30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 18: #shame #empathy #memoir #writing #mycatsadick


I really should’ve thought this out better.

I was in a slump, losing a parent will do that to you, but I didn’t plan this out. Christmas is in a week. I’m officially behind, the cleaning ladies come tomorrow and my living room looks like this:

don't let my son happen to you.

this is an improvement. we’ve taken away a few boxes. don’t let my son happen to you. is it snowing in my living room? it may as well be.

Welcome to Day 18 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.”

Here is today’s quote: 

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.
― Brené BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

I love how that picture of Mom has her looking at this quote. She tried for years to share her story with me, but I was not that empathetic listener. I was not a kind responder. I didn’t want to hear her story. I didn’t give a shit about it, I just wanted her to fix her situation. But I shouldn’t have been even one of the people to whom she chose to lament. I was a kid.

Moving on.

The way I’d manage this quote is a bit too close to the post I recently wrote with Biff Tanner in it, so I will try not to repeat much of that. The point is to me, quite simple: share your story or let the shame build up.

When shame builds up, we risk spiritual immolation. Not inflammation, although that might happen too because of all the stress hormones we don’t release when we feel like crap about our story.

Brown says, ‘someone who responds with empathy and understanding.’

The other thing is this: not everyone makes you feel safe. Sometimes we think our story is SO shameful that no one will respect us after we tell it. Or worse: that people will think we’re lying just to get attention. Or worse still: that your kid will feel a need to fix you. Bad move.

If that’s the case, this is where therapy, writing, journaling, singing, playing an instrument, volunteering with kids, the homeless, for literacy guilds or art galleries or prisons or doing your own creating comes in. The point is for you to get with others and read some books. Don’t watch Maury Povich. Don’t watch Judge Judy.

Talk to your dog. Dogs are great listeners, they don’t judge and they just want to help. Don’t bother with cats. They’re dicks. They’re not even sympathetic, but they may as well be.

Empathy is something altogether different from sympathy. Brown recently shared a video on her homepage that has solved the mystery for me. It has also created a confusion in me as well, but that’s for another post.

Here’s the video:

Didn’t that just clear everything up for you? It did for me.

So that brings us back to finding a safe place when you’re ready to let your freak flag fly. For years, I just spewed it out of myself. I wasn’t like a person at a bus stop telling random strangers my story, but I’d say that once I picked up on a person’s willingness to Be With Themselves, I felt I could share eventually and get to know them better.

My mistake? I confused that with a relationship. I confused it with emotional intimacy. I confused it all. It’s not that people are ill-equipped (some are, that’s just the way it is) it’s that I was hemorraging and I had no idea. I couldn’t sustain a “normal” relationship with anyone other than to pick up people who were hemorrhaging too. That was not a good environment. While we could hold each other up, we also got sick of each others’ stories and all that verbal vomiting starts to really stink up our hair after a while. That kind of vapidity can NOT survive in normal oxygen.

That’s where therapy is great. But finding a group of empathetic people helps too. How do you do that? You read. You google your situation. Mine: “survivors of dick cats.” Turns out there isn’t one. So I started writing about my dick cat and awesome people like my blogger friend Mary chimes in to let me know her cat’s a dick too. And my other blogger-artist friend Lillian has a cat who looks just like my dick cat (I’m not sure her cat’s a dick like mine). So while we’ve never had a meeting or written any bylaws, we have found community.

The next point is this: you have to be willing to risk your pride. You have to be willing to say: “This ____ story sucks; about ___% of it is actually my doing and the other ___% is because of circumstances that are beyond my control, yet I feel shame for 100% of it.”

What happens next is … what happens next.

You either encounter people who nod silently and truly get it (that’s an empathic response) or you get people who look at you like this:

she can't help you.

she can’t help you.

Like I said… Cats …

When you find that person, group, thing, try to do this: try to come up with solutions to help yourself not feel shame. Make lists of the amazing things you do which discount the shame. Find the source of the shame and dissect the hell out of it to make sure it goes where it belongs: not you. Remember the post I did about holding that bag of someone else’s shit? That. Make sure you put it where it belongs. Most likely the shame is out of proportion and completely not yours.

That’s what comes though of sitting with this stuff and really examining your story. What else comes of it? You start to see patterns, you start to see humanity in the story, you start to see that even though what happened to you sucks or whatever, it’s not personal. That event… it’s part of your path. And then… only then, when you can accept it all as part of your path which makes you who you are and helps you live a better, smarter life… THEN you are on your way.

That’s where I am in my thinking about my memoir (which is a lot of Freaking Work). It’s coming along well enough the stories are flowing and they’re not all sad and that helps me remember that my story isn’t all sad. It’s good. I love to write so much that I find even telling a less-than-happy story can be enjoyable just by going with the energy that helps me tell the story.

But what about your group? What about the empathizers? What if you can move on before they can? Or what if they can move on before you can?

It’s all part of the plan too. Here’s what IS personal: the timing of your recovery. If you get healthier first: you HAVE to pull chocks and create some distance but stay empathetic. It’s part of your survival. The other people are no less important, but remember that old adage about throwing the lifesaver: make sure it’s anchored to something that ISN’T you, lest you drown too.

Shame: it’s not helpful; picking it apart is. You can do this. 

Thank you.

8 responses »

  1. When you think about it, there are very few themes that we write about. No matter the circumstances, the details, when it comes down to it, people read themes. And how they read them is to find a way to relate them to their life. They will “get it” somehow, through their own context. And if they don’t get it, it’s like Brown says…they weren’t willing to go there. But there will be people that “get it,” despite what fear and doubt tell you. And they make it all worth it; all four or five of them;)

    • right, kat — and it IS about 4 or 5 of them as i am learning as my hair grays and my eyes weaken. they do make it all worth it.

      sometimes though, we just aren’t “on” for others and that’s OK; we need to be fair with ourselves and with others when that happens.

      the context, “filters” (how i regard it) is everything: it can be the final abider that allows you to get where that person is; or the thing that divides the perceptions. the thing is to not let the filter reign; for me it requires i step out of my own way and really listen to what someone else is saying. agreeing to disagree is always a great position. but sometimes that’s just a ruse. sometimes: we just want to disagree. and we need to be honest about it. i think when people aren’t honest about it, that’s when it gets messy.

  2. I think when I first started telling my stories I wasn’t careful about who I told them too. I mean, I would tell anyone who would listen, but that isn’t good either. We have to have boundaries and be appropriate. Otherwise, we are just handing people our shit to hold all day. That’s not fair either, right? I think that is why it is important to have relationships or to seek out some professional help. We all know people who we just met 5 seconds ago and they are telling us some deep, dark secret and we are just like WOW. Why are they telling me this? I don’t want to be that person either. It’s important to tell our stories, but who we tell them too is just as important because it’s not responsible to dump it all on our kids, or complete strangers or people who are not capable of giving an appropriate response.

    Great post!

    • thanks, lil. tomorrow’s and Saturday’s talk about sharing too much with the wrong person or if “we” are the wrong person to tell.

      Yes: boundaries. i think of the holding out the shit for other people thing too; part of that is relationship, but it has to equal out then or within a reasonable time; we can’t all be waaah-waaah without offering to listen. then there’s me sometimes where i am just listening but the person keeps ranting and there’s no resolution. lifesaver / drowning.

      • I think what I was trying to get at was that we have to consider other people too. Like you were saying, it’s a two way street. It can’t only be about getting our own needs met. We also sometimes need to tell our stories and not have expectations of other people to respond in a certain way. Ultimately, we have to take responsibility for our own shame and recovery from it. I am reminded of a friend who had a friend that was constantly dumping on her. She finally had to tell her friend, “I love you, but I can’t be responsible for your mental health. Maybe you should find a therapist to help you sort this out.”

        I think too that it is easy to blame our shame on other people, but a lot of shame is self imposed.

        I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot lately, obviously! I keep thinking about my own past behavior and making sense of some of it.

      • was that friend me?? 😉 i have done that several times. did your friend’s relationship with her friend work out? mine did not. it was too codependent.

        as far as i’m concerned, anyone who foists shame on to another person … should be ashamed of themselves. yikes, that’s a nasty shame circle … when would it end?? i guess that’s another point: shame needs to go.

        my past behavior… it’s hard. as an independent woman, i sure made some stupid choices. i’m ashamed of them… but i need to let it go.

  3. Your comment about throwing the lifesaver is spot on, Molly. And, as a friend viewing from the periphery of your life, actually, the distant periphery (dang, it’s unintentional), I have noticed an incredible current of positivity and a lack of shame emanating from you. You are EXACTLY the type of person that – to speak in food terms – does not leave me feeling over-stuffed, instead, I find you like a tapas bar…interesting tastes that make you want to come back and sample some more.
    : )

    • Cathy, thank you. I am on a happiness jag these days. Bummers happen, and we all experience them. I’m even a proponent of sulking and stomping for a bit, but just a bit. Be angry! Get angry! That’s fine too — it’s just that if we can, I feel we must do all we can to not stay there and / or drag others down with us. Recovery –from everything to a bad service call to an illness to a car wreck to a domestic issue– happens at totally different rates, hence: the filter. I’ve had blessings thrown at me like nobody’s business; I’ve also had crazy stuff go on. Some of it my own making even. It’s all temporary. Love is what matters.

      I love your analogy; and I admire you from afar too. If we were neighbors, it’d be crazy!! 🙂 Sample all you want. We are open all week. 😉 xo -m

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