A client of mine bravely asked a group of actors: “What is something a director / casting director / artistic director or person in a position of power said to you that was an artistic injury for you that you’ve had to heal?”
The responses were numerous and disturbing.
What the artists were describing has a name. Brené Brown calls it a "creativity scar." She has done 2 decades of research about this, and what is staggering is that about 43% of the people in her studies have experienced some version of it. She says "The shame tool used in these situations was almost always comparison."
The shame tool, friends. Take that in. Comparison is a tool for shaming.
Brené also says "Where shame exists, empathy is almost always absent."
Unfortunately, we cannot change other people. We cannot force them to change the way they speak to us. We cannot require them to take a communication class or read the latest book about how to give effective feedback. We cannot require that they learn how to be better leaders or invest in their own personal development. And although we wish we could, we cannot force others to practice empathy.
BUT we can certainly work on our own empathetic response, even toward those who shame us.
“What, Jen?! You are asking me to find my empathy for someone who told me that I will never have a chance in this business unless I lose 15 pounds? No way.”
“Are you crazy? That person told me my voice was grating and it gave them a headache. I have never forgotten it. I have no empathy for that person.”
“That teacher told me that I had a great voice but I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag. How do you expect me to find anything but anger?!”
I hear you. I really do. And I know you have it in you to find your empathy, even for the people who have hurt you.
Maybe these Brené quotes will help you find your empathy for the person whose words have stung you.
"Based on research, there are two ways to predict when we are going to judge: We judge in areas where we're most susceptible to shame, and we judge people who are doing worse than we are in those areas. So if you find yourself feeling incredibly judgmental about appearance, and you can't figure out why, that's a clue that it's a hard issue for you."
"The judgment of others leaves us feeling shame, so we offload the hurt by judging others."
Here’s the wonderful thing: when you assume an empathetic posture, you free yourself from the need to hold on to any of the words that were said to you because you have a better sense of what made that person say them. Their own fear. Their own shame. Their own worry that they might not be enough.
It is important that we recognize the culture of shaming that is a part of our industry so that we can work to change it. And the best place to start is with ourselves and our own empathetic response.
Empathy. Pass it on.