"Fear is poorly channeled courage." (musician Brian Eno)
"The Master…is pointed, but doesn't pierce." (philosopher Lao Tzu)
I like how shame researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, sees courage as "living with heart" (from the French word for heart: couer). And to Brown, living with heart connotes our risking to be vulnerable (itself from the Latin root for wound: vulnus).
What is my chief fear? Well, for most of us, our #1 trigger for the internal fight-flight-or-freeze hormone, cortisol, is: fear of the loss of social acceptance and/or self-esteem (see Schwartz article below). This latter loss is exactly how psychology defines shame, where outer stigmatization (loss of social acceptance) breeds inner self-stigmatization (a corresponding loss of self-esteem).
So it is that my courage, to be vulnerable, brings me right up to the edge of my greatest fear, that I may not measure up.
The solution to this seeming Catch-22? Perhaps the opening Chinese proverb might have a word of wisdom for us here...We are invited to be "pointed," yet without "piercing." How about if we start with ourselves? Am I willing to "point" out my limitations, but in the broader context of simultaneously acknowledging the woundedness (vulnus) from which such limitations arise, and then only with great self-compassion and a gentle wish to heal? And can I do this without "piercing," turning frustration or disappointment toward myself in the form of aggressing against my very core character?
Now one thing I learned years ago, in a highly formative period of intense clinical supervision by local therapist and teacher, Lolita Sapriel, was that our experience of shame oftentimes manifests quite indirectly. For example, I can defend against shame's inherent ugliness by projecting that out onto you. So: "What, me feel ashamed? It is you that is the problem!"
Our lack of capacity to "point" toward our own vulnerabilities leaves us attacking, "piercing," others' vulnerabilities instead.
But the ancient Chinese proverb helps us to see a different way, where I courageously, with heart, face myself with compassion, rather than the sword. And in so doing, I free up space between us to grant you the same forgiveness, the same allowing-for-amidst-kind-honesty, which is, as in the words of the linked article by Tony Schwartz here, "the only thing that really matters."
Resources for Self-Compassion
TED talk by shame expert Brené Brown:
*Harvard Business Review article by CEO/author Tony Schwartz:
Book by self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff:
Mindfulness Meditation for Self-Compassion - Audio by Dr. Bob Weathers:
About the author:
A highly regarded educator and university administrator, as well as recovery coach, author, and public speaker, Dr. Bob Weathers holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, with an M.A. in religious studies. Over the course of his professional career, “Dr. Bob” has provided tens of thousands of hours of therapeutic counseling and recovery coaching to satisfied clients. He has also committed the past 35 years to teaching, training, and inspiring graduate-level mental health providers at several southern California universities, most recently here at California Southern University.
Dr. Bob is currently academic effectiveness coordinator at CalSouthern, engaged full-time in ongoing initiatives for improving the educational experience of our learners, including his chairing the brand-new Student Advisory Council (more about this soon to be announced in a future newsletter). Additionally, Dr. Bob has published numerous articles in a broad cross-section of respected professional reference books, journals, and edited volumes.
Dr. Bob’s current writing and in-demand public speaking focus on applying the principles of Integral Recovery (a body/mind/spirit approach) to healing from the shame and stigma of active addiction on the way to sustained, successful recovery. For fun, he loves to perform locally, as an avid, lifelong drummer, in his own widely praised jazz ensemble.