When we help clients neurobiologically separate out early shame from grief, we bring them to the awareness of how present day experiences are actually a confusing entanglement of calling cards from the past. As the responses separate and integrate with support into the client’s present day self, a felt sense of choice and autonomy emerge.
A Client Scene:
“It happens every time no matter what I say or how nice I try to be. My husband starts scolding me and I collapse.” Megan’s gaze sadly drifts to the left.
“When you feel that in your body, how old are you?” I ask.
“Young. It’s like I want my father’s love, and I know I’m not good enough.” She shrugs.
“How does this feel to the adult you?”
“Well, I know the not being good enough is not true.” She shrugs again. There’s silence.
“Tell me if I am wrong, but it seems like you don’t feel like you have a right to tell him you are not willing to listen to his scolding.” I let my question sink in a minute.
“Well, I mean. . . ” She shrugs. Looks at the floor. “It’s that I know I come from an abusive background, and I bring all this baggage.” Her shoulders appear to be in a perpetual shrug.
“So, does it feel like because you don’t come from the ‘together’ background he does, you feel like you don’t deserve to have a boundary? Or is part of you trying to protect yourself for seeing what a jerk he can be in these moments?”
Megan laughs. A flash, like a gleam, flows through her brown eyes. She looks at me directly for the first time in the last ten minutes. “You know . . . ” she crinkles her nose. “It’s both, but there really is something about not wanting to make him the bad one.”
As the words come out of her mouth, Megan begins to cry. “It’s so sad to feel the truth about him.”
“Him who? Your husband or your dad?”
“Well both, but my dad I guess. He never praised me or showed me he was proud of me. It was always scolding, shaming, humiliation.”
I place my hand on my heart. She watches me and gentle tears begin to flow. There is nothing like the combination of well-timed compassion and the work of mirror neurons to allow facilitator and client to come even closer into sync and move the work to the next right level.
“That’s the problem. Every time I try to put up a boundary or walk away from my husband’s scolding I feel so sad and guilty it is my fault that I should just get the scolding over with.”
“But it sounds like that doesn’t really work because you become angry with yourself and him afterwards.”
“Yeah, it’s hopeless.” Her hands cover her face.
“So is it okay if I share something about this with you?”
Her head and hands move up and down together.
“You feel that way because you are touching that grief, shame and guilt you felt as a child. That grief’s been unprocessed, like the stuff at the bottom of the yogurt container; it’s settled there and now these situations stir up these feelings. As you process this grief a little at a time, it won’t be there to stir up on a day to day basis.”
“Well that’s what came to mind.” Now, I shrug. “I guess we can surmise I’m hungry.” We both grin. “But going back to noticing the quality of this moment right now with me as we are unpacking this, what does it feel like?”
“It feels like God is in my heart like he’s a big toasty fire and my kid is sitting in front of the fire feeling the love.”
We both smile again, and she lets the felt sense of that land in her body. I can feel in the field that she has the integrated sense of this nutritive experience in her body. I want to address the grief so she knows what to expect and attend to between our next session.
“Now, there is also a boat, that your kid sits in that is filled with water up to her knees.” I start explaining.
“Her chest!” She laughs.
“Ok, her chest. This is the grief and the shame from those early woundings, and she was stuck in that. But now, each week we are helping her by bailing out some of the water. And one day there won’t be any water left to dump overboard. And now in between the times we help her bail out her grief, your kid gets to sit by the sacred fire in your heart and feel to warmth.”
She smiles. “That’s a relief! You think it is possible to grieve and be done with it?”
“Definitely, but not all at once. A little at a time, and allowing her to get out of the boat and to dry land, in this case the warmth of the fire.”
Megan grabs her pen and writes in her session journal. Part of AST Model® work is integrating many levels of experience. Although the body is usually used as an entry point, writing to capture key shifts allows integration to unfold in the heart, mind, and creative realms. She looks up. “I wrote I have a choice. I can tell my husband to stop scolding me or I can walk away.”
“How does that feel?”
“Great!” She says with a grounded hopefulness in her voice. In place of the wounded child, a centered, optimistic and balanced woman nods back to me.
Meghan continued to feel empowered around her choices with her husband and around her life. She still had moments where she felt sadness, grief, shame and guilt when she knew she had the right to feel empowered, calm and clear. But those became less and less confusing and sticky. Empowerment became a more familiar response in her life and work. Without differentiating grief from the shame and guilt, Meghan could have continued to move backward and forward experiencing empowerment and then the collapse of sadness, grief, guilt and shame over and over again as she had for decades before.
Caryn Scotto d’ Luzia is an innovative somatic facilitator, educator and trainer. She is developer of AST Model of Holistic Shame Resolution®, a neuro-biologically principled, neuro-relationally based approach that specializes in chronic shame relief, building shame and inner critic resilience, transforming shame-based early trauma, facilitating shame-based relational re-patterning, and supporting life-affirming authentic self-expression and empowerment.
She is the author of the following ebooks and articles, Alchemy of Shame Transformation for Therapists and Healing Professionals, Detaching from Shame as a Practice Toward Greater Compassion and Peace, The Yin/Yang of Abandonment Recovery, and Wound & Essence: A Call and Response Approach to Transformation. She is leading a shame-free living movement and training therapists, healers, coaches, and community leaders how to facilitate shame resolution and cultivate acceptance, worth, empowerment and belonging.
Caryn works face-to-face with people around the world on Skype, and in-person in the California’s Bay Area and New York City where she sees adult clients. She offers phone case reviews to therapists, healers, and coaches as well as teaches neurobiological principles through webinars online. On a wider scale, she collaborates with UN affiliated NGOs and Governments to heal collective trauma and post conflict PTSD. She is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and a Post Advanced Instructor for Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute, a member of the UN NGO Committee on Mental Health, USABP presenter, and speaker at the United Nations on the issue of resolving shame in women and girls around the world.