What is shame and how to heal?

By guest blogger: Stephanie Patterson, LMFT

 

According to researcher Brene Brown,

shame is defined as “the intensely painful experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Shame has a strong visceral reaction. One person describes it as “that feeling in the pit of your stomach that is dark and hurts like hell. You can’t talk about it and you can’t articulate how bad it feels because then everyone would know your ‘dirty little secret.’” And yet we all experience it from time to time when one of our vulnerable spots gets triggered. For example, motherhood and body image can bring a feeling of shame to women; men commonly feel ashamed of being weak.

Shame is different from guilt.

Shame is believing one is bad, while guilt is believing one did something bad

This is an important distinction.

Parents often try to shame their children into obedience, mistakenly thinking shame is a great motivator. This could not be farther from the truth. Shame disconnects us from others.  It immobilizes us. It makes us feel weak.  We want to shrivel up into a little ball and disappear. When we call children names, when we say “You’re always…(anything negative)”, or if we say, “Don’t be a…. (wimp, cry baby, drama queen, etc.),” we are shaming our kids. When we tell children, teens, or grown up children that they ARE something, they usually believe it.  Then they wear that label and inwardly feel it is true about them. Make sure you are not telling them they are something bad. That is shaming.

On the other hand, feeling bad about doing something wrong can be a great motivator for change. The difference is that when you do something wrong, you yourself are not something wrong.

There is a fine but significant distinction.

In Brene Brown’s book I Thought it was Just Me (But it Isn’t), she shares her insights from years of studying shame and how to overcome it.

Here are her steps in a nutshell:

  1. Notice when one of your shame triggers is hit. Get to know what your body feels like and the thoughts that tend to run through your head when you feel shame.
  2. Reach out to someone you feel comfortable with. This person should be reliably supportive on the topic that you are feeling shame about. For example, I may go to my sister on topics of womanhood or dealing with family, but I may avoid topics of raising children if she sometimes makes unfavorable comparisons.
  3. The last step is the hardest: speaking shame. After you receive a healthy dose of empathy from your support person, you can then talk with the person who hurt your feelings. You can tell them what they said and how deeply it hurt you. When you are able to speak your truth about your shame, you disarm it.

We cannot always know which of our comments will hit someone’s shame target right on, but we can be fairly certain that when we respond to others with empathy, shame cannot exist. Empathy means listening to others, hearing the emotional undertone of their messages, and commenting on how the experience might feel to them. Empathy connects and heals. Shame severs and hurts.

Is Your Child a Manipulator or Influencer? 

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Children want feel significant and can be natural leaders when parents can direct this desire in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, many children turn into manipulators or bullies, trying to control everything and everyone in their path. This has a lot to do with developmental drives. A child is untrained force of emotional energy. They cry, scream, tantrum and hit at the slightest provocation. This is because their brain and nervous system are ruled by their emotions over their thoughts and it takes time and practice for them to learn how to manage themselves. Truthfully, many adults are still trying to learn this skill!

When your child is acting bossy, try to imagine how you can redirect this emotional energy into concrete, positive influence. How can you model natural leadership and guide them to be significant without the abuse? 

Reinforce areas of their character that demonstrate their capacity for patience, kindness, respect, love, generosity, and compassion for others. Empathy that is experienced and offered toward others is still the key builders of morality and good judgements in our brain development. Use it without restraint toward your children. 

Look for examples, in media and the world around us, where positive influence and helping others is happening. Discuss the costs for this and why others would lay down their time and energy for someone else. Ask your child how they have done this and who they could pick to be helpful to…Shift their attentional focus from finding significance in manipulation to finding identity in influencing others.

tranPARENTcy

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that being a parent today is tougher than ever before. Blame it on the moral decay of society, the impersonal nature of technology or the breakup of the home. Either way, contemporary parents feel out of touch with themselves and their children. 

The solution is not to turn back time but to open our selves up to our children. As stress bombards today’s families, parents retreat farther into their private self leaving a fully functioning but completely unsatisfactory public self to go through the daily routines of work and family life. This deprives both parent and child of the intimacy and closeness they both want and desire. Ironically, strength comes through vulnerability. Letting children see our frustrations, pain, and failure can be a valuable lesson to them. 

Many parents can’t see the wisdom in being transparent to their children. Already debilitated, they can’t understand why they should give away their power. This notion of power comes from a false parenting authority of “Do it because I said so” or “I am the parent therefore you must obey!” This is not true strength. This is force. Strangely enough, giving up this false strength will lead parents to the true power of intimacy in their family relationships. 

Self discovery:

Children are naturally curious. They love to explore and learn. Parents can use this drive to increase intimacy with their children. The first step is to make/take time out of busy schedules to really be with children. TransPARENTcy is achieved in those unstructured but regular moments with children. It can be in the car on the way to or from school. It can be at a regularly scheduled playtime at home. It can be during the last few minutes of the day tucking your child into bed. The actual arrangement is not as important as simply making the most of everyday interactions with children. 

To do this parents need to get comfortable being in the here-and-now with children. Children are naturally present focused. They are not worried about their future or their past. Get into that present moment with your child. Be aware of the environment you find yourself in and talk about those things with your child. This is how a child learn about the world. Encourage questions. Eliminate judgment about right and wrong and instead let your child explore ideas about the world to help them find ethical answers. Talk about your child’s thoughts and feelings in as objective a manner as possible and then share your own thoughts and feelings without lecture or sermonizing. 

Be Honest: 

Honesty is still the best policy when it comes to our emotions. If parents feel one of the primary emotions: mad, sad or glad, share them honestly. Hiding these emotions lead to negative behaviors on the parts of both parent and child. Of course if parents are going through a major depression or anxiety children should not take the place of a good therapist or become the emotional dumping ground for a parent’s stressful life. Instead, parents can model how to manage difficult feelings so that children can learn how to regulate theirs. The truth is that parents can’t hide their emotions even if they want to. Most likely children already know when their parents are mad or sad even if they try to hide them. 

Children were nonverbal long before they were verbal making them experts of the unspoken expression. If mom or dad find their own emotions so horrible that they can’t be honest about them, maybe children shouldn’t trust their emotions either. Many parents believe that by covering their own emotions they are protecting their children. Consequently, parents put on an act to only show positive feelings. This gives children a one-sided view of life making them unprepared to cope with others in the real world. This form of protection is really for the parent not the child. Children are harmed not helped by this belief. 

Take risks: 

Many parents who want greater connection with their children never experienced it as a child themselves. It is frightening to be transparent with anyone, especially one’s children. The greatest risk of vulnerability will come when parents must admit a mistake. To avoid this risk parents try not to reveal their inadequacies to their children causing children to mistrust what parents say and do. This is not the way build stronger bonds. If parents want to be an appropriate role model and achieve greater intimacy with their children they will need to admit their humanness. 

Even more frightening for parents is the idea that they might need to ask forgiveness of their child for a word or action acted out in anger. Forgiveness has a spiritual quality that transcends emotional hurts and repairs relationships. It opens doors of intimacy that would otherwise remain locked shut by hurts and resentments. Taking this type of risks can be particularly difficult for fathers. There is an old notion that fathers must be proud, strong and therefore invulnerable. The rationale is that this behavior teaches boys how to be a man. Unfortunately, it teaches all the wrong things and ill prepares boys for future relationships. Today’s sons need dads who understand the importance of learning from one’s failures as well as successes. 

Create a Family Team: 

Some parents complain that the reason they cannot be transparent with their child is due to conflicts in personality. When children and parents have drastically different moods, reactions and motivations, it can make connecting quite a chore. To overcome this problem, parents try and focus on similarities versus differences. While this is helpful, it is also important to concentrate on those differences that divide parent and child. Talking about personality differences can actually be a way to connect to a child. Discuss how you and your child are different and why that makes each of you unique. Explore the various ways to process or react to life. Never define the differences as deviant, just different. Learn from the other person’s viewpoint and discover compromises that fit you both. 

Parents can use personality differences to build a powerful “family team.”  Match individual interests, skills and desires so that each person compliments the others. The role of the parents, in these family teams, is to cheer lead each personality. Make the motto: “one for all and all for one” your new slogan for family transparency. 

Empathy: 

The surest path to transparency is empathy. Empathy is the act of communicating our understanding of a child’s feelings, thoughts and needs without being overwhelmed or taking responsibility for them. This will be tough for parents who believe that parenting is simply about taking care of their child physically and not emotionally. Children with the best self-image have parents who validate their emotions. Consequently, these same children report feeling more connected and open with their parents. Some of the most effective parenting classes have at there root the concept of empathy. The philosophy is simple: You can’t harm a child if you are being empathic with a child. And the reverse is true as well: Your child will be more cooperative because he or she feels more connected. 

Intimacy is rarely looked on as discipline. While it doesn’t negate the need for consistency and rules, homes without empathy get very little true cooperation. Oh, there is compliance, in the short term, but there is little cooperation. And there is little connection. Fortunately, empathy is a learned skill. It requires parents to do three things: give full attention, paraphrase a child’s words and reflect a child’s underlying feelings. With practice parents can use empathy to create a healthy, intimate relationship with their children. 

Facing the Future Now: 

If it is true that families today are experiencing greater stress than families of the past. This makes intimacy more challenging. More conscious effort on the part of parents to counteract this imbalance. While our technology might continue to progress, our relationships can continue to become more impersonal. True intimacy in families require parents to use the skills discussed here to be real with their children.  This will require risk from both mom and dads. A change in attitude may be required that is different from how parents grew up. Traditional roles may need to be revised. TransPARENTcy is a skill that parents can practice to enhance family teamwork and connection.

tranPARENTcy

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that being a parent today is tougher than ever before. Blame it on the moral decay of society, the impersonal nature of technology or the breakup of the home. Either way, contemporary parents feel out of touch with themselves and their children.

The solution is not to turn back time but to open our selves up to our children. As stress bombards today’s families, parents retreat farther into their private self leaving a fully functioning but completely unsatisfactory public self to go through the daily routines of work and family life. This deprives both parent and child of the intimacy and closeness they both want and desire.

Ironically, strength comes through vulnerability. Letting children see our
frustrations, pain, and failure can be a valuable lesson to them. Many parents can’t see the wisdom in being transparent to their children. Already debilitated, they can’t understand why they should give away their power. This notion of power comes from a false parenting authority of “Do it because I said so” or “I am the parent therefore you must obey!” This is not true strength. This is force. Strangely enough, giving up this false strength will lead parents to the true power of intimacy in their family relationships.

Self discovery

Children are naturally curious. They love to explore and learn. Parents can use this drive to increase intimacy with their children. The first step is to make/take time out of busy schedules to really be with children. TransPARENTcy is achieved in those unstructured but regular moments with children. It can be in the car on the way to or from school. It can be at a regularly scheduled playtime at home. It can be during the last few minutes of the day tucking your child into bed. The actual arrangement is not as important as simply making the most of everyday interactions with children.

To do this parents need to get comfortable being in the here-and-now with children. Children are naturally present focused. They are not worried about their future or their past. Get into that present moment with your child. Be aware of the environment you find yourself in and talk about those things with your child. This is how a child learn about the world. Encourage questions. Eliminate judgment about right and wrong and instead let your child explore ideas about the world to help them find ethical answers. Talk about your child’s thoughts and feelings in as objective a manner as possible and then share your own thoughts and feelings without lecture or sermonizing.

Be Honest

Honesty is still the best policy when it comes to our emotions. If parents feel one of the primary emotions: mad, sad or glad, share them honestly. Hiding these emotions lead to negative behaviors on the parts of both parent and child. Of course if parents are going through a major depression or anxiety children should not take the place of a good therapist or become the emotional dumping ground for a parent’s stressful life. Instead, parents can model how to manage difficult feelings so that children can learn how to regulate theirs.

The truth is that parents can’t hide their emotions even if they want to. Most likely children already know when their parents are mad or sad even if they try to hide them. Children were nonverbal long before they were verbal making them experts of the unspoken expression. If mom or dad find their own emotions so horrible that they can’t be honest about them, maybe children shouldn’t trust their emotions either.

Many parents believe that by covering their own emotions they are protecting their children. Consequently, parents put on an act to only show positive feelings. This gives children a one-sided view of life making them unprepared to cope with others in the real world. This form of protection is really for the parent not the child. Children are harmed not helped by this belief.

Take risks

Many parents who want greater connection with their children never experienced it as a child themselves. It is frightening to be transparent with anyone, especially one’s children. The greatest risk of vulnerability will come when parents must admit a mistake. To avoid this risk parents try not to reveal their inadequacies to their children causing children to mistrust what parents say and do. This is not the way build stronger bonds.

If parents want to be an appropriate role model and achieve greater intimacy with their children they will need to admit their humanness. Even more frightening for parents is the idea that they might need to ask forgiveness of their child for a word or action acted out in anger. Forgiveness has a spiritual quality that transcends emotional hurts and repairs relationships. It opens doors of intimacy that would otherwise remain locked shut by hurts and resentments.

Taking this type of risks can be particularly difficult for fathers. There is an old notion that fathers must be proud, strong and therefore invulnerable. The rationale is that this behavior teaches boys how to be a man. Unfortunately, it teaches all the wrong things and ill prepares boys for future relationships. Today’s sons need dads who understand the importance of learning from one’s failures as well as successes.

Create a Family Team

Some parents complain that the reason they cannot be transparent with their child is due to conflicts in personality. When children and parents have drastically different moods, reactions and motivations, it can make connecting quite a chore. To overcome this problem, parents try and focus on similarities versus differences. While this is helpful, it is also important to concentrate on those differences that divide parent and child.

Talking about personality differences can actually be a way to connect to a child. Discuss how you and your child are different and why that makes each of you unique. Explore the various ways to process or react to life. Never define the differences as deviant, just different. Learn from the other person’s viewpoint and discover compromises that fit you both.

Parents can use personality differences to build a powerful “family team.”  Match individual interests, skills and desires so that each person compliments the others. The role of the parents, in these family teams, is to cheer lead each personality. Make the motto: “one for all and all for one” your new slogan for family transparency.

Empathy

The surest path to transparency is empathy. Empathy is the act of communicating our understanding of a child’s feelings, thoughts and needs without being overwhelmed or taking responsibility for them. This will be tough for parents who believe that parenting is simply about taking care of their child physically and not emotionally. Children with the best self-image have parents who validate their emotions. Consequently, these same children report feeling more connected and open with their parents.

Some of the most effective parenting classes have at there root the concept of empathy. The philosophy is simple: You can’t harm a child if you are being empathic with a child. And the reverse is true as well: Your child will be more cooperative because he or she feels more connected. Intimacy is rarely looked on as discipline. While it doesn’t negate the need for consistency and rules, homes without empathy get very little true cooperation. Oh,
there is compliance, in the short term, but there is little cooperation. And there is little connection.

Fortunately, empathy is a learned skill. It requires parents to do three things: give full attention, paraphrase a child’s words and reflect a child’s underlying feelings. With practice parents can use empathy to create a healthy, intimate relationship with their children.

Facing the Future Now

If it is true that families today are experiencing greater stress than families of the past. This makes intimacy more challenging. More conscious effort on the part of parents to counteract this imbalance. While our technology might continue to progress, our relationships can continue to become more impersonal. True intimacy in families require parents to use the skills discussed here to be real with their children.  This will require risk from both mom and dads. A change in attitude may be required that is different from how parents grew up. Traditional roles may need to be revised. TransPARENTcy is a skill that parents can practice to enhance family teamwork and connection.