Shame is a multi-generational, familial and culturally learned concept and experience. It is felt as intolerance and often verges into hatred, typically experienced as self-hatred. Children learn to be ashamed by experiencing ideas and language of hate and shame from family members and further from society. When shame is used as negative parenting or teaching tool, children are not taught the intrinsic difference between who they are and what they do. They then experience themselves as unlovable.
Brene Brown Ph.D * defines shame as " the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. Brene Brown Ph.D
There is much written about effective communication and the effects of healthy versus unhealthy communication within families. From the moment, a baby is held and with every word that the parents speak they are delivering messages that the tiny humans absorb. Of course, it’s not just words at that stage because babies don’t understand words. But they understand tone of voice and tactile response. They understand eye contact, smiles and grimaces. Babies learn quickly. Within the larger family group, if they have contact with grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles etc. they will absorb and process more and more messages. The baby, transforming into toddler and then small child will have learned to read nonverbal signals and emotions without any verbal input. Then verbal interaction is experienced and the child is sent out into the world and specifically into school.
In this post, I will focus on just one element of what is communicated to us throughout our childhood and influences and is often compounded by our behaviour as adults. That is shame. Shame is an insidious interloper that lies hidden within our psyche and launches its attack, often unexpectedly and destructively.
. Here are a few obvious examples of what we can be taught to be ashamed of being:
A ‘certain type’ of /girl woman: TOO pretty/notpretty, fat/ thin, submissive/ aggressive, clever/dumb, frigid/slut
A ‘certain type’ of boy/man: TOO handsome/ugly, strong/weak, aggressive/thug, many/weak, new man/chauvanist
Gay: TOO: flamboyant/straight acting, butch/girly, effeminate/aggressive, 'in your face'/not out, camp/embarrassed
Transgender:TOO in your face/hidden, militant/pretending, confused/confusing
Black: TOO Black/not black enough, beautiful/ugly, militant/submissive,
White: TOO white/not white enough, complacent/aware, educated/uneducated, privileged/underprivileged
Religious: TOO bigotted/unrealistic, prozletiser/quietly spiritual, powerhungry/silent
Atheist: TOO uneducated//smug, inactive/too active, vocal/self contained
Left wing: TOO, uneducated/entrenched, liberal/not liberal enough, working class/middle class, social conscience/leftly
Right wing: TOO priveleged/underpriveleged, self-serving
Mentally unhealthy: TOO mad/not mad enough, attention seeking/reluctant to get help
Physically unhealthy: TOO needy,
Etc. Etc. Etc. Unfortunately, the areas are limitless and I've only touched the surface.
“When our instinctual life is shamed, the natural core of our life is bound up. It’s like an acorn going through excruciating agony for becoming an oak, or a flower feeling ashamed for blossoming.”
― John Bradshaw,
As human beings, communicating with other human beings, we owe it to ourselves and others to understand our own shame and the ways in which it has been communicated to us and how we have both internalised and externalised such toxicity. Allowing ourselves to feel our own shame, to be unafraid and to understand the ways we transfer our beliefs and our, often distorted truths is a wonderful gift to ourselves and to our children.
As we are brought closer to an understanding of our authentic selves, we then allow our children to grow into the oaks and flowers they were destined to become.