Shake It Out

April 27, 2017

Here is the wisdom for today: If you are six months pregnant and your theme song is Florence + the Machine's Shake It out, your relationship probably isn't going so well. Your future, as well as your baby's, are hanging out there in No Man's Land, and you had better have a plan.


The problem with this scenario is that this mom didn't have a lot of time to wonder why her partner was behaving this way. Was it jealousy? Was it fear? Was it regret? Was it mental illness? Was the hostility the beginning phases of narcissistic devaluation and discard?


To understand relationship, both people need to be invested and willing to have adult dialogues and negotiations. When one or both partners cannot or refuse to do so, it should not be surprising that both are left feeling dissatisfied, confused, angry, hurt, or a host of other complex emotions.


There is much to be said about a culture of narcissism vs. the art of the apology. In this society of self-promotion and half-naked selfies posted publicly, of children being backed by bullying parents in the school and sports arenas, and of expressive individualism, there are many who do not believe their actions (and their intended or unintended landing on others) are not their problem. The divide is set. The other party can forgive, forget, or give up, but the relationship is not going to be repaired by one-sided remonstrations, recriminations, or forgiveness.


This is where the reparative process comes in, and this is the beginning of salvaging, rebuilding, and strengthening relationship. 


There are typically five stages for Repair:

  • Acknowledge fallibility

  • Become accountable and hold oneself accountable for doing harm

  • Apologize

  • Forgive

  • Express and receive gratitude

These acts begin to diminish shame. 


By ignoring these steps, they do the very opposite. Refusing to acknowledge fallibility increases narcissistic traits and creates a difficult vacuum from which to recover. Refusing to be accountable for causing harm diminishes the feelings and experience of Other. Refusing to apologize, or apologizing in a less than heartfelt manner that truly acknowledges a player's actions and parts in the harm to another, belittles the Other with whom s/he is in relationship with and acts as a coercive projection of the harm s/he has caused the Other. It points to a fragility of one's own esteem and self-value. But these also serve to induce shame onto the Other and subjugate that Other to the domination of that fragile ego.


The last point--expressing and receiving gratitude--is a way to be open and vulnerable. It releases the ego to be in connection with Other, and it is freeing beyond imagination. But getting there from that damaged place of the fragile ego is a lot of work, and work that often needs a mirror. 

When this mom left her partner after the baby was born, the idea that she herself had been in a place of coercive projection and belittling diminishment was a surprising self-discovery.


And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back

(shake him off)

And given half the chance, would I take any of it back

(shake him off)

It's a fine romance but it's left me so undone

(shake him off)

It's always darkest before the dawn



And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't

So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope

And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope

It's a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat

Because looking for heaven, found the devil in me

Looking for heaven, found a devil in me

Oh, what the hell

I'm gonna let it happen to me


There had been a reason she'd been drawn to that Florence + the Machine song: It helped her acknowledge her fallibility and become accountable for the harm she also had inflicted on Other. It led her to go to him and apologize and begin the slow process of repair. And it didn't work. The rupture and the fallibility and fragile ego had been wounded beyond repair, and that was important for her to learn and acknowledge.




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