Shame is huge. Quoting psychologist Michael Lewis, medical correspondent Holly Van Scoy calls it “the quintessential emotion.” Donald I. Nathanson, M.D., said, “All extravagant behaviors are reactions to it.”
Shame is a learned response resulting from adult comments and behaviors designed to control a child’s behavior.
It’s often generational, passed down from parent to child, and then to the child’s child. As a controlling device, shame meets the dysfunctional needs of a parent; it will reappear in negative behaviors as the child grows up.
It can take a lifetime of healing to finally soothe the wounds of shame.
As Brené Brown wrote in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me, “The more one hides their shame, the deeper it gets.”
It is the primary caretaker’s responsibility to give the newborn child a sense of value, joy, and pleasure, which is the foundation of self-worth.
It is that caretaker’s responsibility to protect that young child. It’s the mother’s responsibility to cement a sense of trust, which starts at birth. If that fails, the child experiences a disconnection.
Children are very intuitive, even as young as a week old.
Dr. Alen J. Salerian, Medical Director at Washington Psychiatric Center, notes that shame is a complex emotional response learned in early childhood development. “In many situations, it would be abnormal if we did not experience it,” he says.
Most parents are emotional train wrecks themselves because they never got a “clean” start; their lives were shaped by their parents, and their environment fueled their assumptions.
The double standards that most people live by, combined with their own survival system, create the nest that their own children ultimately grow up in.
Children observe what adults and older siblings do and how they do it. For them, this is a clue as to what is assumed to be acceptable behavior, or what is not.
So, if our parents toss trash out the window of the car, we’re likely to do the same. If they yell and scream, we will too. But, when they tell us not to smoke, curse or be disrespectful, and yet they do all those things, we get confused over the double standard.
Being consistent is a major socializing tool. It teaches a child about trust — or becomes a warning not to trust. It teaches predictability.
Our caregivers are supposed to put our needs first. Often, they attach criticism to our wanting, suddenly making that wanting “bad.” Therefore, we are “bad” for wanting it. It’s the way they say ‘no’ that either diminishes or confirms us.
The consistency of ridicule, abuse, and humiliation eats away at a child’s self-esteem, pushing the child into becoming hypersensitive.
As Dr. Marilyn Sorensen puts it, “…shame is the feeling of being something wrong.”
When adults are consistent in their reproaches, that feeling gets cemented. As we get older, we feel shame when those feelings are activated.
In those nanoseconds, we are back to when we were five and felt uncomfortable because we expressed a need and were criticized for the desire.
That trip back in time takes seconds. With one phrase, we are back there, and suffering those feelings again. Does this sound familiar?
Because shame is generational, parents who carry it around with them cannot focus on their child’s needs because they are too busy trying to get their own needs met.
Often that shame blossoms into contempt for oneself, motivating choices that are self-destructive like staying in a toxic relationship, treating one’s self with no respect, focusing on what we don’t have, and refusing to believe that we can change our future.
We can’t change the behaviors of others, but we can change our response to their behaviors.
And, if you need some support getting your finances in order, please reach out. I’m happy to schedule a consultation call to see how I can support you in reaching your goals.