I Hacked My Feral Brain For Love / by Dana Bergstrom

Been feeling super disconnected from Pauly lately.

Built-up tensions and grievances have been in the way of my usual appreciation of his funny, sweet, adorable self.

Then, the other night, I watched a new Brené Brown talk on SHAME and it hit me:

Pauly and I have been trying to communicate while we're both experiencing shame, and that's why many of our talks have felt extra shitty.

If you don't know Dr. Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability, which is incredibly practical, here are some quick definitions:

Guilt = I did something bad.

Shame = I am bad.

We know what guilt feels like because we all make mistakes. And when we admit our mess ups, we can address them and move on. Guilt is behavior focused.

Shame is more intense because it's a false self-perception. We believe we're so flawed that we're unworthy of acceptance and belonging.

I'm not sure when I bought into the idea that I AM BAD. It could stem from another lifetime, since I truly have no clue how vast space, time and consciousness is.

But with the help of literal Christian theology, it was emphasized early in this lifetime that I was born unworthy unless, of course, I adopted a very specifc dogma.

Religion aside, there are countless ways for us to get the idea that we're bad or unworthy in one area of life or another.

Although it's not a natural emotion, pretty much everyone feels shame. We just experience it to different degrees.

So...here's what's up.

The day after I watched the Brené Brown video, Pauly decided he wanted to talk to me about our finances.


I'll do anything to avoid talking about the family budget!

And that's because neither one of us is into making or keeping money.

We’re waaaay better at giving it away and, as a result, we both feel shame about where we are financially at this point in our lives.

We're not flat broke, but we ain't rollin' around buck nekkid in piles of dollars either. DAMMIT.

And the way we’ve been dealing with our shame is to avoid it. We only talk about money when absolutely necessary and then pretty much every discussion ends in fist shaking and yelling.

But Pauly was feeling brave the other day, plus, I was lying down all lazy-like and appeared unusually docile.

That did not last long.

As soon as Pauly uttered the word "money", things got crazy. His tone was defensive and then he amped it up real quick with some blame and judgment.

I sat straight up and watched anger take over my body and oooooh, I could feel a big ol’ yell coming on.

It likes to start in my toes and work its way up, ya know, for increased momentum and dramatic flair.

And just as the holler filled my healthy lungs and was about to launch off of my raring-to-go vocal chords, I remembered the shame video.

In her research, Brené Brown discovered three ways that people react when they feel shame. She calls them SHAME SHEILDS.

One is MOVING AWAY from people and isolating oneself so others cannot see you.

Another is MOVING TOWARDS others with people-pleasing behaviors. They won’t see the real you because you’re making them happy, effectively distracting you both and hiding your shame.

And the third is MOVING AGAINST others by attacking them either physically or verbally so it becomes about them and not you.

Here’s a great quote by Dr. Brown that sums it up:

If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.

So, in the midst of this escalating money discussion, I can see that both Pauly and I are MOVING AGAINST each other and that's when I remembered something else my therapist taught me - a brain hack for empathy!

She said that when you're afraid to talk to a loved one about something uncomfortable, you can hold hands or just gently touch the other person and then, using your left eye, you look into their left eye.

It’s a way to create a connection. Mothers and babies do this instinctively to form their bond.

And it popped into my head right as Pauly and I were headed for yet another flying F-bomb, arm-waving, teeth-baring, money talk train wreck!

So I redirected my yell into a question and then a suggestion.

I asked Pauly if we could try something different.

“Let’s hold hands and look into each other’s left eyeballs while we talk about this.”

He let out an exasperated sigh and shook his head in frustration.

Yet after some reluctance on Pauly’s part and some huggy, kissy, eyelash-batting convincing work on my part, we stood face-to-face, held hands and gave it a go.

It was not easy.

Because as Pauly spoke, he kept looking away.

And when that became too much, he began pulling away.

But I gently held on to him, looking into his eyes as I listened.

And the reason he kept looking and pulling away is because shame makes us feel like we'll be abandoned. It makes us feel so unlovable, unsafe, and insecure that staying with that feeling is literally PAINFUL and we want to use one or all of those shame shields.

But that’s where empathy comes in.

“Let’s keep trying, love," I said. "We can do this.”




Pauly and I had a calm, effective talk about our least favorite topic while holding hands and staring at each other.

And I’ve gotta say - with only a few bumps in the road - we’ve been communicating like FUCKING CHAMPS ever since!

There is so much more lightness, playfulness, and sweetness in our words and touches now that we're using the brain hack on a regular basis.

We feel much more connected and I'm all about appreciating his precious self again.

And, lo and behold, I think my money shame is also gone gone gone!

I even looked at my financial spreadsheet without a total freak out.

The other night - I cannot believe I'm saying this - I ENJOYED recording all of the numbers that I’ve been avoiding tracking and I feel good and optimistic about where we’re at!

I mean, we’re not skinny-dipping in lush, green pools of hundred dollar bills yet, but, ya know what?

We could be if I stop letting shame run me.


And, hey, who cares if we never get our money filthy in our birthday suits?

Maybe the best we'll ever be able to do is simply pay the bills.

Either way, I’m super blissed out that I’m feeling lovey-dovey and connected with my sweetheart again.

Intimacy is one of my all-time favorite things about being a human.

So, if it’s one of yours, too, and you decide to use this brain hack, would you let me know if it helped you?

I’d love to hear what you discovered.