Do we have any control over the effects of negative experiences? Pandemic or not, how we handle the dynamics of stress has a huge impact on our mental health. Taking a deeper look at our own behaviors and tendencies as humans will allow us to make different and empowered choices in the midst of negative experiences.
Today we are talking about the dynamics of shame, what carrying that around looks like, and how that shows up in our life. Let’s learn how we can sit with negative emotions and how we can use the distress from those feelings to come out stronger and more enlightened on the other side.
With a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology, Kyira is a licensed professional counselor in the Portland area who specializes in eating disorders, anxiety disorders and trauma.
With her business, Adversity Rising, Kyira takes her expertise out of the therapy room and into the community where she works to empower every person to write their own story and create a life they are excited to lead. Her primary focus is on communication, shame, fear and making the shift from busy to intentional living.
I love the way Kyira sums up trauma and stress responses in a way that’s so concise and accessible. Dozens of books I’ve read haven’t been able to communicate so clearly what she does in our interview.
Like many therapists during Covid, Kyira has been feeling pressure personally and professionally to be more and more available to help clients navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic, while also figuring it out herself. Mental health illnesses have increased as have the severity since Covid started and resources are even tighter than they normally are for mental health services. Kyira has had to be very strategic about how she’s brought clients back on while still in her maternity period. Understandably, there is the constant ask from clients of can she do more? Can she offer more appointments?
When deciding to answer yes or no, she first considers the relationship dynamic to determine if it is healthy or not, if it’s filling her up or draining everything out. Relationships typically aren’t a 50/50 energy balance all of the time. Many times, one person is in need of extra support and requires 70% or 80% of the relationship’s energy to be flowing in their direction. And then the pendulum will swing so the other person is receiving the majority of the energy due to their personal circumstances. But overall, the relationship balances with both ends giving and receiving energy equally.
But in some of our relationships, particularly for those of us that feel a deep sense of empathy and connection with others, we take on the burden of the giver in the relationship all of the time. Constantly giving 70% of the relationship energy can quickly become toxic if you don’t shift the energy balance to flow on a more equal level. And when you pull back to have a more neutral energy balance, this may cause tension in the relationship that you need to examine and address.
Kyira recommends to help create this shift, you’ll need to establish new norms with people, allow that space to exist, and then let it sit there until either they make the shift to meet you where you need them and they fill the energy gap that you once occupied. You have to be aware that they may decide that that relationship isn't worth it for them if they need to fill that energy gap and that the relationship may no longer exist as it once did. And then we work on grieving and letting it go.
One thing that has become evident during this time is that we all need to learn how to tolerate the distress of ourselves and of others, regardless if we are in a pandemic. Tolerating others’ distress may look a little different than you think. As business owners, we tend to feel the need to do all the things, all the time and setting safe boundaries becomes a priority. Setting boundaries is healthy and necessary for your own sanity, but may create distress in others that no longer have the access to you that you once had. Now you need to understand that person’s distress and respect where it’s coming from without giving into it.
For example, Kyira has had her email auto-responder on since the beginning of the year when she went on maternity leave. The auto-responder creates a boundary and expectation for when she’ll respond to emails, but if she is unable to meet the expectation for xyz reason, then she hears the grumbles from unhappy contacts. The balance here is acknowledging the person’s complaint without rewarding them for complaining. Tolerate their distress without feeding into it by changing your priorities to fit their demands. Because then you’re training them that if they ‘scream’ loud enough or prod you enough, they’ll get what they want and you’ll be in an unhealthy dynamic.
One of Kyira’s areas of specialty is trauma and shame, which shape all of our interpersonal relationships. For people who have the natural ability to be a nurturer, they are more likely to feel shame when establishing boundaries in relationships and setting expectations of a more balanced energy exchange. Shame comes into play when nurturers assign their value to being able to hold space for other people, to make them feel safe, but then realize that isn’t a healthy dynamic for themselves. Because then they risk losing the thing they believe gave them value and worth.
Sometimes, we have this belief that we aren't deserving because we don't feel like we can ask others for help because we aren’t supposed to need help, we supposedly have all of our crap together. But our brains and mental health realize we can’t do this anymore and we can’t be everything to everybody without receiving the support in return. This isn’t even necessarily a conscious decision for some people. But don't be afraid to ask for more support out of your relationships. In all fairness, the person on the other end likely has no idea how much you are in need of their energy because you have never asked for it.
As an only child being raised by a single mother who struggled with bipolar disorder and subsequent substance abuse, Kyira’s childhood was filled with trauma. Growing up, she and her mom would move frequently and when things got really bad, she was shuffled to other family members’ homes.
The uncertainty and unpredictability lead to a lot of anxiety, and ultimately an eating disorder, due to the lack of security she felt. A common coping mechanism for people with mental health or eating disorders is through art and performing. Kyira’s performances were for those around her, to show that she was normal and had it all together. She was president of all the clubs in high school. After college, she went to med school. The childhood feeling of instability forced her to be whatever everyone else expected of her to feel valued and worthy, regardless of what she actually wanted for herself.
But as she continued to do all the things she felt others expected of her, her anxiety and eating disorder were raging just below the surface. Until family tragedy struck when her cousin was killed in 2012. It was on a mission trip in his memory that she had a moment of clarity in the mountains of Nepal. She realized the misery she had been suffering for years was because she had been living her life for everyone but herself. Putting on these performances in hopes to earn the approval of others.
Once the performances stop and the mask comes off, you open yourself to new vulnerabilities. People finally get to assign your value based on the real you, and that is some scary stuff. That is where shame comes back in and tries to prevent you from being who you truly are.
Kyira promptly withdrew from med school after returning from the Himalayas. Because the truth was, she never wanted to go to med school. And she disconnected from toxic relationships, both personal and familial, that fed her anxiety.
“Quitting” her former self allowed Kyira the opportunity to figure out who she was and who she wanted to be, for herself and no one else. This wasn’t an easy transition. She’ll quickly tell you how hard it was, but slowly making the best choices for helf self started to rewire her brain and she learned that the people who value her for who she really is will be the people that gravitate to her. And good riddance to those that don’t.
Leaving behind the version of you that you knew for years, or even decades, isn’t easy. Even if it wasn’t the authentic version of you. And you need to grieve that loss and the loss of all the plans you had made and things you wanted for your life.
As you grieve, be mindful of the three tiers of resource expenditure: financial, energy, and time. You get to choose where you spend all of those resources. Finances tend to be the easy one to get a handle on, but energy and time can be trickier. Once you’ve identified your new values, you can start to share your energy and time in ways that align with your values.
Write down what values are at the forefront for you and identify how you are spending your resources on those values. Is it in alignment with where you want to go? If you’re being honest with yourself, what's the variance between your vision and the current reality? How do you make space for grieving what you thought you wanted and let go of the things that no longer fit without judging yourself?
So many things we do throughout our days are habitual and happen without forethought until we pause long enough to ask ourselves ‘Why?’. For example, when you brush your teeth before going to bed at night, have you ever stopped and asked yourself ‘Why am I brushing my teeth?’ or do you just automatically do it? If you have asked the question, you’ve probably come up with the logical answer of wanting to avoid cavities, tooth decay, expensive trips to the dentist, etc. But think about how many other things happen throughout your day that you’ve never paused long enough to ask yourself why you are doing that particular thing.
Have you thought about why you ‘need’ that cup of coffee in the morning? Is it to stave off a caffeine headache? Is it because you’re a walking zombie without it? Or maybe you genuinely love the smell and taste and experience of drinking a warm cup first thing in the morning. Whatever the reason is, pausing long enough to identify the ‘why?’ will allow you to bring intention and connection with your actions and create a framework for how to move forward with that action.
Identifying the internal place that many of our auto-pilot actions come from may cause discomfort but it’s important to find out what is the reason behind the reason. What is the ultimate goal so you can eliminate the actions that have no actual meaning in your life.
As business owners, we network all. the. time. When is the last time you paused long enough to ask yourself why you are attending a networking event? Is it because you feel like if you don't, then people aren't going to know you, you won’t be successful, and your business isn't going to make it? Or is it because it’s an awesome opportunity to connect with other people in your industry and to be inspired by what they are doing? The first reason is driven by shame, the second by values.
As you identify your core values and how you want to spend your financial, time, and energy resources on those values, be mindful that you are making significant changes to how you’ve existed. You can't swing from one extreme to another. Your brain won't do that, you'll have a reverb effect and you'll swing all the way back. So start with something small. Even a 1% change that moves you in the right direction. Focus on that 1% and your brain will rewire to accept this as the new pattern. And then move another 1%. It’s not about fixing, but taking notice and expanding for your new values.
Based in Portland, Oregon, I'm a coach, photographer, food stylist, blogger, and podcast host of the Courage Changes Everything Podcast. Also avid adventuress, wine lover, and rescue owner. Xo