Karen is a shy and quiet girl.
How this pronouncement created a lifetime of shame.
Note: This is my favourite photo of my Dad and me. It was taken on Great Mountain Lake, in Killarney, Ontario. My Dad is another quiet, sensitive human. I have always admired how he holds boundaries around his quietness. I like this photo because my Dad seems happy and relaxed, and in his element. In his sphere, I was safe and protected as my sensitive self began to explore the world.
Missives from my childhood.
A year ago, I was in my parents’ basement, looking through a box of old papers and came across “my file.” I pulled it out, curious about the things my parents had thought were worth saving.
In amongst the art work and essays were my report cards from elementary school. They were all handwritten, with perfect penmanship. I got a warm feeling in my chest, seeing my teachers’ names and thinking about Carl A Nesbitt, my school.<br>
However, that warmth quickly dissipated when I noticed a report card that began with: “Karen is a shy and quiet girl.” I leafed through the rest of them, and couldn’t believe what I saw. They all began the same way, honing in on my quiet nature. Seeing them all together like that created a whirlwind of emotion within me.
What happened next, is really interesting. I could feel my little girl self reacting to those words with anger. My young self had worked so hard, tried so many things, only to receive the same comment, year after year.
Not a compliment.
To be clear, this was not a compliment. What really hit me, was that my young self knew this too. I remembered with vivid clarity, opening one of these report cards in our old living room, with the 70’s turquoise couch and orange shag rug, and being incredulous. I had worked so hard, but no matter how hard I worked, I never made any progress.
In the present day, in the basement, I went from being happily curious to angry in the blink of an eye. Classic triggering.
I closed the folder and shoved it back in the box. But, wait, I thought, as the folder refused to slide back into its spot. This might be an opportunity.
Turning towards those tough feelings.
I’m always encouraging my clients to turn towards the feelings they don’t like feeling. So, taking my own advice, I turned towards mine. It’s not a pleasant exercise, but the intense feelings are brief and rich in information.
I remembered, with such clarity, the feeling of getting those report cards and being so angry and discouraged. Year after year, no matter how hard I tried, the comment sat there at the top of the report card, a pronouncement of my ongoing failure. I didn’t know it then, but but mostly I felt shame that I couldn’t fix this problem.
All these years later, I felt the same, familiar flush of shame rise up in me.
I got curious about my shame.
As the shame blossomed within me, I wanted to disappear. Obviously, some horrible thing about me made all these teachers feel the need to disclose the horrible truth that I tried so hard to overcome.
“What’s the use?” rang through my entire being. I give up.
In reliving these feelings, I realized that I had lived my whole life being ashamed of who I am – a quiet, shy, sensitive human. I had been told, over and over, in many ways that this would not do. I carried the shame for decades. This burden had a big, negative impact on my life, I would soon see.
Procrastination - a by-product
The other interesting revelation that popped into my head: This is where my procrastination comes from. As a young girl, I had deeply felt that no matter how hard I tried, nothing worked. So, why bother?
Back then, I didn’t feel particularly motivated to do my homework or study for tests. Luckily, I had a good brain, so I picked up on most things fairly quickly, so I got by. But, I could so clearly see that this lack of motivation had led to a lifetime of procrastinating. And, when you procrastinate, you just come in under the wire. You get by. But, it’s a “bare minimum” way to live.
I realized that this had contributed to an ongoing feeling of untapped potential within me. I never really tried, until the fear of a deadline drove me into action, because what’s the point?
A journey began that day.
Once I saw how I had been carrying shame for the past five decades, I began a process of unravelling it. This is an ongoing process.
I started off with accepting this quiet self. I quickly realized I had set a very low bar for myself and set off to not only accept my quiet side, but to honor it and, gulp, love it.
I’m not quite there, but I’ve made significant progress. For example, I was on a Zoom call yesterday and kind of fumbled my intro and awkwardly described my work in the world. In the past, I would have had a complete and total shame storm after the call. But, I didn’t this time. It was more of a shrug and I thought I my awkwardness was kinda cute.
Now, that’s a shift! Stay tuned! What else is possible if I truly embrace my quiet, sensitive nature?