I could write an entire book on epic parenting fails. When my youngest son was 4 he had a special electric guitar he adored. He was quite a destructive boy and would often accidentally break my things. One day he broke something special of mine and I lost it. I took his precious guitar, smashed it on the floor and said, “This is how it feels to have something you love broken.”
My intention was to teach him empathy for how others feel when we break things, but I devastated him instead. He cried for days. Even a couple of years later when he saw his guitar in a memory book he started crying saying, “Mommy how could you??”
Well that didn’t go as planned. Epic.Parenting.Fail.
As parents, we don’t have to look too hard to find shame sneaking up on us and screaming our inadequacies in our ears do we? Shame tells us we are bad, which is different than guilt. Guilt says we did something wrong. Shame tells us we ARE wrong. Even after such a small episode with my son, shame tried to tell me, “What kind of mother are you breaking your son’s heart like that? You are not equipped to be a parent. You suck.”
Shame comes from a deep fear of being disconnected: from others, from our worth and from belonging somewhere. We begin to believe we don’t belong or aren’t worthy of love. What does this have to do with parenting or any of our relationships? EVERYTHING.
When we feel shame we shame others
You can find shame under almost every behaviour. Brene Brown’s research revealed that shame was correlated to all these behaviours:
Anxiety: “I don’t have what it takes to do this.”
Addiction: “I don’t know how to get through this.”
Depression: “Life will never change. It will always feel this bleak.”
Violence: “Why won’t you LISTEN!!!”
Bullying: “I feel powerless.”
When we can name shame for what it is under these behaviours there is great hope to seeing us stop toxic behaviours in our relationships. These toxic behaviours have become a form of coping and self protection for us. When we can address shame by creating belonging and a place where we feel unconditionally loved, shame loses and we rise above.
Shame is in full effect when someone breaks our trust
Trust is the currency of connection. When we show up with our vulnerable selves and are held, trust is built. However, every time we show ourselves to someone or ask for help only to be denied or rejected, trust is broken and shame gets a foot in the door.
I remember the eve of my father’s passing. I was living in a different city and got word that my dad was not going to make it through the night. As to be expected with news like this I couldn’t sleep. I needed my husband to stay up with me in my torment, but instead he went to bed. Ever since then I’ve noticed I’m greatly triggered whenever he says goodnight. We’ve patched things up since then, but the mark of the wound still lingers.
Trust is the number one thing we must guard in our relationships. When we break trust, we need to repair well. Shame entered my heart the eve of my dad’s death and told me, “See, your not worthy of your husband’s love. He doesn’t want to support you. You’re alone. You will always be alone. You have to take care of yourself.” Little did I realize that evening in my grief that also a wall of self protection was rising that wasn’t going to come down for years, and even still tries to resurrect every so often.
When trust is broken it creates a need for us to control our environments which can sometimes turn in to manipulation – not because we are bad people, but because we feel we must protect ourselves at all costs which means staying in control at all costs. We start demanding loyalty and keeping score of who does what for us. We seek for people to blame for our problems. We become victims rather than the powerful people we were born to be.
Shame breeds fear
The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. When we are filled with fear (aka mistrust) we turn too easily to punishment and control in our relationships. We may seek to control our kids by punishment. We up the ante by threatening to take things away from them just to gain that little bit of control back. We punish our spouse by giving them the silent treatment to gain what? Control.
Control is our way of dealing with fear and shame. Punishment is often the only way we know how to do that. Do I ever know all about this. My book, Bring Them Closer is my personal journey from sending my son away in his rages to learning how to bring him closer in his pain. I didn’t realize how much the inner storm inside of me created by mistrust and shame over many years had impacted my ability to connect with my kids. The wall I built around the fortress of my heart was so strong it was even protecting me from my kids. The person who changed the most in my home during the time of our mental health crisis wasn’t my son who was suicidal, anxious, and depressed. It was me. I changed, and then his mental health and behaviour began to improve.
How? Because love heals. Connection restores. When our eyes open to the devastation shame brings to our inner world, we can begin to rewrite our stories so we can write a new one for our family.
I am calling parents to bravery – bravery to face their story. I have created a beautiful, safe community for you to receive all the support you need to get through this. It’s called the Brave Parent Institute where you can find coaching, support, and access to counselling to walk you through. For more information, click here