Monday, July 24, 2017


Shame is a concept I've always struggled with. Guilt comes from a feeling that you have hurt another person or taken a wrong action. You've made a mistake. I have felt guilt and can speak to moments of guilt, no problem.

But, shame is so much more personal, so much more difficult to say out loud or even to write about in an anonymous online journal. Shame comes from the feeling that you are worthless, that you are a mistake, or that there is something wrong with you as a person. It's shame, I think, that keeps a person in a state of denial or lack of awareness.

Here are a few examples of shame:

'You think that others are judging you.' and 'You believe that you have to prove your worth to others'.

I can speak to this, bucket loads. I was living and working in the United States. I wanted to take leave to go home to Australia for a visit but was told I hadn't accrued enough time there. I asked if I could make up the time over the next several weeks to enable me to take the time off. They offered me secretarial work and after my job I'd stay back and type/send telexes (yep, I'm that antiquated!) off to various parts of the world.

This was entirely reasonable and in just about every way I was fine with the task. But, one evening, a wave of shame washed over me as I sat in front of a typewriter in what was the typist pool. What was I doing? Where was my life heading?

I had followed my very new husband to the other side of the world without a work visa (only he qualified for that) which meant that I had to take one of the only jobs in town - working for another country. Yes, I had qualifications to work there and doing this sort of job wasn't too far outside those specifications but I knew deep in my bones at that moment that I was selling myself short, hiding in a dead end job rather than having the guts to seek more. In a sense my circumstances were perfectly aligned with my lack of courage, and in that moment of shame all was revealed to me.

Thirty or so years later I found myself at my University College reunion. I was happy to attend the evening, although when arriving into the room for some time it felt like I knew no-one. People didn't look like themselves on first glance, but as we introduced ourselves to one another the memories came flooding back. They were, and are, such lovely people, very engaging, warm and welcoming. But, again that moment of shame early on in the evening was felt with such force that it nearly knocked me down. I felt dread at having to answer their questions, 'And, what do you do?'

These people had long careers in education, in science, in medicine. What did I have to show for the decades that had passed? I've been a mother, a devoted mother and a good one I think. I had volunteered at school, been a member of auxiliary groups, had some jobs along the way, but where was the career?

My introversion, or perhaps my shame - a fear that others will reject me, a fear of standing up for myself, an ability to hide my emotions, an inability to believe in myself and my worth - has held me back.

My most recent example of this utterly overwhelming sense of shame is when I was doing the Masters. There is a part of me that knows that I'm not stupid, but there is also a part of me that fears failure - the annihilating fear of being shown to be what I think I am inside, average.

I had determined to do one subject at a time. Each subject is 12 weeks long with plenty of work to get done and then the next subject starts immediately the next week. Still, I'd be traveling along all right and I thought I'd enroll for two subjects concurrently.

There reached a moment when panic set in. How was I going to keep the high marks rolling in at the faster pace? I pulled up a tutor's email and explained I'd have to drop out of her subject. She replied to say that there was absolutely no need. I was going along beautifully at a high standard and just keep going, not far to go now. The option to fail/hide/run away was taken away from me.

In fact, when the comments came back for the piece of writing I submitted towards a prospective novel she wrote, 'I'm sure your work will be published soon.' I didn't even let it wash over me and I still have not. I felt I must have conned her in some way, though I don't quite know how I would have done that.

There is no doubt that I am my harshest critic. It is a simple statement of fact that I am an introvert and don't really have the mental energy or desire for a career or full time work. I loved my work last week at the school but the thought of having to do it all over again the next day would not have been a happy thought. I use up a lot of resources to be around people, giving to people. I adore it but then afterward I need to spend time alone.

Writing is ideal because I can do that alone and then go out and be with the world when that is done. I can be quite hungry to interact with the world when I have had sufficient time alone. But, I struggle to believe that I have any ability, though I do have glimpses of feeling good about my work.

I can't deny that the shame sits in my bones, still. There is no-one in my family who wants me to work or expects me to work, except my mother who thinks I'd have fun working in a dress shop. Nope. I actually wouldn't enjoy that.

Another example of feeling shame is when someone doesn't stand up for herself/himself. This is a long and old story. I have assumed the Caretaker role in a number of capacities over my life. Whilst on some level it felt comfortable to do so, I did know deep down that it caused me deeply distressing feelings of shame. There's damage there, it's undeniable and obvious to me now, with unhealed wounds. I am working on it, working specifically with this element of shame, cognizant that  people who suffer with narcissistic tendencies have enveloped me through the years. I'm investigating this. It's two steps forward and one step back, but much progress is being made.

Margaret Fjelstad, a therapist who works with people who have taken on the Caretaker role such as myself writes, 'Letting go of shame happens simultaneously as you learn to care for and value yourself. When you come to the decision that you are the real judge of your life and that you belong on this earth as much as anyone else, you will find that you no longer feel there is something wrong with you..."

I look forward to that day.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


In my younger years when I first started this online journal, I had much less knowledge and awareness of anxiety issues. I had certainly experienced anxiety myself but my mind hadn't ventured to the extent of it in the world. Now, I am aware of its existence every day. The world probably hasn't changed all that much in the past nine years, but rather I've become more aware of the fact that people face ordeals, not least of which is in their own minds.

Let's take the last 24 hours of my life. I went to school to volunteer and did my first full school day, exhausting! I began with the Preppies, listening to their reading, and that went quite well. The little chap Tom who had been such a concern had come back from a term break with a sense of confidence I hadn't seen until yesterday. I got the sense that he had made a decision, that he could do this school thing; that if he tried very hard he was going to make sense of the 26 letters and their combinations. He's still functioning at a slow rate but I, and his teacher too, felt less anxious.

By noon I was in the Second Grade classroom and that's where I stayed until the end of the day. I've got to know the children in this class. There is no denying there are issues here. There's a huge range of ability and some aberrant behavior. I like to give the teacher lots of praise and tell her the progress I note, because as she says, and it is true, it is not so easy to gauge, day by day.

I've seen some great progress with literacy, though not so much with numeracy. I fail to understand why we are not teaching children how numbers relate to one another. I hate having them use tokens to work out simple problems, 13-8 = ?, when it seems to me that if they understood the relationship of numbers they could feel more at ease. If 7+3= 10 then we know that 3+7=10 and that 4 +6=10,and so on, and thus if you know 10-8=2, you can quickly devise that the answer to the problem 13-8=5. I've done this sort of massaging of numbers all my life.

The classroom is chaotic, the whole school is chaotic in terms of noise levels. It is anxiety inducing for me to listen to a teacher go on and on at high pitch levels when the children and I are working so darn hard on these problems, at the same time as I am trying to give them strategies to make math seem more like fun than a hard slog.

Anxiety induces anxiety and her anxiety to maintain supreme control really gets me on edge, to say nothing of the children. One little chap was in tears so upset was he at the tongue lashing he was getting, and one of the little girls in my group overheard the teacher talking and promptly broke into tears. It's probably against policy but what the hell, we had a hug and I rubbed her back. Understood, she was settled two minutes later.

Ir was such havoc that when a child asked me if he could get his drink bottle my response was, "Is it going to upset Miss K?" Oh yeah, I'm just one of the kids in these situations. All this anxiety I felt in the school reminded me of my own anxiety in being in anxious school situations and the dreams that never ended. I dreamed for years of losing my school bag, or of being at the mercy of merciless people and I think it all started when these school teachers who were so dictatorial had me in their sights.

'Where's Jack?" I asked another teacher and she had the sad news that his mother had moved him to a closer school, a rougher school, where Jack was highly unlikely to flourish. The poor wee lad is functioning at the lowest level, has a hopeless home life, and yet we had the loveliest conversations; a dear little gentle giant.

I decided it was time for a workout of the body this morning. As I sat on my mat I heard someone talking about her relationship. 'After this, he's a stranger to me.' Really? Even in the pilates class there is no relief from this?

After working my core until it burned I went up for a fresh juice. I didn't want to talk much. I'd done enough of that yesterday, but a woman engaged me in conversation. I found myself hearing about her sick husband who has bone cell cancer, very rare, and how the dog, 17 years, had to be put down last week.

'It's so hard. They are part of the family.'
'He was my family. I don't have children,' she said.

Potentially, I just found someone new, or someone found me, to fret about.

She went on to tell me about the friend she was about to visit who had broken her leg and then she talked about our terrible traffic and the behavior of drivers on the road, and how entitled so many people seem now. I couldn't disagree with a word she said. It can feel that  the world is on steroids and people, anxious to keep up and to get up and to keep going, are simply knocking people out of the way to get ahead. It's all so primitive.

But, all is not lost. I am reminded that during the Pilates class I had this random thought: 'My body is my temple'. It came out of nowhere but it was a thought that encapsulated my thinking of late. If my body is my temple then I don't put into it unhealthy things. I exercise it and walk it. I keep anxiety away.

But, how? How does one keep anxiety under control? Here are some of my thoughts as I walked home:

1) What's the worst that could happen? We have to learn not to think of every little biddy thing as a big thing. Yeah, I misplaced something recently, so rather than sweat it, I remind myself that this doesn't happen too often. Just let go. Save it for something big.

2) The world could be considered chaotic. It isn't really. It is our perception that the world is chaotic. So, change the perception. In my case, this might be cleaning a room, or a cupboard or writing down dates into a diary. If it all feels too much, sort, because this helps.

3) Sometimes the world feels like it is full of bad guys. There are bad guys but there are way more good guys and lots of hurting guys. People suffer just like me. We are not alone. This is a comforting thought. We are no different to anyone else.

4) Rather than worry about the world, do something, act. If everyone helps someone, that's a good thing. Do what you can, where you can. It adds up.

5) If you are feeling anxious, and who isn't feeling anxious sometimes, remember that you are probably worrying about the future or the past. Slow down. Slow it down so much that you actually say to yourself what you are doing. 'I am picking up the soap'. How does it feel? 'I am lathering the soap'. How does it feel?

Get back in your body. You'll be amazed how good it feels to remind yourself that you aren't just a talking head.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Personality disorders, it's the truth that sets us free

For a good few years now I've been reflecting on what makes for a person to have a particular personality.

The medical community like to put various personality disorders into Clusters and this make sense. Various personality problems, such as abnormal levels of anxiety, can be found in Cluster C, for example.

It seems highly probably that if it's one thing, it could well also be another too. For example, there may be an anxiety issue or depression or a mood disorder but there may also be something else, like an excessive need for control, and this might be given another name.

If, for example, an individual was primarily concerned with himself or herself, or his or her needs, to the detriment of others, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is worth considering. It makes diagnosis tricky. It makes sense to be aware of co-morbidity.

In the first episode of Season 6 of Suits which I recently watched, Mike Ross, the man who has been working as a lawyer without actually attending law school, is being processed in jail. In the course of that processing he must fill out a psychological questionnaire. The person in the jail asking him to do this tells him that his answers suggest he is a narcissist. He goes on to make the improbable assertion that jail time will have him come out in two years time a better man, implying that they can 'fix' the trait.

It's not impossible. Awareness is key. Unless you can get a person to see into their own personality issues, then the exercise is a waste of time. But, if some awareness is gleaned, with very hard work and a willingness to co-operate advances can be made.

According to the professionals that work with people day in and day out, the prognosis is not encouraging, however. With every day that passes in a person's life acting, thinking and believing as they do, the behaviors are more set, like a glue that holds a tile to a wall.

I've pondered what happens to make a person so uncomfortable in life that they devise many variations on normal behavior and see it as the new normal. There seems no other explanation than that they did not receive the absolutely fundamental needs of a child.

Whilst most people would agree that personality disorders relate to damage in childhood, probably occurring when they did not receive adequate warmth and acceptance from their parents or caregivers, some people do not accept this as fact.

I read on a chat board for OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder) that one mother disagreed vehemently that she was in any way to blame, since her child demonstrated a need for total order in her life well before three years of age. Some people who left comments felt that the mother's response, aggressive and dismissive, suggested some sort of personality problem that may have been transposed onto the child. I think there are genetic factors that are passed down from one generation to the other, but not necessarily biologically.

I'd like to pose a scenario. Perhaps a young man served in WW11. He never did manage to open up about his feelings relating to the carnage he witnessed. Back home and resettled in peace time, he becomes a father. He treats his son very severely, locking him away in a cupboard or in the chicken coop when he is naughty. To his mind, this sort of treatment isn't so bad, but to the little child whose world is his home and school, he has come to see that the world is a dangerous place. He develops an anxiety disorder.

As an adult the little boy's parenting style is better, but far from good. One part of his brain recognizes the damage caused to him but it is still difficult for him, with no good role model, to know what is good parenting. Perhaps spanking his children whenever anxiety overwhelms him doesn't seem so bad. He is not, after all, locking them in the chicken coop. He knows not to do that. But, still, spanking to his mind, is perfectly appropriate.

Perhaps his  small son one day dares to share his feelings about something that is on his mind, an observation, nothing more. Does the father have the capacity to see it for what it is, a little boy trying to understand his world, or does he take umbrage to the comment, a potential slight? If so, what is the message to the little boy? It is simple. It is dangerous to share feelings, even with one's own flesh and blood.

Not having been given the opportunity to attend college or university himself, for his father didn't agree to this, the father of the little boy now takes education very seriously. On the surface, this is a good thing. He wants for his little boy what he could not have himself, a noble and caring thought towards his child.

But, what if the little boy's anxiety that started at home in his earliest years makes it difficult for him to attend to school work? What if he doesn't bring home the grades the father wants? Is the father careful about his choice of words or does he tell the little boy that he will never amount to anything, causing the little boy much more anxiety? Now, the little boy questions his own abilities. Now, he becomes obsessed with good grades.

What if he punishes the little boy for small mistakes? Does the little boy see his father for what he is, damaged? Of course not. Children don't think like that. He tries especially hard to please this man who seems so terribly hard to please and in the course of these attempts he determines that he will check everything, order everything. He will go over every detail because in this way he may not be admonished. He may, one day, receive some praise. This is the way the world works, he determines. Control of everything is paramount.

His life, his father's life, his grandfather's life, all were precipitating factors for a condition he will carry with him to his grave, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.

No-one can sort this for he will never acknowledge it as a problem at all. Being obsessive and compulsive is his learned way of making it through this world. He certainly won't seek treatment for it. He won't ever know how his spouse and children suffered because of it.

What I like to think is that in time the condition will no longer be passed down to future generations. Although the world of psychology warns that the prognosis is bleak there is the power of knowing the truth and speaking the truth.

The little boy may never know or acknowledge the truth but the world wide web now a part of our modern life has given us all opportunities to know the truth and thus to speak the truth. Secrets wound, for generations. It's the truth that sets us free.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The accordian

Some people come across as sensible, reliable, predictable, rational and reasonable. They are not people who would be overcome by fame, or who would have 'airs and graces'. They don't see themselves as better than other people.

Some people are not inclined to be convinced of something they don't feel to be right, or that seems too good to be true. They know what they want, what they think, what they believe. They have their feet on their ground, we say.

It is an asset. Of course it is. With your feet on the ground you can respond to the events of your life in an appropriate manner. You are not overwhelmed by your emotions such that you can't make proper decisions and judgments. You don't overthink and unduly concern yourself with matters because the right and proper action to be taken is easily determined.

Alone with your own mind, you can assess the risks and rewards of any potential action and push forward. Perhaps you are right and perhaps you are wrong. Only time will tell. But, nonetheless, based on the facts before you and the assessment of your good thinking mind, you can indeed take the best course of action.

For the above reasons I have liked the expression: feet on the ground. My emotions,  my strengths and weaknesses (what they are depends on how you evaluate them) and my relationships have caused me to not always act with my feet on the ground.

This has caused some distress because it isn't really me to not have my feet on my ground. It's hard to know who to blame sometimes; myself or that other person who, for complicated reasons, coerced me or had me see that it appeared I didn't have a choice.

Indeed, for the well-being of the relationship I relented in acting in accordance with my own best judgment. I took my feet off the ground. I allowed someone else to move me into a different position.

It is a strange feeling, when you just know something deep in your bones, and yet you have to hide that knowledge from yourself. You need time to yourself in deep reflection to understand if you do this. Perhaps I just raised a little doubt in your mind. 'I know what she means. I have those moments of knowing.'

In the business of interacting with other people, in having relationships, we sometimes have to push down what we know to be true. A mind with a modicum of well educated knowledge about life knows more than it is sometimes wise to know for the fine functioning of a relationship.

Strong, reliable, bright, responsible, we are the perfect vessels for holding the negative feelings of another human being whose own negative feelings are sometimes intolerable. It is  part of the attraction, our strength and tolerance to carry them for the other.

As important as you are, therefore, is it any wonder that sometimes you are in high demand. This can make you wonder, yes, why at other times you are pushed away? Like an accordion in play the desire for your attentions fans in and out.

It is not so difficult to understand really. With this skill at our disposal, to gracefully accept and carry another human's deplorable feelings for them, is it not also entirely possible that, akin to a surgeon who can enhance or diminish life, we have the skills to annihilate another human?

We, empathetic souls that we are, don't think of this. The thought never pops into our head. But, it does pop into the mind of the other. You knew this really. You knew there had to an explanation for the unexplained behavior.

Push and pull. Back and forth. In and out. Up and Down. To and fro.  Stop and Go. So it goes.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Thinking, not always the clever choice

We can't stop thinking. We can be fast asleep and the mind might be processing the day with some obtuse and weird dream. We might be in silence but the mind continues to wander all over the map. We might sit down crossed legged and determine to meditate only to find that the mind won't shut up in spite of our insistence that it should not provide a single thought. Geoffrey Rush in A Beautiful Mind told his imaginary friends to leave him alone but they refused to go. Could anything be more demanding than the mind!

A thought leads to a feeling and thus if we were to make notes all day of the goings on in our heads we'd discover that our mind is constantly having feelings too. We might feel relieved to be home, followed by sad at something we hear on the radio, followed by a sense of frustration when we don't get a call back, followed by a sense of pleasure when we bite into that apple. We might feel tired and then elated to note a parcel on the table, and then bewildered when we watch the news on television.

We might be angry with the comment made to us and then feel guilty that we allowed ourselves to anger. We might be annoyed that we know it is better to hold in a thought when we would so like to speak our minds. We may wish feelings away much as we wish away our unwanted thoughts. We may be unaware of nearly all these thoughts and feelings, so immersed in moving forwards through the day that they barely register, until we become mindful of our own mind. Such a busy mind!

Some people think more than others. Some people easily fall into the category of over-thinkers, those people closely related to over-achievers. I am probably guilty of both, in a way, when I am not castigating myself for not achieving more, that is.

Can you imagine therefore how delightful, how utterly delightful it is to give yourself up? Don't think, you're told. Bimbos don't think. An insult, a put down? Never. I, as a bimbo, luxuriate in the non-thinking state.  In that state, I can be "excited", "happy", "frightened", "confused". But, as much as it is humanly possible to do so I don't attach these feelings to thoughts. I mean, I know that a thought leads to a feeling and so I must have had a thought. But, it is not registered as such, that's all I can say about that. I'm in the hands of another being that I trust implicitly. I am open to the possibilities presented to me. I've given up my power and the decisions aren't mine to make. That's bliss for me.

So, the feeling is "I am happy" and although I am not aware of the thought, don't mindfully know its presence at all, I must have had a thought on some level. I think the thought is something along the lines of a sense of freedom and pleasure; time out. I'm aware I've been granted a time out and there is thankfulness, gratitude and pleasure, which leads to the expression of the thought, "I am happy", perhaps shared, perhaps not.

I have a friend who expresses her feelings which come from thoughts. She might say, about to enter into a difficult work project, "I am feeling a wee bit vulnerable" which comes from the thought, 'I am nervous about this project and working with particular people and having to perform professionally when I am just a vulnerable person myself, deep down.' I remember when she first started doing this with me and I didn't know what to do with it. Of course I listened, consoled, assured her it was a bit of nerves and she'd be absolutely fine, which she was. But, I don't do that. I don't run around saying, "I feel angry" or "I feel upset" or "I feel nervous" or "I feel incompetent". I just deal with that stuff myself. If I am making those kind of comments about my feelings I am in quite the state, and I hate to be in a state.

If you take the feeling of' 'incompetence' I am experiencing right now, well, I'm not incompetent at all, but the feeling arises from the thought that I am putting off today getting ready for tomorrow. It will get done quite shortly but I am aware I am procrastinating. There's the thought. 'I am procrastinating and that's stupid'. In fact, I've done a great deal of preparation and just need to tie up loose ends, but it's boring too, 'I am bored', and all that dumb thinking in my head has led to an uncomfortable feeling.

We all run around with a bunch of useless thoughts in our heads and wonder why we have an uncomfortable feeling in our body. I suppose it's not all useless. Would we get things done if the voice in our heads didn't whip us into shape?

Over the last several years meditation for me is a time to come home. Home is a place inside myself, the place where peace resides and thoughts are not invited or welcome. What interests me about 'home' is that in a state of as little thought as possible, the thoughts coming and going but not taking hold of the mind, there comes a feeling which is always wonderful. It's a feeling of love, of peace, of gratitude, of understanding; of compassion. It's a feeling of rich wonder at the business of being alive on this Earth in this moment. Non-thinking states create happy feelings, and there's my kink in a nutshell.

My friend once gave me the suggestion under hypnosis, which I think I have mentioned before, 'You have an irresistible desire to go to your cushion'. I absolutely do have an irresistible desire to go to my cushion. Nothing is going to change that now.