Name It To Tame It

I was spun up like a tornado. What set me off? A flurry of mixed messages, delayed non-answers and “just trust me’s” for months on end without any real progress. I don’t know about you, but those behaviors don’t lay the framework for a trusting relationship. I’d say I was a solid Cat-3 and gaining momentum.

Even though I try to dial down the noise and frustrated energy, I almost always need a break from the situation before I get it. I know my patterns; work-work-work isn’t a good look on me. So when I do take a break, I usually find clarity and the realization what I was hyper-focused on wasn’t that important after all.

This time, however, the reality check came in the form of a face down arena moment. While a perfectly good “Get on board, Paula” would have sufficed, I was taken down a rabbit hole of shame-inducing mirror replay. Ouch.

I spent most of yesterday in a shame shit storm, trying to stop reliving everything and undo the additional damage of flying debris in my head. Brené Brown, who studies shame for a living, teaches that shame is the emotion that creates disconnection – is there something about me that if other people see it they won’t want to be connected to me? To love me? To see me?

This is where shame and perfectionism are perfect bedfellows. When the perfectionist tendencies flare up, shame stokes the fire. “Don’t screw this up, you have a reputation to protect”. Even after years of work dismantling perfectionism, it is most easily triggered at work. Worthiness = doing, not being. Ugh, right?

And so it went. I was face down in the arena, humiliated and a bit weary. However, instead of fighting back, I listened. When I listened, I got curious. When I got curious about what was happening, I realized that the reason I was so spun up in the first place is that one of my core values was being violated and I didn’t have words up until that moment. Once I could name it, I felt understood. When I felt understood, I didn’t have to advocate so hard any more. When I didn’t have to advocate so hard, I could finally relax.

Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and thought-leader on interpersonal neurobiology, coined the phrase “Name it to tame it”. The idea behind this is that our emotions can actually dictate much of our behavior if we aren’t able to name, acknowledge, embody what we are experiencing. Naming the emotion not only allows it to co-exist along with the other emotions we are experiencing at any given time, but it allows us greater personal agency over our lives.

Once I could name what was happening, I was able to pick myself up off the arena floor and dust myself off. My ego was a little bruised, but I survived. After a deep breath, I was able to examine my contribution to the frustration I was experiencing – a bunch of unmet expectations – and commit to a different path forward with a different lens: I will choose to believe that people are doing the best that they can. Expectations in check.

Dig Deeper: We all have arena moments. Where have you been face down in the arena lately? What did you learn about yourself and others in the process? How do you stay curious when life has you temporarily down and out?

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