Punished for speaking our truth and what to do with the resulting shame.
The past couple of weeks have provided me with a terrific reminder of how challenging it is to speak our truth and why many of us don’t. When we finally have the courage to defend ourselves, to tell the family secret, the church secret, the institution secret, the rape secret, the abuse secret, to share our political views in a contentious world, etc. etc. etc. the response is most often NOT the liberation and the support that we are hoping for, instead, the response we get for speaking our truth is PUNISHMENT. When someone else does not want to hear our truth, if our truth somehow shatters the illusion of the world they have created in their mind, or if God forbid, our truth challenges another person to BE A GROWN UP the likely response is not just resistance, but defensive attack – either directly or indirectly through passive aggressive behaviors.
Punishment and Shame
The punishment that comes as a result of speaking our truth comes in many forms:
- Defensive attack
- Condescending verbal attack or behavior
- Passive aggressive behavior (behind your back actions that somehow sabatoge, destroy or say “f-you”)
- Denial – the words that say “you’re crazy, you don’t know what you are talking about, so and so wouldn’t do that….”
- Rejection, banishment, withholding of approval, love, etc.
Whatever the form of the punishment, the desired result is the same – to make us feel as if we have done something wrong and to make us feel ashamed. For many of us, feeling this shame is unbearable and we are compelled to apologize, retract, back pedal, take back or repress our truth. Taking back our truth might feel like the easiest response and the best way to restore the harmony that we all desire. In the long run, however, this pattern of repression and denial has devastating effects on our individual person and on society as a whole and on some level, we all know this to be true.
Choosing Another Response to Punishment and Shame
When we have spoken our truth and know that we have done so rightly, the invitation is to STAND IN OUR TRUTH. When our truth is rejected by another and we are punished for sharing that truth through acts of aggression, witholding, finger pointing, etc. and we feel the resulting shame rise in us, and we are tempted to question, doubt, bargain, retract our truth….DON’T! Put the shame back where it belongs, on the person trying to make you feel that way through their reaction to your truth and recognize the unhealed wound in them that prevents them from acknowledging your truth. The challenge, however, is that even in standing in our truth and refusing to retract, the resulting shame from the rejection of our truth remains. Thankfully, there is a powerful spiritual practice that transforms ANY icky, sticky, negative emotion that makes us feel bad. I learned this practice from one of my teachers, Julie Tallard Johnson in her book, Wheel of Initiation. This practice is called Tonglen.
Tonglen is a simple breathing and visualization practice that helps us to release powerful, negative feelings and emotions. Instinctively, when we experience a negative feeling or emotion, we are compelled to push the feeling away. Tonglen invites us to do the opposite – to bring the feeling in:
1) First, we FEEL the feeling. We allow ourselves to welcome it instead of pushing it away.
2) We breath in the feeling (here recognized as shame) and as we breathe it in, we imagine that we are drawing it into our hearts.
3) Then we breathe out love.
4) As we breathe out love, we imagine it going out into the world, maybe even to the person who has punished us for speaking our truth.
4) We continue this process of feeling the shame, breathing it into our heart and breathing out love until we either feel a shift, or simply run out of time.
5) If the shame hasn’t been fully released in our first Tonglen practice, return to the practice at another time.
Tonglen is the most powerful spiritual practice I have experienced for releasing these negative emotions. More importantly, Tonglen has the power to transform….ourselves….our human relationships…..and our world. You might be surprised to discover as you engage in this practice that forgiveness arises in you….and miraculous transformation taking place in the people around you….maybe even the one who initially punished you for speaking your truth in the first place. Next time you speak your truth, you might discover that it is more openly received.