High self-esteem is like a little action figure who looks like you and sits on your shoulder and throughout the day tells you things like, "You're good enough," and "Nicely done," and "You're doing great!" Shame is a giant cyclops who makes you give him a piggyback ride and won't get off. That heroic little "you" doesn't stand much of a chance as long as the giant is weighing you down. Besides, that cyclops' massive thighs are covering your shoulders so there's no place for super-you to sit. Everyone knows we need our little hero to have his or her say, but how do we convince that cyclops to take a break and climb off?
Many of us who are ashamed of who we are are socially anxious. That is, being around people makes our skin crawl. It's as if we think others know why we're ashamed and agree with us. Our irrational side believes that they're agreeing with our shame and enlists our rational side to assign concrete reasons for this imagined agreement. We may be overweight, we may not dress like a fashionista, we may not be conventionally beautiful, we may be this when we think we should be that. But, despite all these self-made inferiorities, the truth is this: nobody cares. People are too busy worrying about themselves to spend time evaluating these trivial features of our lives. (You may have noticed that you don't have time to evaluate those people either.) So all that crap coming from all those people out there is coming from our own imagination. The cyclops is a figment that no one out there can be bothered to agree with!
I'll be writing more about shame next week. But it's important to start here before we move on to the real topic today: Obstacles. It's easy to get distracted from the obstacles preventing our progress when we spend so much time paying attention to shame. Shame is the obstacle that stops us from looking at all our other obstacles.
Let's look closely at the obstacles I mentioned earlier: separateness from the world, fear of judgment and disapproval, disruptive emotions, self-doubt, and disappointment. The longer we look at these big, old things standing in our way, the more they look like elephants. Now that's an imposing obstacle! But we all know how to eat an elephant. It takes perspective, patience, and persistence, but it can be done. Now, how about taking the same approach with the things that stop us: our unwanted thoughts, feelings, and behaviors? When we distill down the stress in our lives, they are not events or circumstances or people, they are our reactions to them. They are thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
We explored the idea on Wednesday of making micro improvements in the way we handle stress; how we handle our reactions to stress. What if we pushed ourselves just a tiny bit out of our comfort zone? One percent seemed like a nice, round number. Let's say that physical touch is difficult for you; that it reminds you of terrible childhood traumas. So now intimacy with the one you love is off-putting and even unpleasant, possibly frightening. What if you could make 1% more effort today to relax, to breathe, to let go of that burden? It's not a big commitment. It's not like demanding or expecting an instant 100% change. It's just a nudge in the direction you'd like to go. The group seemed to agree: Changing just one percent didn't seem so hard to conceive.
I like to share quotes with the group sometimes; quotes I think are inspiring or helpful or maybe even funny. Here's the one I wrote on the dry-erase board Wednesday night:
"If we climb high enough, we will reach a height
from which tragedy ceases to look tragic."
Not wanting to belabor my obviously mistaken assumptions and expectations, I jumped on the last comment. "Let's hear your quote," I invited. But there was a challenge in my voice. As I said it, I noticed my competitive side coming out. "Whoa, stop that!" I thought. "A) People don't have to like your ideas as much as you do, or at all; honest reactions are the best kind; B) It's good to know when you've missed the therapeutic mark, this is very useful feedback and essential for your own growth; and C) This is where ego strength comes from so get ready to hear a better quote, dummy!" I did not consciously call myself a disparaging name. But if I did, it was with love.
All of our group members are lovable and delightful to be around, but the member who volunteered to share these inspirational words she'd received from a friend is especially lovable and delightful to be around. On this night, she was maybe a little closer to believing this herself, so the last thing I wanted to do was invalidate her contribution to "Quote Sharing Time." Here it came, the better quote:
If you are reading this, you have
And here you are.
And those baby steps are what the One Percent Solution is all about. If today we can care just 1% less about what we imagine people are thinking about us, or push ourselves just 1% more to make eye contact, or love ourselves just 1% past the limit we've set for ourselves, well, that's progress! If we do that for two years, we'll be 100% better!
There will always be obstacles in our way. That's life. Whether we move them, go around or over them, blow them up with dynamite, or ignore them, it's up to us what to do with them. As we move forward, we continue to make decisions about how to proceed. We don't have to step forward, but as we look back, we know that baby steps are very doable. We can always change our mind if we don't like the new thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We can turn back or we can pick a new path.
There is a Zen proverb that tells us, "The obstacle is the path." You're living proof of that. You've come this far through thick and thin. And whether you chose the path or the path chose you, you've persevered on a long and difficult journey. And it is undeniable that in coming this far, you've accomplishment a lot; and you should feel very proud. As we now say in group, "You go, motherfucker. You're awesome!"