Dignity is a word that I have not used much in my life until recently. I have been training in the discipline of Somatics and in the program I practice within the word dignity comes up frequently.
The first time I remember really thinking about dignity was when an old friend was consoling me after a break up or some other blow to my ego. She used a phrase that her mother often used with her, “Walk away like an exiled queen.” I liked the phrase better than ‘keep your chin up’ and the image often popped up when times were tough, so it stuck.
When I first heard the phrase and created the subsequent image, the word that came to mind was dignified. Like I said previously, I had not thought much about the word dignity before or since, until now.
Presently, I am not as much concerned about my own dignity as the dignity of the other, holding this is more difficult for me. How can I speak and act in a way that not only preserves my dignity but also elevates another to be dignified and preserves their sense of self?
This is a new concept for me and calls me to a higher level of responsibility in my communication with others. It also lets me see through another window or lens of how I can be the change I want to see in the world. If I can hold another person’s dignity as preciously as I hold my own, my world would be a more nurturing and safe place. And if anyone else feels the love and pays it forward, well, the sky is the limit.
Having lots of practice holding my own dignity, to a defensive fault, and not much practice thinking about and holding another’s I am finding the road to my goal fraught with unsuccessful attempts.
I am noticing most of my attempts at holding another’s dignity fail in situations when I have feedback that requires the other person to do something more than they are currently doing.
For example, when I have to ask my husband if he can help out with something that is not normally his duty in the house, I feel anxious. My chest gets tight, my breathing becomes shallow, I stumble over my words and my body is very fidgety. I am uncomfortable.
This inner state comes across in my communication. As studies have shown, give or take depending on the resource, 93% of our communication is non-verbal. In my case, this means it is not what I say that matters but how I say it. And how do you figure out how to say or be something differently if what you feel on the inside is hard to understand and harder to shift?
Let’s break it down. Given that my academic studies are rooted in systems theory I will start with my family system.
Systems theory suggests that all of the patterns we exhibit were developed as a result of learned or adopted behavior in direct response to our environment. This behavior serves the purpose of keeping us safe as children and young adults. Eventually most of these behaviors stop serving us and become a hindrance to our growth. Some we grow out of, like hitting girls that we have a crush on, some stick around way past their prime.
In my family system, feedback was not encouraged. I really don’t believe my parents knew the value of feedback until later in life. It was a top down ruling structure with the ability to get what you wanted through being coy or sneaky or aligning with the goals of the leader. Given this learning environment, I did not have much practice with receiving or offering constructive feedback or asking for something that I wanted.
Why does this matter now you may be asking? Remember I am training in the field of Somatics. Somatics is the science of how our mind and our body store patterns of behavior.
We are the most highly evolved species on the planet. In our evolution we were fitted with the ability to feel sensation and make meaning out of that sensation. This served us well on the wide open plain and forest, allowing us to sense a change in the wind meaning a storm or hear the crunch of a stick signifying danger and primed us for long term survival.
Our brain pretty much still works the same way, we have sensation in our body and we make meaning. When we hear a loud crash we freeze, run away, disassociate, turn to fight, or move to make it better.
These are the five ways we are conditioned to deal with situations that catch us off guard.
The reaction is instantaneous; which means that our thinking brain has no control over how we react. I am certain you have had the experience of a behavior reoccurring over and over and you are not sure why you react that way and you want to change it but it comes on before you can do anything about it. Or maybe you don’t even notice, but other people do. They will tell you all about the behavior if you ask, but can you keep your dignity and hold theirs as well in the process?
This is where the training in holding ones own and another’s dignity begins. First, and throughout the process, we pay attention to what happens in our bodies when the experience occurs.
For example, I get fidgety and I stumble over words when I have to ask someone to do something extra or something that will mean I owe them. I may even do the task myself to avoid the uncomfortable feeling.
All of this is good information. Try to avoid belittling the self; we are simply gathering information that will help us evolve.
Then, we need to uncover the underlying narratives, stories or memories; for example, my family history around feedback. This part gets flushed out through writing or sharing the story with others.
Next, we acknowledge how this behavior served us; it kept us safe and moving forward. This is probably the most important and most frequently skipped step in this process of evolution.
Lastly, we practice, and practice and fail and try again and practice and practice and fail and try again. Get the picture. There is a great Buddhist proverb that states, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” Keep trying, keep trying, you are bound to be successful.
So how does this all this hard work help hold another person’s dignity? By holding your own, through taking the time to learn more about the self, we learn we are human, fallible, and able to evolve.
In the process of evolution, we rest into our ability to change and grow. Through this we recognize how hard it is to shift behavior and we have more compassion for ourselves and others.
In having more compassion, we begin to live into our dignity and build capacity to hold others.
My process thankfully is still evolving. I am glad I am supported in my process. If you need support in yours, please invite perspective, the road will be bumpy, and you are capable and worth the effort.