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That Dirty Word – Shame

Good grief! It’s been a few rough weeks working with Chloe in therapy. Most everyone has issues with the feelings of shame and we keep them hidden deep down inside of us where no one can see just how ugly we really are. Whether it’s related to being successful, parenting, having friends or struggling with past trauma, shame tells us we’re not good enough, worthy, lovable, etc.

Shame has been a core issue we’ve been working with Chloe on during the past month or so. While at her program, she struggles with addressing her issues of shame. The reasons behind her shame are so deep and painful, she either shuts down or breaks down. As Chloe’s parents, it’s very painful to see and experience it with her.

Chloe’s mental disabilities prevent her from having a lot of insight and recognize how her behaviors, body language and words affect other people and their perception of her. Additionally, she often doesn’t understand the context of words and misinterprets what others are meaning to say. Consequently, over the years, Chloe has been shunned by peers, teachers and adults who find her odd, rude and bossy. Chloe can feel the rejection and her defense has become to numb herself to it and try to find acceptance from any friend, thus repeating the cycle. This pattern was the primary reason we sent Chloe to a residential treatment center. As parents, we didn’t know what to do. She wouldn’t accept our feedback because she couldn’t see it and didn’t know how to change it. Plus, she was starting to hang with the wrong crowd, desparate for acceptance.

Years of rejection by peers and adults have left her believing she’s a bad person and isn’t worthy of love… She’s ashamed of who she is.

I know we all can relate, on some level, to that icky feeling of shame. My husband, Jeff, recently sent Chloe some insightful and powerful information about shame, which he researched online. He learned shame is an intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is about self, “I am bad.” Guilt on the other hand is about behavior, “I did something bad.”

Jeff found that there are three things shame needs to survive:

  1. Secrecy
  2. Silence
  3. Judgment

So what can kill shame? Emapthy – If you can talk with someone that can listen to you with empathy, the shame will shrink. If you don’t keep secrets and don’t fear the judgement of other people and yourself, the shame will shrink.

If you suffer from shame, it’s so critical to have someone you can trust who is a good listener and empathetic.

I recently shared with Chloe that I felt ashamed because I didn’t think I was a good mom while she was growing up. I didn’t know how to help her or protect her during all of her struggles. I was so proud of her response. She was very empathetic sharing that she loves me for who I am and she doesn’t want any other kind of mom.

Chloe recently visited home. We had awesome family time and she is making great strides. She brings home goals for her visit. We are always delighted to find when she has made our beds or made us brownies while we’re away at work or a meeting. I am thankful for my family and our small steps to success.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Leslie Miller says:

    Shame is painful and can eat you up inside. In our feeling of isolation, we do and say things we don’t mean because of hurt. That wretched feeling that makes you you push away people, even those you love because you don’t feel worthy of their love and care. Where do you turn? In the safety of those who accept you unconditionally, our broken selves can be mended into a whole person, slowly piece by piece saying “Aha” as each piece is linked together…… That is when healing takes place and therein is where your self becomes stronger, no longer living in secrecy and silence and unafraid of judgment. Thank you for sharing Andrea. You are brave to do so.

  • Patty Ray says:

    Leslie, your story and your daughter’s are so much like mine and Jillian’s. Thank you for sharing and writing so beautifully about your family’s struggles and successes. Looking forward to seeing you in October!

    • Andrea Berryman Childreth says:

      It was great to see you a few weeks back. I’m excited to finally be in the FB group! See you in a few months. 🙂

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