Parents are supposed to support their children and teach them how to face the world, and that is exactly what most of them do. However, as many of us know from bitter experience, not all parents are made alike. Some of us ended up with parents who made it their mission in life to use shame as a toxic acid to corrode our confidence and self-love.
What is shame?
That’s because shame can make you believe that you are not worthy of love or happiness. That you are not good enough, or clever enough, or pretty enough to deserve everything that other children take for granted. Love, friendship, compassion, hope – shame destroys them all.
You end up believing that you will always be alone and that there is no way to escape the pain you are feeling.
How do children learn to feel toxic shame?
Shame is often learned in childhood. If you grew up being told that you were not good enough, or that you were a bad person, then it’s no wonder you feel shame.
When I was a child my father made it a point to put me down at every opportunity. He was very fond of saying that I was destined to become a criminal. He then followed that up by saying that I would end up in jail. Now that I am all grown up I realise how ridiculous (and cruel) his claims were.
However, when I was a little girl I believed him. I internalised the message that there was something wrong with me. That I was bad. In other words, his words became a part of my identity. With them, they brought shame, a toxic corrosive emotion that I struggled with for many years.
How can you undo the toxic legacy of shame?
Fortunately, there is a way out of the shame spiral. The first step is to realize that you are feeling this shame through no fault of your own. If your parents were overly critical, if their standards were unattainable, that’s on them, not on you.
The next step is to start practicing self-compassion. This means being kind and understanding towards yourself, even when you make mistakes. It means recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and that we are all human beings deserving of love and forgiveness.
If you can start to show yourself compassion, then the shame will start to dissipate.
You will begin to see that you are not a bad person, and that you are worthy of love and happiness. And once you realize this, you will be well on your way to living a happier and more fulfilling life!
Other useful strategies to banish shame
I have also found journaling very helpful. I write about the things that make me feel bad, and then I am able to look at them objectively and dismiss them, just as I dismissed my father’s nasty taunts.
In addition, I also make it a point to write about all the things that I am grateful for, which helps me focus on the many good things and wonderful people in my life. They are there because I deserve them, because I am a good person myself, whatever my parents told me when I was a child.
Positive affirmations are also very useful. Sometime I look in the mirror and tell myself all the things that I am good at. All the things that I do that are kind and good, and all the people that I love and who love me. With each positive affirmation, each positive and loving thing in my life acknowledged, my father’s words lose more and more of their power.
I know that it is hard, because it has taken me years to break my father’s spell. However, I promise you that it is possible. It is a matter of baby steps, until one day you cannot hear their cruel jibes anymore.