In-Person Weekend Intensive,
California, July 2018
Ruth and AST Model’s Law of Reversals
Like so many of us that experienced chronic shaming as a way of life from a young age, Ruth suffered from what I have now deemed: AST Model’s Law of Reversal. Law of Reversals describes the hard-wired experience of having an opposite reaction to what us humans usually find positive or life-affirming in some way.
For example, compliments, kind smiles, gestures of connection, intimacy, closeness, attention, focus, gifts, acknowledgments, work promotions, awards, which typically create a positive experience on the receiving end and give our attachment system, immune system and nervous system a welcome boost, are instead experienced by chronic shame survivors as threatening, numbing, dissociating, anxiety-provoking, anger-provoking and can trigger automatic impulses of freeze, deer in the headlights, push away, run away, disorientation, self-criticism, self-destructive behavior, and physical numbing or pain.
Unfortunately, Ruth had been suffering from this deeply painful experience her entire life and mostly navigated it through an adaptive self-masking strategy; smiling at others during these experiences when in truth, she had terrible stomach pains and wanted to run away. What else could she do?
The Catch 22 Dilemna
Of course, most people don’t understand their own upside reactions and in turn consider themselves damaged, screwed up, freaks, or plain crazy, which only reinforces their shame and alienation cycles. Until AST Model, there has been little or no understanding about this experience from professionals. All in all, Ruth felt stuck because she was stuck.
The Cost: How Shame Robs Good People of Good Life Experiences
Experiences that were designed to be nutritive and allow humans to feel seen, gotten and known, and more whole only made Ruth and others experiencing this reversal, feel unreal to themselves and others, disconnected from the receiving end of what it meant to feel good, and reinforcing the desire for less of what connects to others. All the while the longing for true, deeper, more authentic connection could never be met with this automatic reaction pulling it out from under.
Hope of Reversing the Reversal
After decades of work with many modalities and top teachers Ruth stumbled upon one of my AST Model online courses. In it she learned about this experience, that she was not alone, and why it was happening to her.
“It felt amazing, a huge relief to find you and understand this about myself, but still I can’t change it and I really want more than anything to receive my husband’s sincere compliments without freezing and wanting to push him away. He really wants that too. Now I know what it is but not how to get past it.” Ruth explained when she contacted me to do an in-person intensive this summer here in my hometown on the California Central Coast.
“Is it possible to change this? I’m 62 years old and this has happened as far as I can remember. I trust you to give it to me straight, Caryn. Is it too late?” Ruth asked as she tilted her head to the side in our skype dialogue.
“Ruth,” I said. I never make guarantees, and I won’t start now. AND, having worked with you in class and through a series of skype sessions I don’t see any reason you would not be able to see huge improvement in this. I think my regret would be if we didn’t try.” I said feeling her deep ache and longing to bask in her husband’s positive regard.
“That’s it! California here I come.” She said as we booked her 3 day weekend intensive with me.
Ruth’s Session: The Importance of AST Model’s 5 I’s In Action
When she arrived the first question I asked her was, “How does it feel to be here?”
“Stupid. I feel stupid as I always do when I try to get help for myself.” She half laughed. “But you know that from when you started working with me on skype.”
I nodded, “Is the intensity the same as then, or can you swat it away as though it were a fly?” I ask.
She smiles. “Not a fly,” she says as she moves her arm in a swatting motion in the air. “More like a big piece of newspaper that flew up to blind me and I knocked it back down and said stay put.”
She brings her arm to her side and takes a deep breath of relief. Looks around the room and out the window.
“All that gardening stuff is true!“ she announces as she looks out at my habitat garden and sees a St. Ana hummingbird whiz from flower to flower.
“What do you see when you look at the hummingbird?” Do you see a silly thing that can’t stay still, that is knocking itself out to flit from one flower to the next?” I ask.
“Not at all. I see a beautiful, graceful bird harvesting its nectar as nature intended it.” She said.
“What’s your experience of yourself right now if you had to give a brief description of what you see yourself doing here?” I ask.
“I see me standing up for myself, for what I always wanted and deserve, for my marriage.” She nodded with confidence.
“And what is your experience of yourself in that?” I ask.
“I like myself for doing this. Even if it is a waste of time and money. I like me for taking the plunge.” She said.
She giggles, throws her head back on the coach and laughs to herself and me.
I take her in quietly.
“I’m a little giddy. I think I might have a chance at this one this time and I am a little excited and defending my excitement.” She confesses.
“Ok.,” I smile, “seems like that’s a place to start.”
“Do you want to check and see what is creating a greater threat for you? My smile or the ‘getting started’ part.” I ask.
“Well, I am sure it’s the getting started part. It is normal to have trepidation before deep work.” She said pulling her long hair behind her.
“I don’t doubt the mind has it all figured out but all that mental knowing has yet to free you from this pattern.” I offer.
“Ok, so you want me to do some exercise? Tell me what you got?” She asks.
“If it feels oK close your eyes and listen to me say the words, ‘seems like a good place to start.’”
She nods as I speak.
“Now open your eyes and see me smile and imagine hearing me say….”
“Oh God, it’s the smile or the smile and the words that make me wanna run out the door.” She clutches her head in the palms of her hands.
From there we explore what the smile reminds her of and to her surprise the memory of a creepy neighbor comes to mind.
“My god! Have I been confusing my husband with that creepy guy all these years?”
“I don’t know. Worth noticing at some point that your husband is way different from that guy, but before we do, can you see me call the police on him and they come and take him away so he can’t creep on any of the kids on your street anyone?”
She nods quietly and starts to cry.
“What’s happening if I may ask.” I lean over and hand her a kleenex.
“I feel so much guilt. I knew he was creepy but I didn’t tell anyone and my young sister claims he was inappropriate with her.” Ruth is sniffling into the tissue.
“Would you have told someone if you knew his creepiness was going to lead to harmful actions?” I ask.
Ruth bursts into an intense spasm of tears. “No! No.” she shakes her head.
Ruth came from a family of 7 other siblings. I suspected she learned at a very young age not to complain or go to her parents for support or help as they were always busy and overloaded.
She continues to cry.
“I’m sorry it’s so painful.” I say.
After another minute of tears she looks up at me. “Maybe that’s why I don’t want my husband to smile at me.” She sighs.
“Well, I know your mind would like to figure this out, and I am wondering if we can be in the inquiry a bit longer?”
She shrugs. Blows her nose.
“I bet you got the message very young not to bother your parents?”
Ruth nodded. “Unless there was an emergency. And this was an emergency!”
“Today as an adult and with the knowledge your sister has told you and a maturely formed pre-frontal cortex you can see it as an emergency, but as a young child I bet you didn’t think of these consequences.” I say.
“I don’t know.” She says placing her chin in her hand.
“Is it OK to notice for a second that place under your belly?”
Ruth takes a deep breath. “My breath’s caught there.”
“From that place what do you remember about your parents’ attitude or thoughts about this guy?” I ask.
“They liked him. He grew corn and gave my mom a bunch for us to cook, let us ride our bikes across his front yard to get to the back of our house faster. I think my dad and him use to talk after church.”
“So the message you got from the adults was that he was OK, a good guy, trustworthy, is that right?” I say.
“Yeah, but I didn’t like how he would look and smile at us kids.” She motions to shrug off the memory of his creepy smile.
“So there was a conflict there and it made it hard for you to trust your own intuition let alone feel supported in telling anyone about it. Does that resonate?” I ask.
“Yes! It does. Exactly!
“Do I need to go and tell your parents about him?”
She shakes her head. “No I would tell my first grade teacher. She would know what to do without me or my sister getting in trouble.”
“OK so how’s about we tell her.” I suggest.
Immediately there is a difference in Ruth’s face and breath.
“Seems like that helped.” I say.
Ruth takes another big sigh then cries again. “I wish I could have done that for my sister and who knows how many other kids. I wish it was that easy.”
“Can you share that desire and regret with your sister?” I ask.
She nods. “Good idea. I have not really been able to hear her fully on this because of the guilt it made me feel, but now I can listen to her and tell her how sorry I am.”
“Now we can go to your husband if you want?” I say.
“Yes! But I already know he isn’t creepy.”
“That’s good to notice.” I smile
“Take a minute to see your husband smiling and feel that place in your stomach….”
“Oh God my stomach is churning. It’s crazy. I know my husband isn’t a creep.”
“But your body doesn’t know that. A smile created a certain reaction in you and within your body that then triggered all this guilt and shame. Take a minute. See your husband’s smile and ask him to be patient while you check him out and visually see the difference.”
Ruth closes her eyes and begins working with asking her husband for a ‘paused smile’ while she lets her body catch up to what her brain knows. After about 3 minutes she smiles and opens her eyes and nods. That’s pretty good!”
We smile. She stands up. “OK, I’m done. I don’t need the rest of the weekend. I ‘m going home to get man’s grinning love.” She teases me and we laughed.
Post Session Update
In the last two weeks since she returned home she has requested paused smiles and slow down compliments from her husband and she is experiencing her husband’s kind regard for her in way that feels manageable, loving and neutral in her body.