Shame and Forgiveness .. a Lesson

I would like to share a personal bit of learning I have had.

I recently had the occasion to contemplate forgiveness. I bumped into the complexity of it while struggling with an old issue between my adult son and I. Curiously; at the same time a deep, old shame of my own kept floating to the surface. I found it odd that this 30-year-old memory would come to haunt me at this time in my life. In thinking on this, and wondering at the significance of that shame memory, it occurred to me; like all the highway lights blinking into view one at a time, the dots connected and there it was, my inability to forgive myself. If I cant forgive myself how can I extend that type of compassion to another?

If I were to create one of those surreal, William Burroughs/David Lynch kind of movies out of this struggle with my son; I would be stuck inside a bell jar... So close, so wanting to forgive, yet some invisible force (invisible to me, not the watcher of the surreal movie) preventing me from making that contact, heart to heart, that would let that forgiveness unfold. I guess the picture would then pan to me in the bell jar, and me outside of it too.

So I recognize fully now, the obstacle is my relationship with my self, with my past, with choices I made as a young and dysfunctional 20 year old and the shame I carry because of them. I can say for absolute sure that is no longer who I am. The adult in me says consider the context of whence you came, what happened then was almost predictable, you've learned, you've grown, you've made much better choices since... And yet the ability to apply compassion to my own story is somehow challenging for me. However, not doing so is no longer sustainable. I cannot abide this as an obstacle to having healthier relationships with my family. So I have a choice to make and frankly its an easy one: Forgive myself.

The challenge of forgiving oneself is most probably at the root of a lot of shame-based injuries, probably at the root of a lot of stuckness. In the end, what might lead me to forgive myself, is more my need to be able to forgive others, my son for example, and how sad is that? Yet had it not been for this catalyst, I might have opted to carry this stone of shame around inside forever.

The click's the thing...

So often, couples report, when talking about how they met, that "we just clicked". Its worth taking a moment to understand that click.

What we call clicking with someone, is actually the experience of being seen and understood. If you come from a european background, chances are high that you will "click" with someone who also has a european background. You "get" each other, you "recognize" the shared cultural values, the language, the nuances of unwritten rules first generation kids had to learn, for example. 

If you click because you both come from solid family backgrounds, imbued with respect, an understanding of empathic attunement, whether you call it that or not .. You again will feel seen and understood and that is a powerful human force.

However if you come from an alcoholic family for example, chances are you will "click" with someone who also comes from such an environment. You will feel seen and understood, you will share a common emotional culture as well... Often times we do this without knowing what that emotional culture is all about. And if we don't recognize that, this is often the mechanism for repeating past dysfunction.  We need to be able to recognize shared hypervigelance, or rigidity in relating, reactivity, narcisstic tendencies or responses to them, this being but a brief list. 

So many come into therapy saying I keep falling into the same type of relationship over and over again. I really believe it has a lot to do with the power of the "click". Feeling seen, understood, known, familiar, on the one hand is powerful, comforting, almost safe. But if in fact what has been familiar to me in the past has been chaos, dysfunction, violence, abuse... What is it then that is familiar? The challenge of the click - is that in the face of that delicious comfort, to sit still and not run into it headlong; to maybe hold back and wonder at the "click" before you react. 

Conversely, how might we sit still and remain curious, rather than dismiss outright, when we meet someone who doesn't  "click"? How might we stay put and see what that can grow into? We need to understand that the brain is geared toward reinforcing what it knows. That being said, new and unfamiliar behavior will not have the same pull as a potentially unhealthy "click" but it may not have the same old results either.

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