vulnerability

Are you running victim consciousness?

All of us have had something happen in our lives that we didn’t prefer to have happen. Perhaps that event was a one-time thing, or perhaps it was ongoing. Yesterday at an outdoor coffee shop, I watched a mother continually threaten to hit her son to control his behavior. That boy is certainly experiencing some ongoing trauma that is going to affect him throughout his life. This is what I’m talking about - the things that we didn’t ask for, and the things that by definition, we fell victim to.


Can you allow yourself to think of some of those things now, painful as they may be, either short term or ongoing?


Now here’s my next question: how do you identify with them now? How have they stuck with you? And how do you bring those situations forward as a basis for how you relate with the world now?


Looking at those one by one:


How do you identify with them now?

By “identify,” what I mean is how have these associations become part of your actual identity? Everyone does this, so you can’t breeze over this question. How have the things that have happened to you become a part of how you see yourself? Is this negative, positive, or neutral?


How have they stuck with you?

We could call the bad things that happen to us “traumas.” Traumas impact the brain both consciously and unconsciously, and they impact our ability to connect, our emotionality, our perceived sense of safety, and our future relationships.


How do you bring those situations forward as a basis for how you relate with the world now?

Not only is there a question of how you see yourself in association with those traumas, but how do you actually relate to the world differently because of them? Let’s take the little boy from the coffee shop. If his mother parents him this way daily, which I presume she does from what I saw for over an hour, then he will grow up with a mother wound and an inherent distrust of women. This will affect how he attempts to please women but feels he can not ever connect with them, probably for many years to come. This will play out in his relationships and in his sense of self worth.  


Sound familiar? I imagine that for many, it does.


We all bring our patterning forward, subconsciously, until we bring it into consciousness. It will likely be up to that little boy to work out what has happened to him, sadly.


All of the above being very understandable, the degree to which we identify with what has negatively impacted our lives is called Victim Consciousness.


I have recently been unpacking these words in my life. A series of events happened early this year, and I realized that I was behaving afterward in certain ways that were associated with very old trauma patterns - ones that had subconsciously become part of my identity because it had been with me for so long. As I was working with the beliefs and behaviors that had set in during childhood, I realized that the degree to which I identified with these traumas, and the degree to which I continued to behave under that subconscious programming, was the degree to which I identified as the victim. And then I began to unpack what effects this might have, and what to do about it.


Getting conscious:

If you have a story that you tell yourself in regard to gender, relationships, or safety, that impacts how you relate to others, I imagine that you might have some victim consciousness running. Again, it’s understandable. Recognizing you are doing this and asking yourself if this story that you are telling yourself is really your own belief, or one developed as a result of interactions with others, is a first step.


Get help:

The things that have happened “to” us, the actual times we were a victim, are often sad, traumatic, and difficult times. Some of these circumstances have to do with ongoing negative relationships, like the scenario I outlined above for the little boy. These imprints can take a long time to repattern - it can actually be the work of a lifetime - but it’s worth it in order to gain your autonomy. Hire a therapist or a coach to support you in doing this work. I recommend therapists for going back and unpacking the childhood programming, and a coach for when you are ready to watch these patterns and take action in present time to change your life. Both can happen at the same time.


Practice mindfulness:

Daily mindfulness practice allows you to watch your thought patterns, your judgements of yourself and others, your somatic responses, and your intentions. Begin breathing on purpose and inquiring about your inner world. Practice acceptance of what is, in this moment, even if you are in victim consciousness. Denying or judging what is will only prolong your suffering.


Practice forgiveness, responsibility, & autonomy:

As adults, we are now responsible for how we interact with our lives and others. If we are running a script in our minds associated with victim consciousness, then we are not free, and we are not practicing the necessary degree of responsibility to evolve as an adult. We are each responsible for how we interact with the world. Owning that personal autonomy and practicing forgiveness principles are healthy and necessary behaviors for moving forward.


You are not the things that have happened to you. Weeding out who you are, underneath, is again, the work of a lifetime. And it is worthy.



The perpetrator doesn't get to decide

The perpetrator doesn’t get to decide how long the victim should grieve. The process of grieving is inside each individual. Everyone will be affected differently.


The perpetrator doesn’t get to decide how quickly they should be forgiven, as if when they are finished thinking about their action everyone else should forgive them too. No. They do not dictate when they should be forgiven. They do not control another person’s forgiving process.


The perpetrator doesn’t get to decide the short term or long term actions or reactions to a victim’s healing process. This is where we see an increase of manipulative behaviors or outright threats when the victim begins to realize that they have inherent power to do something for themselves. The perpetrator’s power relies on stealing power from others, complacency, and silence.


The perpetrator doesn’t get to have a say over their victim’s psychological process. They do not get to dictate where the trauma gets stuck or how long it takes to work it out. Often in relationships when this happens, mention of the trauma is uncomfortable to the perpetrator, and therefore the mention of it or symptoms thereafter is often met with more attempts to control or suppress.


The perpetrator doesn’t get to go on being the perpetrator. Each and every one of us has at times been perpetrator as well as victim. And each and every one of us has the responsibility to own our own behavior. We need to do the mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical processes. We need to attone. We need to understand that healing does not come through more demand or through a means of escape (religion included).


We live in a dominator culture, and thankfully the awareness of that is on the rise now, but we still have a long way to go. Men have historically been more violent, but it is the repression of authentic masculinity and femininity, and the emphasis on domination and control in the patriarchal system that has lead to this, and women are not exempt as we have learned to adopt dominator methods to attempt to gain control and power in this model.


This is so pervasive that unless one truly wills himself to change, and does the work to become aware of their patterns of domination, they will by default perpetuate. In my experience, it is uncomfortable to admit that you have been the perpetrator, but only while you are clinging to the dominator model as the only way.


bell hooks says in her book, The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, & Love, “No man who does not actively choose to work to change and challenge the patriarchy escapes its impact. The most passive, kind, quiet man can come to violence if the seeds of patriarchal thinking have been embedded in his psyche.” I will add: the most loving man, the father, the man who is aware of his shadow, the man who goes to the men’s groups, the man who is aware of his mother wound - even these men will come to violence. It will happen, because this is the dominator culture we are rewriting now. It is default. Let’s make this conscious.


It also is important to note that over-identification as a victim will not help to rewrite the cultural narrative. This is where we get “all men” and “all women” finger pointing. Each person is responsible for how they have behaved and how they have moved through it. Each person is responsible for unpacking both the trauma that came before an event of perpetration and the event itself.


This past week, I co-hosted an event where the men in the circle were asked to write held judgements of women down on little slips of paper, and women were asked to write down judgements of men on little slips of paper. Then we put all the slips of paper into one basket. As we read each one aloud, we asked every person in the standing circle to take a step forward if they had ever been the perpetrator of what was on the slip of paper, and nearly every single time, nearly all of the men and women all stepped forward. Both. All. Taking accountability and meeting together to find a new way.


We are here in a new time, where personal responsibility is allowed, where your healing is welcome. If your shame of your perpetration is clouding your behavior, change it. Own it. If not, you will, by default, continue domination regardless of any attempts to subdue, avoid, or deny.


If you are not happy with how you’ve behaved or the feedback people are giving you about how you’ve behaved, you can, and need to, take action. When you do, you break the dominator model in your own life. Thank you for doing that. It benefits the whole.


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Shame comes to remind us how we will engage

On the phone with my 89 year old grandmother this week, she said, “Still have your man?” I inhaled to brace myself and said, “No, actually, it’s been a really difficult month. I’ve been exploring what’s really going on by focusing on me and I’ve been working with two different therapists and coaches on growing through this.” Sometimes I wonder why I say these things to her, and she wonders why I call her less often. It’s because rest assured, our conversations will trigger my shame. I think I share honestly with her both to attempt to open these doors and also to see how much shame can still be triggered.



She said, “Ha, I thought you were a coach, now you have to hire a coach too?”



What’s the implicit message? That’s right. You don’t have it all together yet? Are you weak? And, of course, you are weak for being imperfect.



Of course she doesn’t consciously intend to cause harm through judgement, but it happens. This could be a post about my grandmother, but it isn’t. I started out with that story to bring it home that messages of perfection and shame of not having it all together yet are all around us.



And this post is about me, because, if I tell you a story about someone else’s mistakes, I’m not really looking at my own, and I’m avoiding my shame.



Shame is the lowest emotion. When emotional frequencies are measured, it is actually the lowest of all emotions as compared on the megahertz scale. That means it feels the worst.



And what would trigger the worst feelings but the most profound of our crap. Our wounds. Our deepest stuff.



This month, this first month of a brand new year, kicked my ass. It brought up all my stuff, honestly, in a way that showed what I really needed to learn at this time. I’m still learning (and always will be.) This could be a post about how on a soul journey, a soul mate relationship will do that, but it’s not that post either. This is the post from the inward examination of shame. And it’ll be incomplete. And imperfect. And I’m learning more and more to be in full acceptance of that.



I really try to get it right and good. I think we all do, inherently. I really try to be brave and tell stories and help people. I intend to live in my truth and put myself out there in vulnerability and be strong in order to withstand any sort of reaction. I forgot, as I do so that I can remember, apparently, what our friend Brené Brown tells us, that if we live courageously, we will fall. We will fail. And it’s at that point that we get to decide. Whether to blame and point, or whether to integrate our experiences and grow.



I certainly dabble with the blame and point. I have to watch it, be mindful not to act from it. Sorry not sorry if that’s not enlightened enough yet. (Ha. You see what I did there? A joke about hiding shame.)



I’m a natural integrator. Living the soul journey and being willing to “go there” is kinda my gig. I also just sometimes want to avoid getting my ass kicked. Because it hurts. And I want to inherently be good. Be enough. When I see the outward world reflecting to me that I didn’t get it right, I think, well F, then I must still not be good enough and getting it right.



It triggers self worth and it triggers shame.



I think we live in a pretty interesting time where this idea that we can actually come to a point where we don’t feel these things anymore or that we are above feeling them is pretty rampant. I think that in the past year, putting myself out there as a coach after having worked in education, I definitely was worried about getting it right. I didn’t always admit vulnerabilities, even though I am this truth telling person. Even though I started Embodied Breath specifically to look at the “not enough” patterns that we all face, I was still doing it! Of course I was. They are engrained.



The aim is not perfection. The aim is authentic and wholehearted living. The aim is essentially love.



I told my grandmother, after a deep breath, that yes, of course I would be willing to hire my own coach if that’s the same help I hope to provide. My clients need to be willing to hire me when they want to self-examine something, and I don’t pretend to be above that. I told her that it’s okay to need help and that it is not weakness. We’re not culturally used to asking for or needing help, but that sets us up for a lot of high and unmeetable expectations. I told her this on the other side of a significant river of shame I’ve been crossing. Not the full other side, but I’m on the banks again enough to see where I’ve just been.



I don’t know where exactly I went wrong. It’s not entirely my story to tell, and so I won’t tell it here, out of respect for others involved, and because it’s still active. But I behaved in what I believed was honesty and courage, and yet I still messed up, somehow. People are still pissed. My character is apparently in question for some people. In fact, I’m starting to hear about it through a grapevine - stories that are partly untrue and giving negative descriptions of my character being told about me. A friend of mine told me that she heard some gossip and could say; I know this person, and what you are saying is not true. Thank god for friends like that.



I thought that in telling my own story for a living, I would somehow avoid people telling false stories. I thought that in authenticity, I would be protected somehow from criticism. I thought that if I stood up for soul and love, that love would conquer all and that we wouldn’t get hurt. These weren’t conscious thoughts. These were assumptions made while I was doing the good work of hustling forward and showing up best I knew how. And then, I made choices that ended up hurting people. And gained me criticism. And there’s nothing I can say or do or be to change minds. I can’t please my way out of this. And meanwhile my own heart aches, and precious few are asking me about my own heart. (Thank you if you are. Dear me, from my heart, thank you.)



Another friend called me to say he was there for me no matter what. He said, “Sarah, maybe it’s just time for you to tell your own story. It’s what you do.”



That same day, I pulled the Truth Be Told card from my oracle deck and thought, Oh crap. I sat with this, wondering what it meant. And then I was preparing to sit in a circle of women. Women who had paid me to be my clients in a… get this… Personal Truth group. And I got the loud, incessant cue from above to tell the whole story. All of it. Even the parts that people could judge. And I wanted to run. And I sat sweating up until the moment I told it. But I told it. I asked only for it to be heard. That there was a truth in me that needed to be spoken and not kept silent. I said I would accept judgement. I would accept the consequences of reactions. Whatever they are. I braced myself for more shame or for people to even quit working with me. And when I told it, I heard, “Thank you for modeling what truth telling looks like. Thank you for living what you say you live.” I heard, “I would not imagine walking away from you or this right now.”



A few days later, I was collaborating with a male colleague and he knows the whole story. I also worked with him and his wife with some couples coaching. I again braced myself for rejection and more shame, and he said, “I don’t judge you.”



On this man’s computer I noticed a taped piece of paper that read “In the Arena!” Brené Brown and all of her shame research and all of the books with all my notes in the margins were in my hands this month. What did I forget? How did I get here? What is this terrible feeling I’m feeling? Where do we go from here with shame? Brené tells story from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic” that my friend’s personal reminder was referencing - be in the arena. It is more important to be in the arena of life, engaging with it heart and soul, than to be avoidant on the periphery. And when you are in the arena, you will mess up. You will fall. You will fail.



I had the distinct opportunity, consciously, at least a hundred times since I started Embodied Breath to either walk forward into this arena or walk back out again. Walking forward, engaging with life, following my Soul, and to do it with as much integrity as possible, is the only option. I was recently reminded that sometimes I will fail. And thankfully, this has also lead to renewed realizations that there is relief in my imperfection.



There is a kind of resilient fighting that comes from determination to prove perfection and avoid shame. I know that fighter. She’s in me, and you all have heard her tell stories if you’ve been watching for any time at all. There is a more genuine form of authenticity that comes from your heart being cracked open, having to choose whether or not to keep loving yourself and other people in spite of imperfections, and humbly standing up to say that I’m sorry I hurt someone, and I’m sorry I abandoned aspects of myself. Standing in front of my mirror and my creations and humbly offering personal forgiveness inward has been profound. After all this hard work of getting to this point, leaving a career I’d achieved a lot in, creating Embodied Breath, what, I thought I wouldn’t stumble?



If we stay in that frequency of the emotional state of shame and it survives, it will take us down. Guaranteed. We will not walk back into the arena of life for as long as we let it rule us. We can work hard and get promotions and seemingly be successful from this place, but we will not be living authentically. Wholeheartedly. I am not here to school you from a pedestal. That’s kinda the whole point. I’m here to remind us all. I’m here to walk with you. Haha, it’s more like I’m pulling at your shirt hem from my knees right now than having any pretence of pedestal.



Brené  Brown found in her research that in order for shame to survive, it needs secrecy, silence, and judgement. In my walk this month, especially this week, I discovered these antidotes. I broke my silence, my secrecy, and my own personal self judgement and the judgement of others. Friends and helpers were gracious enough to help me break it. And the shame feels much less intense.



The absolute antidote to shame is empathy. It’s what we need to be kind enough to extend to one another, even when we’re hurting. When I’m hurting and accepted my colleague Gina’s offer when she said, “Spirit is telling me to offer you this coaching,” it was amazing. Gina is helping me to hold space for all parts of myself. It is some of the most powerful personal work I’ve ever done. I can hold myself empathetically in this space and it resonates outward.



When we are willing to look at all of ourselves, we grow the most. Not that it’s some race or something, but it also feels the best. Self-forgiveness and self-love feel good. Relaxing the pressure on myself allows me to be a better space holder for others, more loving toward all, more empathetic. I am a better mother, a clearer coach, and better steward of Embodied Breath as a result of having gotten in that arena of life, gotten my ass kicked (again), and learning to be vulnerable and present with myself and others in still-closer ways. I am more authentic than ever. I am more myself than ever.



If I have behaved in a way that perpetuated a notion of perfectionism in the coaching industry, I am sorry. I do the work that I do because I want you to have a space to own your whole truth, your vulnerability, to feel your shame if you need to, to move through whatever arises, and to see yourself as beautiful and whole. My work is an arena itself! It is what I am inviting.



If I have hurt you, I am sorry.



I pray that we may all stay in the arena with ourselves and with one another, so that we may experience the wholehearted, connected, ever-conscious possibilities on the other side. I will go through, with you. Beside you.

Photos by www.NicoleMcConville.com

Photos by www.NicoleMcConville.com