“Deception may give us what we want for the present, but it will always take it away in the end.” -Rachel Hawthone
A morbidly obese client who was working on getting back to a healthier weight, informed me that she only just noticed her obesity a month prior to booking an appointment with me. According to her, while she readily admits that she has always had a weight issue, she informed me that she had no idea that her weight had gotten this out of control.
A teacher who recently received feedback from two of his students. In the feedback, they informed him that his lessons where disorganized, and that he was inconsistent in his punctuality in getting their assignments back to them. This teacher would share with me, how this feedback caught him off guard, especially when other students shared with him that this feedback was accurate. The teacher was caught off guard because he had also prided himself with having very organized lesson plans.
To varying degrees people suffer from the illusion of living their lives as who they believe themselves to be, as opposed who they really are. The primary culprit for this cognitive distortion is our strong desire to feel good about ourselves. Desires to see ourselves in a positive light can subconsciously pull us away from any process of taking accountability. Systems we are aware off which we can use to maintain accountability, such as a weight scales, feedback sheets, daily documentation, etc. can create feelings of negativity in us, which can easily be internalized. People who were raised with the belief system where their self worth was directly correlated with their behavior, are most likely to avoid systems of accountability. If you believe negative or critical feedback means that you are a bad person and you don’t want to feel like a bad person, then why bother? Especially when you could always construct a narrative which you feel good about.
When left unchecked the results of self delusion can be disappointing to devastating, as evidenced from the first two examples above. From the morbidly obese woman, who found herself literally fighting for her life, when she came to a place of acceptance regarding what her health was really like, to the teacher who spent years in a profession stuck on being mediocre. So how does a person protect themselves from becoming self deluded?
The first step is to practice accepting yourself unconditionally. Acceptance of self, is to accept unconditionally, the part of you that is aware or conscious, that is to accept your humanity. You accept your humanity simply because you exist. Your acceptance of your humanity has to be unattached to actions, subsequent accomplishments or failures you experience, you simply accept yourself because you exist.
Acceptance of yourself allows to you to experience negative feelings and not personalize these feelings, instead you come to see feelings are messages. For example, in general positive feelings indicate that there is congruency between what you believe and what you are experiencing and negative feelings indicate that there is a lack of congruency between what you believe and what you are experiencing. Furthermore in other to protect yourself from coming to believing in feelings that communicate false positives and false negatives, you employ systems of accountability, so that you get into the habit of collecting evidence to verify or refute your feelings.
Our ability to deal with negative feelings comes from accepting ourselves unconditionally.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Do you struggle with feelings of chronic shame? Are you constantly concerned about dealing with rejection from your peers or those you care about due to a failure in meeting obligations? If you answered yes, to all these questions, then there is a high likelihood that you are being deceived.
Relationships are about give and take, where both parties work together towards mutual benefaction. When shame comes into the picture in any relationship, it means that the person experiencing the shame is being deceived. When a person experiences shame, he or she experiences feelings of low self worth accompanied by a strong belief that he or she does not bring anything of value into the relationship. This leads the person to actually work harder towards contributing his or her share of value into the relationship. A thoroughly shamed person affords others who interact with him or her relief from actually putting in significant effort into the relationship. This is because the shamed person is too busy nursing his or her shame to recognize the unfairness.
Shaming occurs on all levels, from marco/organizational levels to micro/familial levels. As a former soldier, while training for a deployment to Afghanistan, our instructors would use suggestive shaming language to describe soldiers who had experienced the misfortune of driving over an IED. They strongly suggested that they (the wounded and dead drivers) had failed to follow the techniques that they were teaching us. The reality I soon learned, was that there weren’t any techniques that could proof you from driving over an IED or surviving an IED blast. It mostly came down to visibility, the strength of the bomb and the strength of your vehicle’s armor. In essence, luck. So in order to avoid being ridiculed/ having our courage and masculinity questioned, not one of us dared to question our instructors.
As a therapist, I have worked with individuals and couples where one party was filled with grief and shame for not living up to the expectations of his or her spouse, while the other person was putting little to no effort towards addressing the relationship. The bottom line is that if you find yourself experiencing shame, you are most likely being deceived.
Put it this way, if you find yourself in a professional or personal relationship where you are not fulfilling your end of the agreement, the other party will bring the relationship to an end. So if as a solider, I couldn’t cut it, I would have been promptly discharged. I actually witnessed this happen to other soldiers on a number of occasions. The same goes for personal romantic relationships. There is no point in evoking feelings of shame in someone who produces nothing of benefit for you.
When it comes to feelings, shame is a false negative. It does nothing positive to your character as a human being and it reinforces the falsehood that you as a human being are unworthy. In reality, the ability for a human being to recognize when he or she is not meeting agreed upon expectations, with a resolve to change things for the better comes from a mindset of unconditional self acceptance.
When you accept yourself unconditionally, you actually have the agency to take ownership for wrong doing and make amends. To reiterate, feelings of worthlessness is a strong sign that you are being manipulated.
So what do you do if you recognize that your chronic feelings of shame are unhealthy for you? The answer is that you seek the services of a psychotherapist. Chances are, that you had been preconditioned through your early life experiences to become easily manipulated by shame.
A good therapist will work with you towards addressing your triggers for shame and developing new beliefs and behaviors towards responding differently towards those identified triggers.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Periodically I come across videos online with young people acting out humorous skits about humiliating experiences. In some cases it is easy to tell that these skits are based on the personal experiences of the main actor or actress while in other cases they are clearly making fun of other peoples’ misfortune.
I am going to focus on skits based on personal experiences, needless to write, making an online video to mock the misfortune of others is not okay.
If I were to meet some of the producers of the videos based on their own humiliating experience, I would like to ask them,
“Prior to making your video, did you heal from the experience?” “Did you learn the lesson you needed to learn from the experience?”
To the young girl who made the skit about how her boyfriend kept their serious relationship a secret from his family and friends and was hesitant to bring her around his family during the holidays, I wonder if she is still in that relationship? If she still is, I wonder why? Does she not consider herself worthwhile to be introduced to her boyfriend’s family and received warmly by them?
If she were a relative, I would suggest to her that perhaps she is the only one between the two, who thinks it’s a serious relationship.
To my Nigerian brethren who made the video about how Nigerian parents are notorious for beating their children who behave in non African traditional ways – that’s not funny. Yes, I know, most people think it’s funny, but it’s really not. If you disagree with me, simply insert yourself into the shoes of the two main characters.
There is nothing more damaging to the self esteem of a teenage young man, who has put in a lot of work into toasting and inviting a female friend over to his home. Only to be walked in on by his father and beaten in front of her. Furthermore, beating a confused girl who has decided to strip before a camera only worsens her damaged identity.
“But I no dey vex for una,” your other videos are funny expect this one.
We have to be honest with ourselves, because lies only help us in soothing our feelings. That way we can pretend not to be bothered by events we have experienced. Events while unfortunate, provide a sliver lining for us to achieve significant growth via painful feelings.
This attitude of pretending not to be bothered by humiliating experiences, is like convincing yourself you have the ability to dodge bullets and fly like a character in a Hollywood blockbuster. However we are all vulnerable, and recognition and acceptance of our vulnerabilities gives us needed courage in accepting life on life’s terms.
If you have been humiliated or shamed, call it for what it is, because pretending not to be bothered only sets you up to experience a repeat. When we are able to admit experiences that wound our egos, we set ourselves up for proper healing.
By healing I mean being able to acknowledge the source of the wounding, and learning the lesson you need to learn.
What are some healthy and unhealthy methods you have used to respond to feeling humiliated?
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
I find this picture inspirational.
It really isn’t a big deal what these children just pulled off, you know having a vision and utilizing the resources around them to accomplish such a vision. As adults we seem to lose such spirit, such courage, because we have come to learn to internalize shame.
Most people suffer from shame to significant degrees, like how little children love to run around with little or no clothing, and how particular we become about wearing clothes once we reach a certain age. Obviously this is learned through repeated messages we learn from those who have raised us. So on a mild level, we all have some degree of shame in that we wear clothes, especially during the summer months when there really isn’t any functional use for clothing.
On a more severe level, there are people who struggle with the courage to be creative and innovative because of shame. Somehow they have been repeatedly exposed to the message that anything they do or produce isn’t good enough, because they are not good enough. They become so sensitized to the possibility of being rejected through ridicule that they seldom produce anything.
This is the cost of shame, more specifically, the cost of having been exposed to messages where the idea of been worthless has been steadily fed to the listener. The truth is that we are all worthwhile human beings, simply because we exist. The things we set about doing in our lives are not supposed to increase our worth, but enable us to define a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives.
Messages that suggest that people simply aren’t good enough just for being, are viral and epidemic and the younger people are habitually exposed to these messages, the more likely they are to repeat these false and shame based messages to themselves in their adulthood.
The sad thing is that despite the numerous studies on shame, there is very little literature out there for how people can get past shame. I usually see people who struggle with a deep seeded sense of shame over a variety of issues, they usually come to me when they have reached crossroads in their lives. Where they have come to realize the necessity to pursuing change they want in their lives, but remain in hiding, (psychologically speaking). In some cases they are simply sick and tired of hiding, as hiding has led them to an existential crisis, in regards to their struggle in making sense of a meaning and purpose of their lives.
The good news is that people can heal themselves from shame their lives. It is a two part process that’s easy to discuss, yet challenging but worthwhile in practice.
The first step is recognizing the primary source and reinforcement of your message of shame, and tuning yourself away from that source or those sources.
For example, I no longer watch cable news, I instead get my local, national and international news from several sources on the Internet. I also am specific about the types of programs I watch in regards to how healthy the messages are for myself, and my children. I do this because I recognize that most of my conditioning regarding unhealthy ways I view myself have come from mass media.
The situation is so tragic, that I know grown people who habitually complian about how the media doesn’t do a good job of portraying people who look like them. Most people don’t realize that they have subs consciously turned to screen writers and television executives to help define who they are. That last sentence was not meant to offend anyone, it’s simply a truth that most people are too embarrassed to listen to.
This then leads to withing this second step, which is to seek out people who share and practice the truths about your life you have come to believe. When people with shared beliefs get together, they reinforce each other in their attitudes and behaviors.
I once worked with a client who was morbidly obese when I started working with her, during the course of our work together she had lost a lot of weight and looked significantly leaner that her former self. She once informed me that she was going to be taking a break from conversing with a family member. When I asked her why, she informed me that this family member gave her a hard time for losing weight and one day requested she not lose too much weight. My client was still significantly overweight but no longer morbidly obese.
She was right, she had come to identify that her progress in getting past shame based messages disguised as lies was impeding her ability to practice living in her identified truths. The human brain is most optimal when congruency is established between beliefs and behaviors. My client struggled in maintaining consistency with her new lifestyle when around family members who did not support her, as she was still very much wired to think like them.
Associating yourself with like minded others brings about more productivity in your life, so instead of freting how successful an endeavor might be, you are more focused on the practicalities of making that endeavour a reality. With practice, feelings of worthiness and deserving, become second nature to you.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.