Shame is the word that has set me free. True, I am jumping on the bandwagon of the amazing Brene Brown. Her recent call to us all to open up about shame and vulnerability has given me the language to help my child begin to understand the sneaky culprit behind many of our reactions and choices.
Brene, thank you so much for starting the dialogue that strengthens my family and makes us all a little braver.
Highly Sensitive Parents have a responsibility to try and raise children who are emotionally intelligent and who have some awareness of very complex issues like shame and guilt from an early age. This will create a household that allows for open discussions about emotions, behavior and body language.
Here is how I have helped our family understand guilt.
My son and I talk as often as we can about shame. I use the word and point it out every time I see it in me, in him, in the characters in our books, everywhere.
It started the first time I realized he had done something that he was truly guilty about, the first time he said (with his eyes averted), “I don’t want to tell you. It’s a secret.”
First, I set this ground rule for all time:
We don’t keep secrets in this family.
Second, I told my child about a very special power; here is what I said,
“Ok, so there’s this thing that most people don’t know. It’s about how light and dark work in our bodies, and for those people who do know this thing, it’s like a super power…(pause for effect)…and, it just so happens, that I know it!”
“And, now I’m going to share it with you, so you’ll know it and you’ll have the power too.”
“Shame is all around us; its invisible; and sometimes we take it into our bodies. The trick is noticing when it’s in there, cause its invisible remember; and knowing how to get it out. Luckily, your dear mother knows all about shame and can help you learn it too.Here’s how it works” Then I continued,
“First, someone gets embarrassed or ashamed by something they did or by the way some people reacted to them or what they did.
Second, they try to hide it away inside themselves and feel very scared to tell the truth”
– we acted out what it looks like when someone is embarrassed (hunched over shoulders, arms crossed, eyes and head down) and talked about how it looks like they are holding something in.
“When you find yourself feeling this way, know that you have some shame inside you.
When shame is inside you, it pulls on you from the inside, trying to keep itself inside your body. Remember, it happens to all of us; shame is always around; it happens all the time (I say nonchalantly).”
“If you are alert and notice that you’re acting like you’re hiding something, you have the power to get rid of it!”
“And here’s how to get rid of it- you tell the thing you’re afraid to say. That’s it! Seems simple right? Just say something about it; but its harder than you think. It takes bravery and courage to speak up when you feel ashamed.”
“There have been many times when Mommy is too afraid to speak up and held on to shame for a long time when I didn’t have too- just because I was afraid to say words.”
“When you say the thing your afraid to say, you shame leaves your body and something called pride takes its place; shame feels heavy, pride feels light inside your body.”
After setting the definition and the steps it takes to work through shame, I watched for occasions to point it out. And to break down the steps about working through to release it. It has led to many many discussions, short and long, about shame and I try to keep it a natural comfortable part of our conversation.
When he came home with a note from his teacher, we talked about when exactly in the situation did he feel the heaviest and what was the thing he was most afraid to say- when he couldn’t come up with anything I gave him some examples, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to tear that book. It was an accident. I feel sad right now. I feel embarrassed that you saw me do something that was bad.” and so forth.
At the end of the conversation, I noted the difference in his body language, he seemed lighter, less heavy, like maybe some of the shame had left his body.
This is not a quick and easy, one and done, parenting. Teaching about shame is a lifelong lesson that takes a commitment to be the teacher again and again. It is especially important to find examples of when mommy and daddy felt shame (even better if its real current life examples- but only the person who experiences the shame can tell the story, to be fair. No pointing out your spouses shame without permission.)
Sweet readers, thank you for all of the love and support you’ve shown me and Sweetgeorgiapam.com I hope it is a resource for sensitive seekers like yourself. If this post resonates, please consider continuing to follow, like, comment and share. God bless~Sweet Georgia Pam