Empathy For The Devil

The solution for shame, says Brené Brown, is empathy.

And empathy is a vulnerable choice, because it requires opening our heart beyond our fear.  You can’t choose between joy and comfort; if you can’t tolerate discomfort, you will never be able to feel joy, because joy makes us vulnerable, and can often cause negative reactions.

This video is worth the three minutes.

Shame is the fear of disconnection.

Trans is the promise of disconnection.    The messages that fuel shame are absolutely gender related, as Ms. Brown says.

This is Ms. Brown from 2009 before she was more elegantly packaged in TV style.  I find it very potent on the culture of avoiding negativity and on the shame built in to gender expectations. (25 minutes)

If people are programmed to feel shame around the gender expectations put on them, then those who mock that shame, those who deny those sacrifices, will be beyond empathy.   How can anyone feel connection with those people?   Maybe we can feel pity, sympathy, but how do we feel empathy?

Shame is powerful because we don’t speak about it.   Transpeople speak about gendering based shame by their very presence.   By showing continuous common humanity, we reveal the price of shaming that controls us by threatening disconnection and separation.

We know that as transpeople, we make many people uncomfortable, even though that discomfort might be on levels they can’t speak about, buried deep below a polite response.

Uncomfortable people can’t be empathetic.   Empathy requires vulnerability, an open heart.  Only people who have done the work to own their own vulnerability can be empathetic, and if we touch something deeper than the work they have done, they become blocked to us.

People who feel uncomfortable in areas they haven’t processed often choose to blame those who they see as “creating” those feelings, though the truth is that the most we can do is help unearth feelings.   Violation of comfort, though, is very often seen as evidence of external attack rather than revelation of internal torment.

We end up having to do the shame work not just for ourselves — a massive job right there — but also for those around us.  We are forced to negotiate their fears, which leaves us playing small and safe, much less that we can be, avoiding the stigma, the shame others feel justified in slamming us with.

After all, they were shamed, told they were less than, not enough, broken, unworthy when they violated gender norms, so shouldn’t we have to take the same kind of attack?

It’s so easy to feel shame.  I really, really wanted to be the son my father wanted me to be.   I remember that when I was nine, I saw him have to eat his ice cream cone quickly to get us on the road and understanding how he had to forfeit pleasure for service.  That was a background lesson about the obligations of being a good man.

I  destroyed my life and my health trying to take on those responsibilities and failing.  That is someplace shame exists for me.   I knew I could never take on the cultural expectations of being a good girl, small, pretty and obedient.   Shame, shame.

I have been taught that no matter how much I explicate my own experience, I should not expect a vulnerable, empathetic response from others.  Instead, I am asked to give empathetic, vulnerable responses to others, and then negotiate their discomfort, even as they find themselves unable to negotiate my discomfort.

Why?  Because nobody can have empathy for the devil.


Brené Brown source video after the jump.

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