“Regret is a fair but tough teacher.” ~Brene Brown
A few weeks back, I found myself in the midst of a shame hangover and, like most people, when I’m in that unique internal cavern, self-judgments swoop into my consciousness like a colony of rabid bats in a four-foot tent.
I’ll paint the picture…
There are about two or three boys that have started visiting the houses on my block recently. They hold a rag and a windex bottle, come into every yard, knock on the door, and ask to wash the front doors (most of which are glass). Seems pretty harmless, huh? And, full, vulnerable disclosure here, they were also another ethnicity than I (and I consider myself a woke liberal).
The first time I saw them approaching the houses, I felt mildly perturbed. I didn’t have cash on me. I didn’t want to deal with them. I just wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want to have to tell them “no.” I had just washed that door.
They were around twelve years old, maybe younger, and I could tell they were working up the confidence to come into the yard and ask. It wasn’t easy for them. It was a little painful to watch.
I struggled with being irritated and simultaneously feeling empathy for them. Both uncomfortable. As they made their way into my yard, I told them I had just washed the door, but I noticed the edge in my voice. Something in me felt triggered and I wasn’t quite sure why. I felt a hot beat of shame flush in my cheeks.
A few days later they returned, and as I answered the door, a boy with big brown eyes tried to get the words out but before he could even finish his sentence, I could feel anger rising in my body.
I was watching it happen, confused. Maybe it was all the years living in a big city and feeling bombarded constantly by people asking for money, asking for help, asking for compassion. Some self-protective part of me was kicking in for absolutely no reason.
I told them no, that I didn’t have cash, and I could hear my voice getting sharper and sharper. I wondered what they saw in that moment—a woman with a sign in her yard professing #lovewins, with a sharp tongue and narrowed eyes, skeptical and cold. I could feel myself tearing inside.
To make up for it, I said,”Maybe next time. Come back later?”
Three days later, they came back. I could see them making their way from down the street and the stories started spinning in my head. Do their parents know they're doing this? Just making their way down the block multiple times a week? This is ridiculous. How much are they even charging for this? What a rip off! They are trying to scam us.
My body responded in kind, seamlessly. I could feel my cortisol levels rising. I wondered if this was a clue that I actually might be racist on some level. I’m realizing now, yes, of course I am.
“Excuse me ma’am,” one of them asked again.
Before he could finish, I noticed I was yelling across the yard and transforming into someone I hated. In a second, I was shrill, nasty, and reactive.
“If you want to get business, you probably shouldn’t come back every day,” I heard myself hiss as I jumped up and stomped over to the fence. “Do your parents even know where you are?”
It felt like an out-of-body experience. One self was feeling for these boys watching this lumbering, angry white woman approaching them. One was observing, was sad for what they were seeing, and one part was jumping head first into blame. I have never seen love and fear so clearly demonstrated in my dual personalities I felt so much separation of self.
“Well, you said to come back,” he replied honestly, “at another time.”
Oh crap. He was right, I had told them to come back (to get them to go away), to be left alone. They took me literally.
I realized how much I was shaping in that moment. I was teaching these boys how the world worked, how skeptical people are of other’s motivations (particularly people of their ethnicity), how nasty people can become for no apparent reason.
I was professing love on my yard signs and teaching them about fear. They saw me in my yard, lovingly interacting in my toddler and then treating them like their hearts were disposable.
I watched them walk away, wondering what they were muttering, as the shame cloak washed over me. For the next hour, I sat with my toddler son watching Horton Hears a Who. I was feeling so down I couldn’t even be present except to the message.
“A person is a person no matter how small.”
The self-judgments were getting darker and darker.
You are a fraud.
You fool. You are a racist.
You are deep down a rotting mess.
You are a nasty b*tch. That is who you are really are.
And with each word, I sunk lower and lower in the cavern.
Until I took a moment to remember something important about self-judgments.
They can actually be a good thing, as long as you don’t take them literally. They are a sign of regret.
“Regret is a fair but tough teacher.” ~Brene Brown
I regretted that situation because my fear-based actions were so out of alignment with what my deeper self desired. I wanted to take care of those boys. I wanted them to feel seen and valued, but fear stepped in and I created the opposite effect.
Self-judgments can tell us where we are out of alignment with deeper self and our intuitive responses.
I think of all the times love has told me what to do, has urged me toward compassionate action, toward mercy, toward lifting others up, and how often my fear steps in and death chokes it to the ground by reasoning it away. Each time, self-judgment promptly followed. Each of those instances is teaching me more and more how to listen to that intuitive voice before listening to the screams of fear.
Our deeper self whispers, and our fear screams, so it makes sense that it wins a lot of the time. If we continue to ignore those whispers, however, our deeper self will try to get our attention through the channels of self-judgment.
Yes, I have parts of me that are certainly nasty and rotten, and I am realizing, also racist. I also know these do not define who I am capable of becoming. They are expressions of fear and, just like every other human, I am capable of using them to defend myself when I am triggered. The more I recognize that impulse, the more choice I have to act in love.
The deeper self will scream (and use your own past wounds against you) if that is the only way to get you to pay attention. The mistake I initially made was that I was taking the self-judgments literally, and as truth, instead of decoding their messages.
“If the self-judgments aren’t literal, what might my deeper self be trying to say?” I asked myself.
When I looked underneath all of the judgments, I could see that I was afraid if I kept acting that way toward people that I would be a part of everything I hated about the world right now.
Underneath that fear was a request from my deeper self to start to choose loving and compassionate responses as much as I could, to be brave, to take responsibility for what is happening in this world right now, to get better.
I am sick and tired of betraying myself all the time. I am so sick of letting fear run the game of my life, keeping me separated from other people. I am committed to love winning inside of me more and more.
I can’t promise perfection. I can’t promise I won’t be triggered by a whole bunch of past conditioning and crap, but I can promise to try to get better each time, and to create a plan for what I am going to do get better, to create the world I want to live in.
For now, I’m keeping cash in my drawer, hoping those boys come back. If they do, I’m inviting them into the yard, introducing them to my son, asking their names, and thanking them for their help. I’m going to show them that people can love them without knowing them yet.