Let’s first start here: what is shame? Shame is an acute feeling of aloneness that comes when we have a perceived break in connection with others. It’s the lived experience of, "I am unlovable" or "No one would want to be with me if they knew this about me." Interestingly, we can feel shame even when we are all by ourselves simply by thinking back to something that left us feeling alienated.
And what about shame in children? Why does shame begin so early? Well, children are actually particularly susceptible to shame because their survival depends on attachment with adult caregivers. As a result, they're particularly attuned to what leaves them feeling alone - and feeling alone is what brings on shame. Think of it this way: Children are always looking to their grownups to try to figure out, "What parts of me bring closeness and safety? What parts of me bring aloneness and danger? Am I good? Am I loveable? Do I make sense?" Shame develops to "keep away" the "bad parts" of a child (of course we know that there are no bad parts! But kids often draw this conclusion when parts of them are continually met with rejection or punishment) - so, actually, shame develops as a form of protection!
So how does shame in childhood relate to shame in adulthood? In adulthood, our early circuitry comes alive in our present, especially when we see things around us today that were associated with shame decades ago. For example: Maybe your family had a preoccupation with cleanliness and your body learned to store shame next to any "mess" you were experiencing - well, you can bet that shame will come up again as an adult when your home isn’t as organized as you want it to be.
Here’s another example: Crying was never met with empathy in your childhood home - rather it was met with a “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” response - which may lead your body to store shame next to feelings of sadness or need. This means that despite wanting to parent differently than you were parented, when you see your child crying your shame circuit gets activated. Your body thinks it’s protecting you - it’s probably saying, inside, “Oh! Crying! That’s not allowed! So shame takes over to try and push that feeling down.
Ok, now let’s do what we do best here at Good Inside: translate big ideas into actionable, manageable strategies. Let’s focus on Mantras to De-Shame so we can manage the shame in our life - this both helps us grow and helps us show up to our kids not as triggered but as grounded.
See below for 5 mantras to work into your life. And remember, like anything else, de-shaming requires practice and it requires talking to yourself - so use these in front of a mirror. Yes, I mean it! Actually say them aloud into a mirror. See what comes up for you. You might surprise yourself.
5 Mantras for De-shaming Your Self
- “My child’s manners are not a measure of whether they are a nice kid or whether I am a good parent. We are both good inside.”
- “Messy houses mean people live here. My house is a mess, I am not a mess.”
- “Good people make mistakes. I am still a good person when I (forget to call a friend on her birthday / get critical feedback / yell at my kids).”
- “The challenges I face in my life are on the road toward progress. I don’t have to “get rid” of obstacles, I can stay in the difficult stage just as I am.”
- “I make sense. My feelings are real and worthy, and I am not alone.”
Want to learn more about the Good Inside approach? At Good Inside you’ll find at-your-fingertips resources, a community that just gets it, and expert advice from Dr. Becky and her team of coaches. Everything you need to help you become the parent you want to be
Kelly Nadel, is the Clinical Training Director at Good Inside