Here’s the next #quest2015 prompt:
Which emotions do you feel most guilty about having? Afraid that others might find out?
How could you spend this year trying to be open to the emotional window that allows you to be courageous?
It rarely feels good right before we do something courageous, but these moments are the most meaningful and treasured.
This prompt comes from a central figure in positive psychology, Todd Kashdan. He has great credentials and has already interacted with the quest group in ways that are provoking and inspiring.
Here is my rambling response to the prompt after playing, pondering, and processing it for days including writing and then deleting several posts responding to it.
I am never sure if I experience guilt. For me, shame and guilt are so difficult to extract from each other. I know the theoretical difference. (In simple terms, shame is about being sorry for being me and guilt is about being sorry for what I did.) I’d say that I’m often “open to the emotional window”. Even so, Kashdan’s prompt gave me much to ponder.
I came up with a number of feelings I want to keep hidden, but the juiciest one was one specific voice of fear. When I boiled it’s message down to an essence, it came out as, “Everything good will die and I’ll have to watch.” In other words, this fear says that the “good things” in my life (what I love) will “die” (disappear, leave, etc.) and it will be painful for me. The other side of this message is that I can avoid these feelings by isolating myself. I know that’s a lie. The trouble is that all of my solitude is really just an illusion of isolation. The way I’ve set up my life, I’m always just a membrane away from other people. Plus, avoidance doesn’t produce a life where I love nothing. Since I always look for the “good”, it will always be “dieing” in some form or another. In fact, this fear is deeply tied in to my own fear of aging and my own mortality.
My experience tells me that if I shine a light on a fear like this one, it will have less power (because I can now recognize it when it comes up) and allow me to find the counterbalance for it. When I brought this one up to my wife, she invited me to ask myself “How do I want to feel?” Given the death and mortality themes in the stories around this fear, the other side of the coin will be about life, experiences where I feel enlivened, and sources of inspiration. If I go for those and surround myself with the people who support me in going for those…well, wow! That sounds like the life I want.
Others taking part in #Quest2015 have written some amazing responses to Kashdan’s prompt. Many kept their responses private (understandably so). Here are examples of some who shared publicly:
- Vanessa Jean Herald offered her emotional roadmap.
- Ginny Taylor continued to share her stories about motherhood.
- Colleen Armstrong shared “Scarlet’s Letter.”
I am not an expert on psychology, shame, and that sort of thing. So I want to offer my gratitude for people who are experts who have taught me something about all this over the years:
Things that I’m afraid others might find out about are what I would call shadow. Shadow is something that I see basically as the flipside of persona; anything that I repress, hide, or deny – good or bad. My understanding of the human psyche is that we will always have elements of shadow. My belief is that it’s better to shine a light on the things that I hold in shadow than to allow them to stay there. I’m grateful to Cliff Barry’s ShadowWork and The Mankind Project for exposing me to his seminars. Because of them, I’ve been able to illuminate shadows in my life for over a decade.
Brené Brown has said much about the relationship of shame to creativity, vulnerability, and more. I’m indebted to her work for research and techniques that help to de-couple this fear/shame alliance. Fear can be healthy. Shame never is.