“The darkest part of the night is just before dawn”
Taking our selves too seriously can be an impediment to our own wellbeing, however taking an irreverent attitude towards events or people outside our selves can liberate us from feelings of shame, and powerlessness. With humour we open and reclaim a power that what was not available to us, offering us joyful experiences that are polar opposite to feeling emotionally repressed. Humour laced with a dose of irreverence, and outrageousness can connect us with spontaneity, imagination and joy.
My therapist would often use absurdity and humour suggesting a response to an experience that was so outrageous that we would both laugh until tears would be streaming down our faces. It felt liberating to break free from something that had me pinned down, that had me feeling constricted. He would suggest to me that 'dark times call for dark humour', laughter offered an experience that was far removed from the struggle that I had been sitting with. Something opened in me, I could imagine something new that felt life affirming, that shifted the heavy burden of shame and anxiety. It illuminated the off balance behaviour of another that I had being feeling responsible for.
It has prompted me to ask the question. What does humour offer us in coming to terms with something that feels dark, that keeps us sad, that prevents us from fully flourishing? What we struggle with is a reflection of an experience that left us from fulfilling a deep need. This could be to feel safe, loved, nourished or fulfilled. When this is denied we are left trying to make sense of the situation or experience and maybe we decide that we are not worthy of safety, love, nourishment or fulfilment. Rather than focus the humour on our own perceived shortcomings, by redirecting it towards that which we have been held captive by allows us to reclaim power where in the past we have felt shamed and powerless.
I looked to comedians to provide some understanding of what humour can offer us, and what the limitations of it might be. Comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks has often used comedy to poke fun at Nazi Germany and Hitler. As a Jew Mel saw comedy as a means to reclaim the power taken from Jewish people when he described playing Hitler in a film "It is an inverted seizure of power. For many years Hitler was the most powerful man in the world and almost destroyed us. To posses this power and turn it against him -– it is simply alluring".
Recently Hannah Gadsbys stand up special took her traumatic experience of growing up in an environment that was deeply shaming to her sexuality and body image that differed from a perceived norm. It brought to bear this experience, she explains the type of comedy she practiced in the past was like a abusive relationship. Where she used her experiences of shame as a means to garnish laughter from the audience. She would build tension using self-depreciating humour, thus reinforcing her shame. The turnaround for her came when she began to shame her perpetrators, this had the audience laughing at them and not Hannah. I suggest that using humour redirect this shame on those who perpetrated her traumatic experience, has allowed her to reclaim her power. The shameless become the shamed.
Humour doesn't diminish the experience of traumatic events, however it has the capacity to open us up, to break the shackles of shame, and powerlessness. It repositions shame from a burden that we carry to where it can be redirected back to where it came from. In the case of Mel Brooks this was Hitler and the Nazis who came close to exterminating a ethnic and religious group. With Hannah Gadsby it is the cultural norms around sexuality and body image that permeate our society. For us all humour and the ridiculous, offers experiences of liberation over shame and an opportunity redirect and shine a light on what was outrageous to our wellbeing. For the path of liberation and healing doesn’t always need to be dark, it can be illuminated by laughter to guide us through the darkness.
Intimate relationships are the crucible from which we can grow, yet they are imbued with both the ecstasy of intimacy and the pitfalls of conflict and withdrawal. Its a two edged sword, we can experience bouts of closeness, excitement and adoration particularly in the beginning. Only to encounter disconnection, indifference and despair during conflicts. However, we only get to really discover and uncover our unknown self when we are in close relationship with another, where our unrealised aspects of ourselves are revealed.
In the beginning of intimate relationships we are often surfing a wave of delight, closeness and warmth that comes from being seen as desirable by another. Each moment of contact can illicit a deep sense of joy and excitement, where we feel met, affirmed and whole. New intimate partners can offer what we have longed for, to be seen and loved for who we are., our world feels infinitely brighter. The differences we notice,in our partner that could be annoying could be brushed off and seen as quirks and part of the others personality.
Moving on from the first stages of intimate relationships we find out what our new partner is really like, when tension and stress are added to the mix. Suddenly those quirky habits become annoying, maybe a boundary is violated, or we are not OK with something that is said or done by our partner. We might become angry and disconnect, maybe this anger is fuelled by past hurts, and emotional wounds, maybe it is simply saying that is not OK for me. When there is a possibility of disconnect, our default setting given these circumstances is to pull back and withdraw our contact, especially if our partner is angry at us. This separation can illicit anger, resentment, and we can project onto our partner as being the cause for our suffering, they have in some way left us. Our warm fuzzy love bubble has certainly burst We can feel we are on shaky ground during conflicts as we no longer feel any warmth or intimacy, but a feeling of anger and a withdrawal of love. But it is our willingness to stay with difference, that opens a doorway to reconnecting with our partner and developing deeper intimacy. When we stay in this place of discomfort, it says on some level that I am willing to be here with you, I want to understand what is happening for you, and I care about you.
Being willing to being vulnerable with another, to reveal what has been closely guarded and kept hidden is a pathway to building emotional intimacy, From experience this reconnection is more likely to occur when we and our partner are both feel safe, truly heard, validated, and empathised with. It can mean that we need to take time out, to reconnect with ourselves, to allow the anger and hurt to settle, so we can hear another. From this position we can be clearer about our feelings, be receptive to anothers experience, and seek to negotiate boundaries that support and nourish the relationship. For when we feel safe in relationship, we are more likely to speak our truth and hear another without needing to escalate our emotions. Conflict then becomes an opportunity to lay the groundwork for greater awareness of ourselves, deepening our relationships and developing intimacy, for relationships will always invite us to reveal our true self.
We are immersed in a living and interactive world which is constantly changing from moment to moment, and we find ourselves constantly trying to achieve harmony within it's fluidity. We are dependant on our relationships with our fellow human beings to survive and navigate in this world.. Based on our past relational experiences we learn ways and means to interact, sometimes with varied results. The quality of our present day relationships is key for ensuring our quality of life and the degree to which we fully realise our potential in this lifetime. For within our relationships lies an opportunity to grow beyond what we are familiar with and the expectations we place on ourselves and others.
Our senses ensure that we are aware of what is around us at any given time, we know when it is safe and when there is a potential threat to our wellbeing. When we are aware of the presence of another human being we are on some level emotionally regulating ourselves. We might feel drawn towards another when they offer a genuine offer of contact that is heartfelt and warm. We may feel hurt, pull away and feel disconnected when another is angry and hostile towards us, Human contact is vital for our wellbeing and survival, and those of us who feel continually lonely and disconnected are more susceptible as research suggests to several mental and physical health conditions.
We all yearn on some level for companionship, where we are deeply met by another, it is the sort of contact we'd expect to experience in intimate relationships. These close relationships invite us to reveal our humanity and our vulnerability, they become a pathway towards deeper understanding of ourselves, and our partners. Yet the path of intimacy can be littered with a range of relational experiences, some hurtful, and painful and also moments of joy and happiness. Sometimes our partner feels close to us, and other times we cant get far enough away from them. Our intimate relationships are designed to bring up for us the parts of ourselves that didn't get fully met when we were growing up. We relate to others in ways that are most familiar to us, and often we choose partners that in some way represent the type of relationships that we experienced early on in life. We do this often because on some level it feels familiar to us, we understand how to navigate the relationship, whilst on some level we yearn to resolve our unmet emotional needs.
Our intimate relationships whist revealing our unmet parts of ourselves, as suggested also carry the potential for healing, a place where we are able to experience being fully met. When we are able to be vulnerable enough to express our needs, and to experience feeling received, heard and understood we nourish not only ourselves but the relationship. Being vulnerable develops intimacy and connection, when we share the deepest parts of our soul we create a safe space for our partner to do the same. Healthy relationships allow us to grow by having new emotional experiences, and to resolve inner tensions that we have carried all our lives. For when we are fully met and our deepest yearnings honoured we can feel sense of completeness and harmony within, and a connection to the world around us. For our relationships are a means by which we can find equilibrium in our intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of ourselves within a fluid and interdependent environment.
Within each of us there is a part of ourselves that needs to be aware of potential threats and dangers to our safety and wellbeing. Experiences in life that have elicited feelings of shame, fear and anxiety pull us back from contact with people or places. When the world seemed much bigger than us this was something that was inherently useful and necessary. People who are overly critical of others creative expression are often themselves tormented by strong inner critics. By projecting shame, fear and anxiety onto others they find temporary relief from this inner suffering. When we are able to stay with the belief that we are intrinsically creative that we allow ourselves to be less influenced by the responses of another. Through this belief and trust in ourselves coupled with a safe and supportive environment generates creative growth and exploration.
My experience of this occurred when I was punished at school and beaten with a cane at the age of twelve in front of my peers. I felt deep shame and for a long time afterwards, I withdrew from others, preferring to sit alone. What stayed with me was a reinforced idea that I was not to challenge authority, that to do so would mean that I would be punished for it. For many years later I believed to challenge, speak up and state a position then I would be taken down for it. Whilst studying Architecture at University I was presenting my design to my peers, I could see from the scowl on the face of my tutor that it was not being received well. She ripped the design to shreds and me in the process in front of my group, I felt shame and became angry but she me beat me down, I sat slumped in my seat wanting the earth to swallow me up, I hated myself and felt anything that I did was worthless, I believed that expressing my creative self was personally dangerous.
These two experiences had embedded deeply themselves within me, the part of myself that is there to protect me now had two mantras. One, don't challenge authority and two, don't express yourself as a creative . By exposing myself to situations where I am invited to do so could bring on feelings of shame and separateness from others, that I will feel alone and unloved. Since those two experiences, any criticism from others touched and reflected my shame and a grief for the loss of myself as a creative being. I would avoid playing music in front of friends, avoid opportunities to contribute to my Architectural profession, and avoided bringing my voice into the world when authoritative figures spoke to me. I became disillusioned and lost.
In therapy I began to realise that the experiences I had were a result of an environment that did not support me to grow in my capacity as a creative being. I also began to engage with a direct dialogue with the inner critic that developed out of a need to protect me from situations that potentially could illicit deep feelings of shame and inadequacy. My critic had became the dominant voice within that limited my ability to grow into my full capabilities. In seeking to understand this part of myself I discovered that I could negotiate with myself and find a way that allowed me to explore and to take care of myself at the same time. The tone of my inner dialogue changed from harsh to gentle as I acknowledged my need to find a safe and supportive creative environment before I am ready to grow creatively. That mistakes are just part of a process of exploration, and are useful signposts before I can recognise a sense of creative completion.
We are intrinsically interconnected with our environment, this relationship with everything informs our present moment experience, some of which we are aware of and much of which sits in the background. Through this relationship we develop a sense of who we are and what we are moved by, what brings joy and what evokes grief. It is said that behind each of our actions is the desire to make meaning of our lives. We organise our experiences to interpret and give meaning to each moment of existence. We do this based on our own memories, expectations, beliefs, values, fears, assumptions or emotional states. By comparing and contrasting new and old information moment by moment we construct a new reality that is unique to us.
By actively engaging with our world moment to moment we are positioning ourselves to develop life affirming and meaningful experiences. When we are participating in meaningful experiences we are giving birth to a world as we would like it to be. Contributing to the continuation of life by bringing into the world something unique within us that is life affirming. Often the world we want is contrary to an experience or event that we have experienced that was deeply hurtful. Meaningful expression can be small or large gestures of connection and support for others to thrive. Each moment we are connected to ourselves and active in the world holds the potential for meaningful experiences.
We all inhabit an inner world where we are on the most intimate terms with ourselves. In this world we experience our inner discourse, coloured by our thoughts and ideas. Here our inner voices vie for our attention, one may be harshly critical of our actions, thoughts and ideas, or maybe there is a small, frightened voice that is prone to following what the critical voice may be telling it to do or feel.
Our critical self is developed usually during times of distress where we are highly susceptible as children to the views of our care givers and significant people or events in our lives. If we have felt threatened then we shape our view of our world based on these historic experiences, with the residue residing deep within us. An inner voice can be born to protect us after moments that frighten us, that cautions or reprimands us when there is a chance these experiences could be repeated. Like a recording on loop it plays out sometimes for our whole lives, despite the potential threat having ceased long ago.
Pretending or ignoring these voices is like trying to deny our existence, we may feel that by acknowledging this inner world is shameful, that we may be judged by our thoughts or ideas as strange or unacceptable. Over many years of sitting with others in groups, when an inner experience is revealed I've always heard others sharing similar experiences, suddenly we feel less alone in our experience and more part of a larger experience of being human. When we can accept and value our experience of our inner world as being valid and a direct reflection of our response to our environment, we we bring ourselves more into the world. Sharing this experience creates a fertile foundation for building trust, and relationships that are real and honest.
I've found through direct dialogue with our inner critic we give a voice to part of ourselves that has been wanting to be heard. This dialogue seeks to understand what is the message is behind the harsh berating tone. More often than not this is the voice of part of ourselves that is hurt, that has taken on a parental role to protect us from harm and it has dominated our inner landscape. Giving it a space to be heard and validated will usually quieten this voice. When we can quieten down our dominant voices a deeper and wiser part of ourselves can rise and be heard. This is a deeper ancient presence, that imbues wisdom and insight. When we can access this part of ourselves we have a greater capacity to orientate ourselves in the world and declare what we need and respond authentically to those around us. We are less prone to be critical and harsh towards ourselves and those around us.
Our relationship with the external world is a reflection of our inner world, and conversely how we speak to ourselves is a reflection of how we let others speak to us. When we are highly critical of our actions or thoughts, when they don't measure up to a belief about ourselves, we negate the voice of our authentic self. Somewhere along the way we swallowed a narrative that we are not OK., unless we behave in a manner that is OK for someone else. This narrative is not who we are, it is a storyline fed to us from someone else, or an experience where we needed to adapt to circumstances beyond our control. This narrative has many guises but usually it involves the words "should", "must", " have to", or "ought to". The more we ingest these foreign beliefs or attitudes, the less space is available within us to reflect what truly is right for us. It sets up an inner conflict between the parts of ourselves that is aligned with our authentic self and this critical voice.
When we can get in touch with the inner voice that is gentle and loving, we are closer to a narrative that is life affirming. By hearing our authentic voice we are able to recognise foreign narratives that come from outside ourselves. By acknowledging and giving voice to our inner critic, also gives us a chance to witness and seek to understand what this voice is attempting to tell us. Usually the critic is there to protect us from some form of perceived annihilation or shame. However left to direct us based on often old and outmoded protective measures we are contained, rather then allowed to fully evolve.
Discovering our authentic voice is like meeting a new friend that is learning to have a voice in the world. This voice can get drowned out by our familiar critical voice, but the more we engage with it the more permanent a presence it becomes in our lives. When others views that are incongruent with our authentic self, simple statements such as 'that doesn't fit for me' declares to the world that we honour what feels right for us, and that we are the agents of our own destiny.
Anything really worth doing in our lives will always have some fear attached to it.
Anything worth doing will always have some fear attached to it. For example, having a baby, getting married, changing careers—all of these life changes can bring up deep fears. It helps to remember that this type of fear is good. It is your way of questioning whether you really want the new life these changes will bring. It is also a potent reminder that releasing and grieving the past is a necessary part of moving into the new.
Fear has a way of throwing us off balance, making us feel uncertain and insecure, but it is not meant to discourage us. Its purpose is to notify us that we are at the edge of our comfort zone, poised in between the old life and a new one. Whenever we face our fear, we overcome an inner obstacle and move into new and life-enhancing territory, both inside and out. The more we learn to respect and even welcome fear, the more we will be able to hear its wisdom, wisdom that will let us know that the time has come to move forward, or not. While comfort with fear is a contradiction in terms, we can learn to honor our fear, recognizing its arrival, listening to its intelligence, and respecting it as a harbinger of transformation. Indeed, it informs us that the change we are contemplating is significant, enabling us to approach it with the proper reverence.
You might wish to converse with your fear, plumbing its depths for a greater understanding of the change you are making. You could do this by sitting quietly in meditation and listening or by journaling. Writing down whatever comes up—your worries, your sadness, your excitement, your hopes—is a great way to learn about yourself through the vehicle of fear and to remember that fear almost always comes alongside anything worth doing in your life.
The Wisdom of Fear - Honoring Life Changes
by Madisyn Taylor
From the Daily OM
Our inner wounds awaken us, and hold the potential of a fuller experience of life. Rather than a burden to be endured, they become life giving when we fully surrender to the wisdom they contain. When we explore the parts of ourselves that we are most frightened by, we have the opportunity to develop tenderness and compassion towards ourselves. In doing so our world expands as this compassion extends towards others that might have experienced similar wounds. If we choose not to walk down these dark spaces within ourselves, our relationships will always present opportunities where our inner wounds are brought to the surface. Inner healing involves removing ourselves from the everyday and stepping into a metaphorical cave where we encounter ourselves, the parts that we know and the unknown wounded and most vulnerable self. A healing process that allows us to accept all parts of ourselves fully, allows a fluidity of movement to occur between polarities of experience, as we become less stuck in one way of being.
When we can accept ourselves as being who we are rather than trying to be something we are not, we become less fixed. A sense of grace emerges within us when we accept our own emotional responses as being valid. We feel and respond to the world as guided by our inner felt experience, articulating what we need in the here and now. When we allow ourselves to fully accept parts of ourselves that have been kept hidden from the world, we have more of an opportunity bring ourselves more fully into the world. When I began to accept my inner world as valid, I found the ground by which I could begin to understand and articulate my inner experience. I found by articulating a compassionate language of understanding helps to bring loved ones closer particularly in times of conflict, and anger. In some healing and spiritual practices there can be a focus on negating strong emotions. To negate them is like shutting part of our inner world down, we become removed and disengaged from the world. Emotions are part of the experience of being fully human and alive, they are genuine responses of inner world, and beyond rationalised understanding.
Like embarking on a voyage across an ocean the process of going inwards to heal ourselves is much easier, and safer if we are with an experienced guide. One who can navigate, but allows you to captain your own ship. A therapist is like a navigator, in that they value your wisdom and insight into what is the right course for you to take. Like embarking on an ocean voyage I found the therapy space was like departing a familiar harbour and sailing into the open ocean. Therapy spaces are liminal, sacred and creative, where creative possibilities abound for exploring and trying out new ways of being. The therapist can offer an encounter where we can explore what was missing for us, but more importantly allows us to create and develop new worlds through the language of relationship. Where, in the here and now we can articulate our immediate experience in relationship with another. The right therapeutic support enables a change in relationship to experiences that left us feeling incomplete. This type of support allows us to experience what we were unable to do outside in our lives. We can explore how it feels to be angry when it wasn’t safe to do so, allow our grief to soften us, we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the unknown, and to say no when something doesn’t feel OK for us.
The therapy space becomes a womb a place where we can grow, where our wounds become our guide. It becomes a spiritual path where we encounter negotiate, and seek to understand fierce emotions in a safe place. Rather than retreating by shutting down we become more unburdened, spontaneous, and present as we learn to accept our emotions as valid reflections of our inner world. When we are able to traverse between the duality of experience, we allow a fluidity of emotions rather than feeling stuck. We have the potential to become fully realised human beings, where we can dance and flow with the joy and sorrow of life with grace and tenderness. Our inner wounds are signposts to us from our inner world, which are about opening us up to the fullness of life.
Richard Prince is a Sydney based Gestalt Psychotherapist in private practice. He works with clients that are interested in developing their inner wisdom, to create a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfilling relationships. He has trained in the United States and in Australia, completing a degree in Architecture, and holds Masters Degrees in Social Ecology and Gestalt Psychotherapy. He balances his therapy practice with life in the professional business world as a creative practitioner, as a father, a husband, and as a full time human being.