This week I had a shocking and sad experience. The first (and only, I wish!) of its kind for me. Unexpectedly several family members responded to a posting on my Facebook page, which they had misinterpreted. The venomous sermons, screamed from very high horses, laced with profanity and name-calling, punctuated with stinging accusations, attempting to defame me personally and professionally, left me stunned. All I could say was, “Wow.”
Later, two out of three apologized for their inappropriate remarks – once they checked out the facts. (Sure wish they’d done that before going off on my Facebook page!) I eagerly accepted their apologies, and I explained, however, that I was blocking them on Facebook, removing their privilege of access to my page. They have a right to their opinions. They have a right to express their opinions to me. They do not have a right to vomit such toxicity on my Facebook page. The line was drawn. Further coversations are now to be in person, by mail, email, or phone. So far, the phone hasn’t rang.
I’ve reflected on this experience, seeking to glean some understanding and insight, while recovering from having been sucker-punched in the gut. Though I don’t know the internal mechanisms that triggered this outrage from these family members, (I actually have some pretty good ideas!), I do know that their intention was to SHAME me publically. Not to just express their opinions, but to bring me down to size, immobilize me, diminish me, and render me powerless. And for what purpose? I have no idea, except that it had to come from fear – of what, I do not know.
I know that these individuals, who were so unkind in that flash of time, have all had incredible challenges in their lives – trauma, disappointment, and loss. They’re good people, doing the best they can each day. I know they care deeply. They were afraid and didn’t know a better way to manage their fear. They are also exquisitely vulnerable to their own internal critic and the shame that they fear, should their deepest secrets be exposed.
Interestingly, the day before this incident, I had seen a program featuring Brene’ Brown, presenting her research on shame. Talk about excellent timing!
Here’s what I came to understand – those who attacked me so viciously were speaking from their own wounding, fear, and shame. I chose to respond from a different place. Mind you, I had plenty of nasty, retaliating thoughts and wishes. However, I chose to let them be, to talk about them with trusted friends (true friends!), and then to strategize how to best move forward. For me three choices were made:
(1) Disentangling from the toxic web by setting appropriate limits.
(2) Letting go – healing through the pain – knowing the truth about who I really am, and resting in that magnificant, humanly flawed truth. Moving to a place of empathy, dissolving the power of shame.
(3) Celebrating that I did a damn good job of handling the situation.
Here was the last response I made to a final communication through Facebook:
“I wish you the greatest of God’s blessings, XXXXX. It is truly what you deserve. And by the way, you may contact me at any time by mail, email or phone. My very best to you.”
Was that a sincere response? Eventually. It was far from easy. Took me a little while to get there, but I realized that it was the most powerful and healing gesture I could extend to another vulnerable human being in pain. It was to offer empathy, compassion, courage, and connection, while still maintaining appropriate boundaries.
Yes, I do try to practice what I teach. I do it imperfectly, but I do it. And for that, I am very proud and very grateful.