brown uses when her shame response starts: People. When the shame throwers come knocking, she just says “people, people, people.” I love this. And, I need to practice this over and over again. We are all just people dealing with our own little or large worlds of real and perceived problems. The shame response is unique to each of us and fighting or fleeing the person may not be what is needed. Also, and this is crucial, you can’t fight shame with shame. People, people, people. All require grace.
My biggest struggle is dealing with shame in the workplace. As a manager of a team, I learned how to elicit the behavior I wanted from people when my use of shame didn’t get the job done. I have to work to practice it, but it proves true over and over again. Our work requires vulnerability. If we are to offer up authenticity, our actions on view for the public require vulnerability. If the work environment doesn’t support authenticity or vulnerability, then innovation and morale will suffer.
For example, when I first stepped into a manager role at one job, I came in with high expectations in a group of high performers, achievers, people just like me. I didn’t treat them just like me, though. I treated them like subordinates. Actually, just one. The one I thought was “insubordinate”. The work from this person suffered, the team morale and performance suffered. My manager directed me to seek a replacement of the person, using their past experience as proof that there is no hope in recovering from toxicity. I ended up not replacing the person. I tried but ultimately had no choice. When I was forced to work with the person, I had to think of how to motivate them, how to recover from toxicity. Ultimately, it was up to me, the person with more authority and power, to heal the relationship. I gave up shame for recognition. I came in as a supporter, ready to help this person succeed. I admitted that I hated my handling of addressing work performance by writing the person up as “insubordinate.” Nearly instantaneously, this person turned everything around. Their attitude changed, creativity soared, and morale improved greatly. My accountability system, which this person loathed and rarely used, became a tool for serving clients and self-management.
In my relationships with my managers and colleagues, I am working on remaining vulnerable when shame comes creeping. Currently, shame has taken up full residence in my brain. Thankfully, and by the grace of God, I have learned the lessons and found the resources to get past this and move forward. Will it be easy? Abso-fucking-lutely not. Will I do it? Fuck yes. This is me, coming back to turn pain into power.