I’ve encountered, through my work, many professionally successful women who struggle with immensely stressful lives. It seems that they are pulled in so many directions that they’re breaking under the strain of their responsibilities. They feel trapped in a life of unhappiness where every day is just about making it through the day with what little’s left of their energy reserve. Having a successful career seems to come at a price, and this is especially true if you’re a woman.
Tag Archive for: Guilt and Shame
The other day, someone was telling me about an undesirable situation he was in and I asked him why he was choosing to remain in it. He said he has made his bed and now he has to lie in it. This brings to mind something that I often come across when looking at the complexities about being in a state of suffering: how we can trap ourselves in suffering by doing nothing to reconcile the conflicts that give rise to the suffering.
We might try to change things superficially within the situation, hoping it will bring improvement, but that may not be enough or effective. And if what you’re doing to try to change or improve things brings no real and lasting results, you may end up feeling frustrated with yourself and make your suffering even more immediate to you.
I was watching an animated movie about Doctor Strange, the Marvel Comics creation. It was my first introduction to the character and I was fascinated by the world of sorcery portrayed in the story. The movie depicts how Dr Stephen Strange, a successful surgeon, who after injuring his hands in an accident finds his way to a monastery in Tibet where he is trained by The Ancient One to be a powerful sorcerer. Lots of spiritual lessons reflected in the movie, especially in the doctor’s early training when he has to move past the pain of his loss, guilt and shame to recover a sense of purpose in his life.
One of the themes that often come up when dealing with addictions is the tendency for self-destruction – when the drive to use drugs, alcohol or other compulsive activities renders a person unable to stop that behaviour but to spiral faster and faster into destroying himself. Why do some people seem to have this need to destroy themselves? What can they do to break out of this obsessive drive that seems to grip them so powerfully?
Whether a person is dealing with an obsession with drugs, alcohol, money, sex or food, the nature of this obsession is the same. The greed for more (in quantity, frequency and intensity) escalates as the person breaks down more and more boundaries that have previously defined what kept him safe. These boundaries may relate to the physical body (what is and isn’t acceptable for what we do to our body), social circle (who is and isn’t appropriate for us to hang out with), our moral codes (what behaviours we will and won’t accept from ourselves), and our dignity (what we will and won’t tolerate from others). Deep in the throes of addiction, gripped by obsession, we cross that line again and again, pushing our boundaries further and further away from us.
I’ve been asked what my resolution is for 2010, so I will share it here. For the record, I have stopped making new year resolutions some years ago. I had found that the long list I tended to come up with too depressing after a while. Too much unnecessary pressure, as if life did not present enough on my plate already! I’ve since taken the route of flowing with whatever life presents, whatever time of the year it is. This year, if I were to come up with one resolution, it would be to keep every area of my life as simple as possible.
In my work as an addiction counsellor, I often encounter issues of shame behind substance abuse. The influence of shame on self-destructive habits looks something like this:
A person grew up with a belief that he is unworthy, damaged or a bad person. He struggles with the pain and fear generated by this underlying belief and attempts to invalidate the belief through his actions and behaviours. At the same time, because he has not reconciled his fear of this belief, he tends to perpetuate acts that substantiate the belief.