The oxford dictionary defines shame as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour”.
I have come to the conclusion that a lot, most, if not all, of our personal demons are as a result of shame that we feel to some degree or another.
I became aware of this concept reading Brene Brown’s book, The Gift of Imperfection. She studies shame and studied the correlation between how happy a person was and their level of perceived shame – and it is down to perception – shaped largely by how much they bought into their families’ ideals, the media’s rhetoric, society’s expectations, and how much they chose to live their lives to the beat of their own drum.
Today I am shining a light on my shame. I believe that shining a light on the darkest parts of us enables us to heal, to let the shame go and become whole again. It allows us to forgive ourselves for our self imposed shame and to find a way through the mire, to finally walk tall and free of the shackles that shame imposes on us.
So, this is my shame.
I am ashamed that I am not a perfect mother. I felt that I had a less than perfect childhood that I blamed for the imperfect adult I became. I pushed myself to be a ‘perfect’ mother so that my children would not feel the shame of imperfection as I do. This, of course, was impossible. There is no such thing. I looked for what I believed to be perfect mother traits in women I met and tried to emulate those in my own life. Because I was not living my own authentic truth, the plan backfired. I became stressed and somewhat cranky (not great mother traits, to be frank). Rather than looking at myself and allowing myself to accept all of myself (warts and all, the good and bad) as a mother, I berated myself, blamed myself for my children’s foibles, and took all the blame. This was an injustice to my children. It took responsibility away from them and also gave them no credit for their journey in life. I release the shame of not being the perfect mother.
I am ashamed that I am not a raving beauty. In a world that is obsessed with how a woman looks, which has grown to unsustainable proportions, the shame I feel at being 30 kilograms overweight, not having a glistening six-pack stomach, having female pattern baldness, wearing glasses, not being able to have beautiful long nails without resorting to artificial means and not having a glowing tan, is probably understandable. But I have to take responsibility. I am an intelligent, well read woman who has had a wealth of life experience. I have a choice. I have the ability to choose not to buy into the media obsessed, male-driven version of the perfect woman. I have a choice to stand tall, celebrate my woman-ness, my body, with all its imperfections. I release the shame of not being a raving beauty.
I am ashamed at not having a fantastic career that is saving lives every day. It sounds ridiculous when I write it down, but this is a real shame for me. I live in a society where being a stay-at-home-mum is not particularly valued. However, I grew up in a stay-at-home-mum environment, so it was very valued in my family – being a working mum was not. I had a dilemma. I could not work full time (in my mind) and still be the domesticated SAHM that was expected of me. Eventually, with the birth of my second child, the dilemma was removed for me. He has autism and try as I might to be formally employed, it proved impossible meeting his needs and those of my employer. I had to become a full time SAHM. But here is the kicker. I have a very intelligent brain. I needed to feel a sense of purpose in my day. So, here is the co-existing shame with this one:
I am ashamed that being a SAHM with my son who has autism is not enough fulfilment for me. It is a real shame when I consider how very lucky I am that I get to be at home with my children and watch them grow. I am there to be able to satisfy their needs, to give cuddles exactly when they are needed, to provide for my family. But, shamefully, it does not fulfill me one single bit. I have no choice. My role as mother, first and foremost, dictates that I be there for my son who cannot be anywhere else, whose daily anxieties far outweigh my need to work, my need to express myself outside of the family home. Formal employment is at this time not viable. However, there are options. I can work from home, I can work later on in life (although the thought scares me). Whatever it is, there are ALWAYS options. I chose to study psychology at the age of 45. I release the shame of not having a fantastic, identity-defining career and feeling unfulfilled at being a SAHM.
Last one for now: I am ashamed at not being a domestic goddess. My mom was a domestic goddess. When she got married, she had not been trained in the art of domestic goddess-ness, not even able to boil an egg, but by the time she passed away at the age of 62, her meals were legendary and she was running a diamond star rated bed and breakfast. Being a domestic goddess and SAHM was her purpose. Sadly, it is not, nor ever will be, mine. For 25 years, I have tried my best to dig deep to find the gene that had clearly passed me by. All to no avail. I have every cookbook ever printed and yet, I really don’t like cooking. I watch Nigella Lawson with avid interest, wishing like hell I had some interest, but nope, it is just not there.
I loathe housework. I gain no satisfaction from having done the housework, only to find a crumb left on the floor two seconds later by my teenage son. I am not one to whip out the duster buster to clean it up either. Having spent a few hours tidying the house, I shamefully want to pursue more brain-stimulating activities like writing, researching, studying for my degree, rather than whipping out anything to put right something I only just did. After 25 years, I gave in and recently hired a cleaner. On her first day she gleefully told me what a great job she felt she had done especially since the cleaning had obviously been neglected for some time! I was tempted to fire her for her insubordination, but I couldn’t. She was right. And she had done an amazing job, which is allowing me to write this today. My husband is not happy. He feels I am at home and I should be doing the job. He’s going to have to live with it, because I release the shame of not being a domestic goddess.
Have a go at releasing your own shame. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just shine a light on that puppy, and you will see it isn’t so bad. It is just you saying to the world, hey, this is me, like it or lump it. I know that it is scary. But you can do it. Go on, I dare you.
0 thoughts on “Shining a light on shame”
I am right there with you, probably for all of your shameful points Sarah! Why do we try to be the perfect mother, well what we think is the perfect mother anywha? I am right there with you on the house cleaning too. I had a dream last night that I hired a house cleaner (which would if I could) and then I woke up and realised I live 5 hours from town, bummer, no house cleaner is coming to my rescue. Good on you for releasing your shame… we all have it and we all probably have the same shame. We need to get over it and just be happy.
I don’t know – I think it is really important top recognise the areas that we feel embarrassed / ashamed about (and there are many for me – just the fact I sneak to the supermarket for chocolate so my family doesn’t know says something!) but then I think the next step is to recognise, certainly with the examples you have provided, that there isn’t anything to feel ashamed about. I think Brené Brown’s work on identifying, and overcoming, our feelings of shame is great, and hopefully helps (but please don’t then feel ashamed of feeling ashamed!)