Week 4 – Fear, Guilt, Shame and Vulnerability

You can view a summary of this weeks’ post on Youtube.  Part 1 and Part 2.

I have to continue the tale of my journey by telling you all the negative stuff.  It happened.  If you are going through a major change in your life, it is going to happen to you too.  You cannot ignore the ugly stuff just because it’s ugly.  In fact, we should look at it so hard and so deeply that it becomes beautiful.  That’s what I am hoping happens.

Fear hides behind every corner; it’s lurking in the shadows of everything you do, waiting to pounce.  ‘People’ are always telling each other Get out there and live your dreams, love yourself, do what makes you happy, and don’t ever give up on you!’, but you know, I don’t believe they have really thought that statement through to understand what it really means.  Getting out there and living your dreams is scary.  When I hear that statement, do they think I am then supposed to feel ‘Oh, ok!  Now that I see this is acceptable to ‘people’, I can go ahead and live my dreams!’  Not so.  Fear stands in our way.  Fear is asking us, ‘What if?’  ‘What if you fail, Evelyn? What if you fall on your big fat nose and can’t get up (cause you do have a big fat nose, Evelyn, and now everyone
will see it)?  What if you don’t make enough money to pay your bills, Evelyn? What if everyone laughs at you, Evelyn (oh will they laugh)?  What if you let everyone who is depending on you down, Evelyn?’
  Fear never, ever asks you, ‘What if you’re just fine and you do it right, and everything works out ok?’

Fear has a couple of besties known as Guilt and Shame.  As we have learned from Brene Brown, Guilt is that feeling that I’ve done something wrong; Shame is Guilt’s big sister and wants me to be very clear that I am wrong!

While Fear was busy telling me that I had made a big mistake quitting my job, Guilt reminded me that I had let all those people down at work who now are going to have to do the work that I left behind and without my support or protection (you see, I really thought that I was shielding some staff members from unpleasant dealings with the higher ups).  Shame clearly wanted me to understand that I failed because I could not take it and was not good enough.  Fear also wanted me to hide my feelings so that everyone would think I was just fine!  I definitely was not fine, and in truth, I’m still not.

When I was in Grade 2, I read my first Stephen King novel, Carrie!  It terrified me!  Since that time, I have been addicted to fear.  I love horror novels and that intense anxiety of being afraid; chills running up and down my spine.  I have always felt that fear makes me feel so ALIVE!  The fear of failing at life is not nearly so exciting.  It is a different type of fear.  Mind-numbing, self-esteem-crushing, action-paralyzing fear that can leave a person hopeless and sad, because it just goes on and on, and we feel like we cannot do anything to get away from it.  At least in my horror books and movies, at some point they end, and the feeling of intense relief I get afterwards is rewardingly satisfying.  There must be a way to turn the prolonged fear into the relief and satisfaction!

I began telling people what had happened to me and how I was feeling.  I did not want to come off as a ‘victim’ or whining, I just wanted to be honest and open, and perhaps hear other people’s stories, so I could feel validated.  I was acutely aware that I was 100% responsible for the situation I was in and how I was feeling.  My ex-company and ex-boss did not fire me.  They did not ask me to feel anything about my job or my new responsibilities, they just required that I do it.  There is no one to blame, and maybe…just maybe, there is actually no blame to lay.  I mean, I was beginning to see, I had done nothing wrong.

Speaking out and telling my story, I had to be vulnerable.  I had to be willing not only to tell the dirty details, (trying to keep it ‘clean’), but also to endure the feelings and emotions that went along with the story telling.  I also found out to be careful who you talk to, not everyone is on your side.  There are so many people, especially people you trust, love and rely on, who absolutely will either not agree with your decisions or they believe that people should endure anything in order to keep a job.  This latter one was the most common thread I found.  I did try to explain and justify to people why I left my job and why I was feeling what I was feeling, and then I realized…it does not matter what they think.  Each person is different and they have their own reasons for feeling the way they do.  AND, big ‘AND’ that I must continue to tell myself, why would I let somebody else tell me how my life should work?  It’s my freaking life!  The experiment should be to learn what they think and see if you can use any of it.  Don’t let other people’s opinions change your mind.  Look for the nuggets of truism in their words, but verify all facts and throw away things that are just anecdotal opinions.  Vulnerability can open you up to a lot of judgmental opinions, or, (shudder), someone taking great satisfaction in hearing about your failure and loss because on some level they don’t want you to win. But, it can also free you of being worried if people will find out the ‘truth’ because now they know it.

Since I have been off work, I have found myself facing these emotions to cover a myriad of events occurring in my life.  Each time, I must combat them anew, but I am finding it easier to pull myself out of the mire and take a more positive view sooner.  I felt guilt that my husband was covering all the bills with his job and I would minimize my own needs if they cost something.  I felt shame that I could not get a job; no university degree – who is going to want to hire me?  Fear dug its angry claws into me again when I looked into the future and saw my dream of owning a franchise and writing books flying away from me.  Vulnerability was there, holding my hand each time I told my story to an inquiring mind.  Well, I quit my job and I was not yet able to buy the franchise like I had intended.  I am going back to work for a while, doing an entry-level position so I can pay the bills.  What were they thinking?  What would they say to me?  Does it matter that I don’t have a quick-witted comeback for those negative retorts and comments?  Nope.

I will admit, there are some people whom I do not want to reveal my whole self to. I have had bad experiences in the past with some of these people and sometimes I just do not feel that I am ready to handle it.  I know that eventually I will be able to deal with anything anyone can throw at me, but heck, I have the time right now to prepare myself emotionally, so why not take it?  I do not owe anyone a damned thing!  This is about me.  ME!

Yes, I am afraid.  Afraid of not having enough money to retire; afraid of not reaching my goals, or of being really, really old when I do.  I am afraid that the job I do get will impact my writing time.  I am also afraid that I do not know what to do next (most of the time).

Guilt.  Not as much any more.  There are some times when I spend too much money that I feel guilty, but I have pretty much reached a place where I am only filling ‘needs’.  The few ‘wants’ I am willing to splurge on – my dance lessons, some beauty products, workshops – I have discussed these with my husband and they have been put in the budget.  I know that I have the ability to make enough money to pull my financial weight, so I am good here.

Shame – there is a lot of this.  I am not good enough to get a high-paying job; they pass over my resume.  I am not at the socioeconomic level as many of my family members, friends or peers, or at least where I think I should be at my age of almost 52 years old.  I tell myself that I don’t really want a job anyhow as I soon will be the proud owner of a franchise, but as that is not a for-certain fact, I still fall into the shame trap.  It is very difficult.

Keeping my focus on my goals and eliminating things that do not contribute to these really help me to keep going.  When I find myself slipping, I look at what I have control over right now that I can do to move me forward and I focus on doing that.

Fear, Guilt, Shame and Vulnerability are things that each of us need to deal with. If you open yourself up to facing and accepting these, you will be surprised at how much you learn about yourself and how many other people are experiencing the same emotions.  Keep calm and stay focused.Exercises and Questions:

  • Find three people you know who have had a similar experience to the one you are going through. Go out for coffee – a neutral environment is better – and ask them about their experience.  Try to not interject your own experiences or opinions.  Just listen.  And learn.
  • What are the things that you have control over to do right now? Plan how long these things will take to do – does it take a couple of hours, an afternoon, a whole day, or a week to complete this task or list?  Make a commitment to focus on only these things and complete them in the planned time-frame.
    • If you are having a hard time getting going, make a list of little things that you have to do and start checking them off your list. Soon the big important things will seem easier to get started on.
  • Write three lists: Those things you fear; those things you feel guilty about; those things you feel shame about.  Cross out those that you have no control over.  Pick one or two items that you can do something about right now and make a plan on what you will do.  Open up to your vulnerability and tell your story truthfully to at least one other person and watch how you feel.

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