With each Shadow Work® facilitation training I’ve taken, I’ve developed a more finely tuned awareness of the ways in which human beings get hurt.
With that fine-tuning process has come an ability to apply that awareness in an increasingly concentrated way, in fewer words and less time.
In the Basic Training, for example, I learned how to honor a person’s Risk Manager. That means I learned how to help a person discover the good reasons for the decisions that he or she has made earlier in life, and feel less shame and regret about those decisions.
When done in the usual way, an Honoring the Risk Manager process might take anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or more. The more experience I’ve had in honoring my own and others’ Risk Managers, the more effectively I’ve learned to do the honoring. With a more concentrated grasp of the honoring process, I’ve sometimes been able to honor a friend’s Risk Manager in a sentence or two over lunch. When I hear my friend beating herself up about something she did, it can be as simple as saying, “I’ll bet there was a good reason why you did that.”
That sentence can have the effect of bringing to my friend’s mind that good reason and to share it with me, which gives me the chance to respond with more shame-lifting.
Of course, a sentence will never be as powerful as a whole honoring process, largely because it can’t take into account the kind of detail that a Risk Manager’s ears are so hungry to hear. The Risk Managers I’ve met invariably want to be heard and acknowledged for the specific ways in which they’ve been of help. But I find having a sentence like that at my command is emotionally rewarding nonetheless.
HOW LOVING YOU ARE
Perhaps a better example is Tombstone language. At the Advanced Facilitator Training, I learned how to facilitate someone through the process called the Tombstone, which helps a person let go of a painful pattern he or she has been carrying as a way of loving somebody. A Tombstone process generally takes an hour or more.
It was after the Advanced Training that I noticed I could begin to encapsulate what I knew about people carrying these painful patterns in briefer language so that I could convey some of the healing of the Tombstone process within a normal conversation.
What’s so healing about the Tombstone process is the way it helps a person reclaims an identity as a loving person. Most of us aren’t aware that a painful pattern that’s been repeating in our lives is actually an unconscious way of loving somebody. Viewing it in that light can lift an enormous amount of shame for having lived with (and resisted changing) a painful pattern for such a long time.
At subsequent trainings, I learned how to encapsulate the shame-lifting effect of the Tombstone process into shorter and shorter language. At the Leader Training, I learned a way to respond to a group member who’s “acting out” in a way that reveals a pattern being carried as a way of loving. The response is essentially a condensing of the Tombstone process into a few paragraphs.
Finally, at the Coaching Training, I learned how to condense this response into a one-sentence tool called a “shame-lifter.”
I had the opportunity to use the Tombstone shame-lifter with a friend a few years ago. Over lunch, she confided in me that she was constantly fighting with her teenage son. She was tired of their battles and wanted them to stop, for both their sakes. But his actions kept triggering her anger, and she found herself yelling at him despite her best intentions.
I said, “I sure hear how much you love him.”
She looked at me in stunned surprise. She had been judging herself harshly as a bad mom because she was yelling at her son. Surely a mom who yelled at her son didn’t really love him. Right?
I told her that what I’d heard was how much she wanted to stop the yelling, as much for her son’s sake as for her own. That sounded to me like love—she loved her son so much that she was beating herself up for being unable to stop yelling at him.
I suspected that the yelling was a behavior pattern that traced back to her own family of origin. Until she felt less shame about it, though, it was unlikely that she’d be able to see that.
As we talked further, my suspicion proved to be correct. When she was a teenager, her mother had repeatedly yelled at her. I invited her to consider that she might be carrying the pattern as a way of loving somebody whom she’d been very close to and then lost in some way.
“My mother,” she said immediately, and her eyes teared. Her mother had died when she was just 17. My friend had taken on this pattern of yelling as a way of memorializing her mother following that painful loss.
Telling my friend she was a loving person didn’t have all the impact of doing a Tombstone process. But it offered her some relief from the shame she’d been feeling. And that meant she’d be more likely to look further into the issue and eventually conquer it. It also offered her a startling new insight—that she might be a loving person instead of a bad mom.
I think getting relief from shame has several effects. Shame hurts, and the pain prevents us from looking too closely at what’s happening inside. Relief from shame also makes it more possible to ask for help.
PERK OR FAMILIARITY
As I’ve learned to condense the Tombstone process into shorter and shorter language over the years, I’ve thought of this learning as a perk—that is, as an added value that wasn’t necessarily to be expected. As I write about it now, however, I realize it isn’t so much a paerk as the logical result of repeated experience with a particular kind of emotional circuitry inside me.
When I invited my friend to consider that she might be a deeply loving person, I was helping her tap into her compassion for herself for having lost her mother. The more familiar I am with the patterns I have myself carried as a way of loving somebody, and the readier I am to feel a similar compassion for myself, the more easily I can help my friend because my own compassion can help evoke compassion in her. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the more times I do this, the more easily and efficiently I can do it, just as a race car moves more smoothly over the same piece of track after repeated laps.
Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She is the author of Practically Shameless, available in paperback and on audio CD.
This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in May 2008.