I had a conversation with a new friend I made in Durham recently who is well-versed in psychology. We discussed shame and grief. He described that shame can lead to a semipermeable membrane, i.e. can affect change at a chemical and neurological/structural level. A semipermeable membrane is a membrane that will allow certain molecules or ions to pass through the membrane.
Shame & grief are the opposite of praise & love.
We discussed how shame is not pathology, but rather a part of the human condition. We discussed how shame is often driven by perfectionism and a sense of obligation or guilt. For example, if one is in a shameful relationship, one may feel obligated to do everything in their power to satisfy their mate as they think if they don’t they will lose them and thus do everything out of a sense of obligation, low self-worth, and fear of losing their partner, i.e. they have to be the perfect partner or their partner will leave them.
Through this discussion and recent self-reflection, I realized I have never experienced traditional grief in the sense of losing a loved one. I’ve lost a lot of other things, but never a person I loved. I realized there were times in my life that I lost my voice, and didn’t fully allow myself to mourn this loss, which I am attending to more now and letting myself feel that loss. I’m realizing that with allowing myself to feel the lose of my voice due to shame and fear, I can also praise the voice I have now. I don’t think this realization would have been pointed out to me in the way it was without my coming to Durham because this conversation took place with a new friend, who I met and who lives in Durham. My friend pointed out that we all suffer from grief and shame to varying degrees- again pointing out that shame and grief are not pathology, but rather are a part of the human condition. So, it is important that we acknowledge and feel these feelings, and then say, “Okay, I got this stuff. How do I live with it? How do I use it?”
Shortly, after having this conversation, I watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, where the following dialogue was exchanged:
Owen: All that stuff you’re managing. You’re not supposed to be managing it. You’re supposed to be feeling it, Grief, Loss, Pain; it is normal.
Amelia: It’s not normal.
Owen: It is; it is normal. You’ve never done it before. Instead of feeling it- the grief and the pain- you’ve shoved it all down. You do drugs, instead of moving through the pain, you run from it, ya (realizes he runs too). Instead of dealing with being hurt and alone and afraid that this horrible empty feeling is all there is, I run from it. I run off and sign up for another tour of active duty. We do these things. We run off and we— we medicate. We do whatever it takes to cover it up and dull the sensation, but it’s not normal. We’re supposed to feel we’re supposed to… love and hate… and hurt….and grieve and break and be destroyed and… rebuild ourselves to be destroyed again… that’s– that’s being alive that’s the point. That’s the entire point. Don’t—don’t avoid it. Don’t… extinguish it.
Amelia: Derek [her brother] died. He died. I don’t want to feel it. I (inhales deeply) I don’t think I can. I don’t think I even want to (breathing heavily) I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t.
Owen: You have to.
Amelia: No, I can’t. Shh, I can’t do this.
Owen: You ha you have to. If you don’t, that bag of oxy’s not gonna be your last.
[Amelia hands over bag of oxy, sobbing and crying.]
Owen: You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna survive this. Everybody does. It’s perfectly normal. It’s boring even. It’s so normal.
It was a weird coincidence, but I resonated deeply with this scene about not wanting to feel my feelings good or bad, but particularly bad- sad or anger are emotions I often bottled up, pushed down, or hid behind attempts at perfectionism.
So, I know the question, “Why was I brought here?” seems really deep and philosophical, and it may be, but it may also be practical and just show general curiosity.
Since moving to Durham, I find myself asking this question more often. “Why was I brought to Durham? What’s my purpose?” I know it sounds deep and like I take myself very seriously, which I most definitely do, but nonetheless it’s a good question to ask and an even more fun one to answer.
I’ve received many answers in different forms. The first was the above exchange and my newfound understanding and appreciation of shame, grief, praise, and love.
The others will be revealed in other upcoming posts, so stay tuned.