Paul Cameron, [fictitious] son of Kirk Cameron and Chelsea Noble, called me to make an appointment. When I asked him what issue he wanted help with, he said he wanted to work through intense
feelings of shame, after his father’s public comments in a March 6 interview by CNN’s Pierce Morgan.
Since sessions with fictitious people are not confidential, I feel it is ok to share some of his session with the caring public.
Me: So Paul, you told me over the phone some of what you’re going through.
Paul: Yeah, when he said that that publicly – I mean, in private is bad enough, but in a national interview, which of course he knows I’m going to see. It was, like, a public shaming. Like I’m “unnatural.” Like I’m destroying civilization or something. That’s how it feels.
Paul: Yes, that’s it.
Me: And what would you like to happen?
Paul: I just want to feel ok, you know? I want to be able to be me, the way I am, and feel good about it.
Me: And for your dad?
Paul: We’ve always been close; I’ve always looked up to him. But now – that’s difficult. I want to be able to be with him, and have that be ok.
Me: You can’t change him, of course.
Paul: Yes, I know that. But at the same time, I’m me, just the way God made me. He doesn’t get that.
I nod. Shame is a response to feeling that we have violated someone else’s standards. When that someone else is your parent, it’s all the harder. In their book, Heart of the Mind, Connirae and Steve Andreas discuss a way to resolve shame (Chapter 14, “Recovering from Shame and Guilt”, pp 140-154). This is the basis of how I will work with Paul.
Me: So Paul, tell me how you get that feeling. What do you need to think, or imagine, in order to feel that shame?
Paul shrugs. He looks down and to his left, at a spot a little in front of him, his expression gloomy and sad.
Me: What are you seeing? What are you thinking?
Paul: It’s like I’m sitting in this chair, a straight-back wooden chair, and all these people are standing there, looking down at me, disapproving, ashamed of me – my dad, my mom, my whole family, all the people in the church, and behind them the whole country.
Me: What’s their size, compared to you?
Paul: They’re way bigger than me. I’m small, tiny, all hunched over.
Me: Is that picture in color? Or black and white?
Paul: In color, but it’s real dim. Almost black and white.
Me: Is it still? Or moving?
Paul: Very still – nobody moving.
Me: Okay. Now, Paul, I’d like you to form another picture. Do you remember a time when you violated someone else’s standards, but instead of feeling shame, you felt okay about it.
Paul thought a moment, then smiled. -Yeah, there was a time like that. I said something to one of my teachers, and she hit the ceiling. Sent me to the principal’s office. I got in big trouble. But I don’t know to this day what I did that was so wrong.
Me: So when you think about that, what’s it like.
Paul was looking now more up and to his right. -I’m seeing myself, surrounded by other people. Some of them look angry, but they’re the same size as me and it’s like a movie. And in color.
The weight seems to have lifted from Paul – he looked brighter, even upbeat. Here is a better way, for Paul, of experiencing other people’s disapproval. I want to help him recode the shaming into this more resourceful kind of experience.
Me: Paul, go back to the experience of your father shaming you. You can see all those people staring down at you.
I gestured down and to his left, and his gaze followed.
Me: What happens if you make all those others so that they’re the same size as you? And have you and them at eye level.
Paul looked less glum; he half-smiled. -I feel better when we’re all the same size. Like I’m holding my own more, I’m stronger.
Me: Good. Now move that picture over there to where that other experience was, and tell me what happens.
Paul looks over where the other picture had been. He smiles more. -That feels a lot better. It changed to being in color, when I moved it, and it’s not frozen anymore. And those people, they’re not staring at me so much; they’re looking around, sometimes at each other. We’re all the same size and I’m not hunched over.
Paul appears much more comfortable now, but we have more work to do. It won’t be so good if making this change leads him to violating other peoples standards willy-nilly – he needs to be somewhat judicious or he could get himself in trouble. I want to help Paul to be able to decide what standards he wants to live up to and which no longer work for him or belong to other people, not him at all.
Me: Paul, as you look at this experience in this new way, become aware of just what standard you violated and who thinks it is important. Is this going to be your standard too? Or not.
Paul. No, obviously not [smiling].
Me: Think about – you don’t need to tell me – what standard, or standards, you do want for yourself in this area.
Paul: Okay. (Paul has recoded his own experience from feeling shamed and is aware now that he can have his own standards, even if Kirk, or anyone, does not agree. But there is still the matter of how he is going to relate to his father.)
Me: Think now about what you want to do in this situation. You have your own standards that you live by and you know that some of your father’s standards are different from yours. You said before that you’ve always been close. How do you want to relate to him now?
Paul: Well, to tell the truth, I’m pretty mad at him right now. How can a father, a Christian, do something like that to his son, whom he says he loves?
Me: Paul, do you think your father loves you?
Paul: [after a long pause] Yes, I guess he does. I know he does. But I still think it’s wrong, what he did.
Me: I’m wondering how what happens when you think of him with a sense of compassion, and love. You have to let him have his own standards, just as you have yours. You can’t compel him to change. When you think of him with compassion, with love, and with respect, what is that like?
Paul: [after a pause] Well, it’s different. I’m not so angry. He’s going to be who he is, I guess, just like I’m going to be who I am. I know deep down he loves me. I’ll pray for him – that’s all I can do.