90-Day A Better Me Series
Part I: A Journey of Awareness
What Holds Us Back: The Unstable Foundation
Day 8: Childhood Shame
“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.”
Some of us go through life not wanting to look back on our childhoods. When we do, we may choose only to look at the surface layers of our youth. Some of us look back horrified and don’t wonder why our lives have taken the trajectory that they have. If you have wondered where the shame cycle starts—the answer is childhood. This is why shame is what makes our foundation extremely unstable. Shame makes our internal ground toxic. If we think we are a bad person at the very core, we will sabotage anything that tries to tell us otherwise.
Childhood shame doesn’t have to come from the home, though it often does. It is in our schools, churches, youth groups, after school programs, daycare, and entertainment. We are surrounded by shame and shaming from the time we can comprehend body language and words.
Before I get into the meat of childhood shame, I feel it’s important to state that not all adults use these tactics, but many have and do. The ones who don’t aren’t the majority. A person has to be EXTREMELYaware and have an understanding of psychology to understand what most of these tactics do to a child’s way of thinking. The majority of people didn’t mean to hurt us at the core of our self-worth. Just like we don’t mean to attack others at that level. It is so easy to fall into manipulation, guilt, and shame tactics to get what we want. Most times it’s a person’s own lack of self-worth trying to say: Hey I’m important. Why don’t you want to do this for me? Why do you think I’m not worthy of being listened to? Why do you not care about me?
We also have to remember that it is what most of us were raised to do as a form of communication. It doesn’t make people bad for using these techniques. We don’t know what we don’t know. We can only do the best we can at any given moment. Reminder Part I is “A Journey of Awareness”. Try not to criticize others for their imperfections during this series. Write out all the things that are coming up. I will give you tools to process what you see.
We don’t have to come from abusive homes to have been shamed. Shaming has been used in parenting for generation after generation. When a parent is frustrated with a child for not doing what they’ve been asked to do it is so easy to jump to shame and guilt tactics to get a child to do what is wanted of them. The underlying message of guilt tactics to a child is if you don’t do it you’re not a very good person. When a child is questioning doing the task, they feel like they are a bad person if they don’t do it. When they choose not to fall into a guilt tactic, they are internally accepting that I guess I’m not a good person because I don’t want to: clean up my toys, stop the rough play, clean my room, do my laundry, do my chores, and the list goes on and on.
Some of you may be thinking how this has been carried into your adulthood already. If you are shaming or blaming yourself right now, STOP!!! Even when we know about shaming it is difficult to stop using the techniques in our lives because we’ve been using them so long that it is in autopilot mode. Just be AWARE! The more you can get through this series just being aware of yourself, the more open you will be to change behaviors that no longer serve you.
Teachers and daycare providers may use shaming tactics to get children to do things too. They call out kids who they know are choosing poor behavior and try to shame them into submission. They can force kids to get up in front of the class who don’t feel worthy enough to be there, so it creates extreme anxiety. They can shame kids for not completing assignments, which an underlying problem may be a learning disorder. A child can feel like there is something inherently wrong with them because they don’t understand why things are such a struggle for them when it seems easy to everyone else. I won’t even begin to go into what paying teachers for test results can do the shame cycles in children or making standardized testing pass/fail does to a child’s sense of worth. I have personal experience with that and it has been one of the most challenging processes I have had to face as a parent, and I have had my share of traumas, but I have to keep re-exposing my child to testing over and over which the challenge a very long and awareness demanding process to help him through it.
Churches and religious practices sometimes will use shame techniques to get there congregations to behave the way the expect them too. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m a God fearing…”. Why would a person fear God? Because they are scared of not being worthy of God’s love. They question whether their thoughts and actions make them a good enough person to be valued by the Being who is supposed to love them the most. I will tell you GOD didn’t tell them to fear him, a human using shame tactics did. This can be true in any sector of religion, but even within the same sector, shame may not be used as a tactic. Love can be used and often is. Love has no place for shame. Shame comes from fear. When we serve religion out of fear, we are saying we aren’t worthy of our Creator’s love.
I remember being a small child sitting in church and hearing how unworthy I was to get to live this life as a “sinner” and how I was responsible for Jesus dying on the cross because of my lack of worthiness. I’m sure those weren’t the words used, but as a child that is what I heard. I was responsible for a man being killed. I must be a horrible person to let someone die for me. God must hate me for being responsible for his son’s death. So as I grew up and bad things happened to me, I actually felt like I deserved it and that I was being punished by God. It took me a LOT of years, spiritual quests, education, and healing to stop believing that. I spent years self-sabotaging myself with the underlying thought that I wasn’t a good person and that God hated me.
Entertainment, advertising, and overall is riddled with shaming tactics for a child’s viewing demise. Messages continuously come across the screen saying, you’re not good enough the way you are. You need to be this or have that in order to be a worthy human. TV shows exhibit people shaming and/or being shamed because it is how most us have learned to communicate so it just perpetuates the shame cycle in a child’s head to question their own worthiness. People may be portrayed as villains and the child has thought some of those same thoughts the villain did, so does that make them a villain too?
I’m not going to spend too long on trauma-filled childhoods, but you can only imagine that if in a generally healthy family environment shame is used, the extent of the damage when there is abuse, rape, incest, addiction, abandonment, mental illness, and/or suicide. I will tell you that seeking trauma therapy, which can include a variety of techniques such as EMDR, have done wonders to help individuals break-up the toxic messages and patterns we learn from being raised in these environments.
Shame tactics aren’t going away. The best we can do is being AWARE of them, catching ourselves from using them, and teaching the generations that come after us that how others behave is their own stuff. We don’t have to make their messages of lack ours. We are all worthy of being here and getting the opportunity to make mistakes so that we can grow and learn. We will all have thoughts that aren’t healthy, but if we are aware enough to question those thoughts we will grow from them. We aren’t bad people because we sometimes make poor choices. We are all humans and we have our own journeys and opportunities to be and live the best we possibly can. No other human can tell us if we are a bad person. If that is what they choose to see that is their choice. We don’t have to live according to any other person’s choices of thought or behavior. This is our own life and we will choose to live it the best way we can in any given moment.
There is ton of support when it comes to healing and transmuting the messages we were raised with. I’m offering the 35-Day A Better Me Boot Camp, which is an intense program to help re-wiring ourselves to see our own value and worth. If you are interested, you can read more about the program by clicking the link below or there is tons of other support in therapy, 12-step programs, spiritual groups, seminars available on line, and books. Brené Brown is a powerful voice with her work on shame. Just remember, even people who are meaning to help us can use shame tactics, but that isn’t about you. That’s about them. Being aware when you see yourself and others using them is a huge step in the healing process.
Just for Today
Write down how childhood shaming has affected your life today. If you need to cry— CRY! See those tears as cleansing your soul to be open to experience life differently. Drink A LOT of water today because if this piece affected you, toxic build-up is being shifted and released inside of you. You need to flush it out.
With Love and Gratitude,
Rachael Wolff ©2019
Don’t forget to go to http://lettersfromabetterme.blogspot.com to see today’s companion letter to help us heal from our experiences with childhood shame.
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