Monday, July 26, 2010

The Power of Shame

A five year girl with long blonde hair and bangs that are cut straight across her eyebrow, sits across from me, looking at me with sad  blue-green eyes.  She has tears in her eyes.  She looks frightened.  She also has a look of shame on her face. When I ask her what is the matter, at first she looks at the floor and says, "nothing".  I can tell something is really bothering her. I get down at her eye level and tell her, " it's ok, you are safe and you can talk to me if you want".  She starts to cry and tears begin to fall.  I hug her, I stroke her long smooth blonde hair, and I tell her it will be ok.  She begins to tell me that she is five years old and that her mommy told her she would be going to school very soon.  She has no idea what to expect at school. She is filled with fear. The only thing that she understands is that she will be away from home, away from her mommy and daddy, all day long. This scares her. She has never been to preschool, she has never been to Sunday school.  The only friends she has are her cousins.  One cousin (along with her family) live across the street from her, in the Cul De Sac she lives in, on Gading Road.  Her cousin Krissy is younger than her so she wont be going to school quite yet.  Her other cousin Stacey is her age, but she and her family live in another neighborhood, so she wont be going to the same school.  She is very hesitant to tell me anything else and I can tell that she is holding something back.  I reassure her its ok and she can tell me anything. She very hesitantly begins to tell me how she is scared to go to school because everyone will be watching her and everyone will know that her thumb and carries a blanket.  Once she allows the words to tumble out, I let her cry and  hug her. 

I ask her where she got this idea from?  She tells me her mommy told her that when she goes to kindergarten she MUST NEVER EVER suck her thumb and that she can NEVER take her blanket with her.  If anyone sees her sucking her thumb or holding a blanket then ALL of the children and ALL of teachers will tease her and make fun of her. No one will want to play with her or sit next to her.  Everyone will know!

This sweet five year old little girl is so filled with shame and guilt that she can hardly stand it. She had no idea that something that made her feel safe, secure, and comforted, was so bad. She had no idea other children did not do this.  She did not know she was the only one.  She felt ashamed.  Why hadn't anyone told her before?  She was filled with anxiety wondering if anyone outside of her family knew her "secret" and if they did, what did they think of her.  She also began to wonder what her family members may have really thought about her now, now that she knows what she had been doing all along, was wrong. 

Her mother does not realize that this is the little girls only way to self comfort herself from the arguing, fighting, and alcohol abuse that she see's between her parents.  For as long as she can remember she has sucked her thumb and held her blanket, usually when she went to sleep, but also at times when she was scared, lonely, or confused. Her mother thinks that she is protecting her daughter, but the reality is that she is filling her with guilt and shame and putting the idea into her five year mind that other people will always be watching and judging you.  I do not believe that this mother is aware of what she has done.  The mother most likely was made to feel the same way, at some point in her childhood. She does not realize she is setting her daughter up for a life time of guilt and shame. And always second guessing herself and wondering if other people approve or not.  Always wanting to please others before she pleases herself. The mother does not realize the damages she has done and that her daughter looks up to her and trusts and believes every word she says. 

I hold this sweet innocent little girl for a few minutes letting her cry and stroking her head as I whisper to her, "its ok". As her breathing begins to return to a normal pace I tell her that it's fine that she sucks her thumb and has a blanket, in fact there are MANY MANY children who do the very same thing.  There is nothing to be ashamed about.  It's really ok.  I also assure her that her teacher will understand and can possibly help her with other ways to bring comfort to her when she needs it.  I go on to explain that I know that there will be one, if not more, children in her class, that will have the same or similar habit.  I  help her to understand that everyone, even grown ups, do things to help us cope with stressful, sad, or scary feelings or situations.  I also tell her that her mommy loves her.  She only reacted the way she knew how.  The mother does not realize that this pattern (the pattern of guilting and shaming) will continue on between the two of them until her daughter is well into adulthood.

The story I have shared with you is a true story to some extent.  The little girl and the mother, they are real and the situation was real.  The woman helping the little girl is not real,  This scenario was something that I recently worked through with my doctor, The little girl is me. I shared it in this way so that it might make more sense to you, as a reader, 

Maybe someone will see their self in the role of the mother or even in the little girl.  If you see yourself in the mother role it's never to late to stop the cycle of guilt and shame.  Today is a new day!  Negative and shameful words (talk) is a hard (generational) cycle to break, but the more you are aware, the less power they hold over you,  Remember words have power. As parents we can help our children see the glass as half full or half empty. Now that you are aware, you can make a choice.  If you see yourself as the little girl, I pray that you are willing to open the door to healing, forgiveness, and believe there is always hope and know that you CAN move forward,

Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold, new things have come  2Corinthians 5:17


  1. Pam Johnson-BennettJuly 27, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    Beautiful blog, Sheryl. My mother always talked about what a well-behaved child I was but never realized that I was that way out of fear of being shamed in public. The powers of guilt and shame worked so well that it took me well into adulthood to start to be comfortable in my own skin.

  2. Words, both negative and positive, have the potential to do amazing or horrid things in our lives. I think in some cases parents truly are tying to break the will of a child which is a horrible thing that leads to self esteem issues in life, but I agree with you that many times parents think they are doing the right thing when in reality they are trying to quell their own embarrasement at the expense of the child's comfort. They may think a child will adapt when in reality they simply find unhealthy ways of coping. Great post, Sheryl.


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