The Shame Makers

A Talk Given by David Jones on Sept. 5th, 2010

Today’s talk is entitled “The Shame Makers.” I will talk about what shame is, the types of families that often produce shame in us, and then have some discussion on what is the real truth about our nature and the divine love that is deep within us and how we can find access to that loving and no shamed part of ourselves.

Shame is the inner experience of being “not wanted.” It is feeling worthless, rejected, cast out. Guilt is believing that one has done something bad; shame is believing that one is bad. Shame is believing that one is not loved because one is not lovable.

Shame always carries with it the sense that there is nothing one can do to purge its burdensome and toxic presence. Shame cannot be remedied; it must be somehow endured, absorbed, gilded, minimized or denied. Shame is so painful, so debilitating that persons develop a thousand coping strategies, conscious and unconscious, numbing and destructive, to avoid its tortures.

Have you ever felt shame?
How does it manifest itself in you?
And, what coping strategies have you developed unconsciously to deal with your shame?

Perhaps a good way to explore this shame is to recall what we know about inner healing.  This includes knowing about who the inner child is and what is inner child work.

Your inner child is the little one within you who carries the feelings from your childhood. He or she is the source of your joy as well as those knee-jerk reactions to your life. It is the part of you who helps you succeed or sabotages the things you want to do. The inner child is the part of yourself that lies hidden deep within your heart and being and can be very small and hard to reach. It is the hurt part of self that occurred when you were very small and had no control over your life.

Inner Child Work is based on externalizing the old wound, giving it a face and a voice and then interacting with that part in order to make it feel safe. It is learning how to know when your own inner child is hurt, sad or pained, or neglected and then from your adult part of self giving the child part what it needs to feel loved and satisfied.  The interesting thing is that often the hurt part doesn’t need a lot—just a hug or some adult with empathy saying words like “You are loved” or “I am with you and love and support you”. As we grow spiritually and psychologically we become more and more able to love and support our own inner child and give it what it needs so that we become less likely to depend on others (who may or may not give us what we need) to be there for us.

Inner child work also involves dealing with how we think and react in the present. John Rogers, author, says “Most people react and then pass that off as thinking.” Thinking is the cause of things. Reaction is the effect. Most people think about 10 percent of the time and react the other 90 percent, and for the most part, people are reacting either to their previous reaction or someone else’s reaction.

“The inadequate use of the intellect by the human race after all the centuries of negative creation is something to behold. People still do not know that the mind has been placed with the physical body to help the Soul discern what is going on in the physical realm.”

Here are a few questions for you to think about and consider in your life:

  • Do you have a goal you want to achieve which you never quite achieved?
  • A career you want to embark on that never gets off the ground…
  • A relationship you long for which never appears…
  • An exercise program to which you can never quite commit?

Let’s find out what has caused these patterns.

There are four kinds of families which are most adept at spawning shame thus making us unable to meet many of our desires and goals because we sabotage ourselves from within because of our early family experience. Some of these types of families include   dominated progeny–abusive, neglecting, controlling, and enmeshing families. To understand something of how shame is created in these family contexts is to begin to be aware of the origins and dynamic of one’s own shame, and to begin to take steps toward its undoing.

Let us explore four types of families that are THE SHAME MAKERS and how these experiences in these families have shaped our outlook on life and our response to our life and its opportunities and challenges.

The Neglecting Family: I will start with some true examples. Maybe you will identify with some of them.

John came home every afternoon to a mother who was depressed. She languished in bed and stirred only to get something for herself or to complain about her sufferings. John moved on tiptoe, waited on her hand-and-foot, making himself his mother’s mother.

Martin was told by his parents that they deeply loved him. He excelled in studies, athletics and music, but almost never did his mother or father attend his performances, not even when he was the speaker at the Honour Society banquet.

Janet was brought-up by a succession of servants and nannies who assumed almost all of her care. Mother and father were distant beings who always seemed to be more involved in something of “momentous importance” and only stopped-by for what they assured her was “quality” time.

In these households each person had infrequent clues that he or she was valued or even existed. There are few experiences that are more upsetting than attempting to communicate, and then receiving little or no response. We would rather fight than be neglected.

Anger, risk, and hurt are preferable to neglect -benign or malicious. We are born for contact; we grow and thrive on it. In the neglecting household, this is lost, and we experience neglect as something wrong with us -after all, if “they” don’t care to involve themselves with us, it “must be” our fault. The child, having no perspective that would help him see that it is his world that is dysfunctional, not himself, experiences being treated as a non-person as though he has no right-to-exist.

The Controlling Family:

This is the family which is ruled by decree. It is the authoritarian, or the rigid, or the meddlesome family. The controlling family is one wherein any threat of deviation from the “way-it’s-supposed-to-be” is rapidly squashed. This is the family of “piano lessons – even if you don’t like them,” of “you’ll do every trace of your homework before you can talk to your friends,” of “don’t speak unless you are spoken to.”

This is the family that is portrayed with clarity and passion in Dead Poet’s Society. In this movie, the blindly ambitious father “knew” what was “best” for his son, imposed his paternal vision, never seeing his son’s true interests, resulting in catastrophic consequences for his son’s sense of worth and for his will to live.

This is an example of how the shame engendered by the parent’s domineering control can cause the child to believe he has no “self” worth preserving: as it becomes impossible to live according to his own desires, and as he cannot give his parent what he wants, he has no choice but to kill himself. This type of family can lead to a person becoming a sociopath or a narcissist so that he or she feels “ I have to have complete and total control of myself and you in order to preserve some sense of myself. “

The controlling family carries deep shame. Its’  “solution” is to make the exterior “perfect”, thus, hopefully obscuring and forgetting about the rot within. The parents in this family cannot tolerate any variation on their crystallized ideas and styles; hence they give little credence to the self-aware wishes of the individual to mobilize for self-fulfillment.

Next is The Enmeshed Family:

This is the family with fuzzy, haphazard, or permeable boundaries. It is the symbiotic family where it is never clear where one person begins and the other ends. It is the family where one borrows clothes from another without permission, for there is the running assumption that what belongs to one belongs to all, and that “If I want it”, then my child, or parent or sibling would want to give it to me.

In the enmeshed family everyone shares the other’s life-system, like Siamese twins. One learns not to look within one’s self for awareness of what one is about, but to the other members of the family. The child who is happy when his mother is happy and sad when mother is depressed is enmeshed. The child, who is made privy to all the struggles of the parents and invited into them, is often made responsible for them and asked to comfort or give advice to his parents in the enmeshed family.

The child who is relied upon as being “father’s little helper” or “mama’s strong little man” to the point where he begins to define himself as essential to his parents for their happiness describes the enmeshed family.

Enmeshment greatly handicaps one’s sense of individual identity, and consequently the sense of individual effectiveness and responsibility. If one is not “separate”, how can one make a real decision about her place in the family, and, by extension, in the world?  Also, enmeshment is very hard to see if one is in it, for the net becomes a part of the self.

One shares in the family shame, the family’s inability to be strong in the world, the family’s inferiority feelings, simply because one belongs to the family, not specifically because of anything one has done. The enmeshed family has made the choice to attempt to cope with its frailty and shame by fusing with one another in an effort to find strength in numbers, and in emotion-based reciprocal justifications, blame-makings and affirmations. Unfortunately, this results in the loss of a sense of personal power. Shame shared is still shame.

This is the beginning of co-dependency.  Someone else outside of yourself determine how you should think and feel about yourself – so your needs become dependent on another to determine if you are lovable or not.  Then you get involved in a relationship and the other significant person or persons in your life and spend a lot of time and life-energy trying to keep the “other” loving you so that you are able to feel loved.  It is not loving yourself from within yourself, but rather, being dependent on the other person to determine how you feel about yourself.

There is a rather funny but sad story about what it means to be co-dependent.

A person was looking out the window and saw her life appear before her, yet upon looking closely, she realized that what she thought was her life, was really someone else’s and she had lived their life, not her own.

The Abusive Family:

This is the aggressive, the attacking family. It can be emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive. It can be implicitly or explicitly abusive. This is the family in which shame goes deepest, for the abused person feels deeply she is a damaged “self” and that her injury has made her unfit to share in this life with others. This is the family which may abuse the child when she is very small, thus establishing a sense of worthlessness in her which, in her adult life, she can give no cognitive content to. She simply feels worthless and that there is no recourse but to re-experience it whenever she experiences a failing, a dismissal, or an aggressive act.

The emotionally abusive family uses ridicule, punishment, put-downs. This is the family where the old and strong intimidate the young and weak. Here are a few examples from real life:

Repeatedly, from her mother, Sarah heard this bedtime story: “You were the ugliest baby the Stork had, so, out of the charity of our hearts and feeling so sorry for you, knowing no one else would take you, we brought you home. You should be forever grateful.”

In a strange city Rachel had this to cope with: “I can’t stand you. Get out of this hotel room right now.” And at 12:00 p.m. in a strange city, the teen-age girl is locked out of her parent’s room for the night.

The physically abusive family spanks, hits and uses emotional intimidation in threatening further spanking and hitting. It may also withhold meals or send the child to do physically punishing tasks. Alfred’s jaw was broken by his burly father when he said to him in a moment of teen-age bravado, “Dad, I’ve got a right to stay out late like the other kids.” Thomas was made to carry bricks from one side of the yard and back again for a whole afternoon to demonstrate his acknowledgement that his parent was in charge of him.

Janice, an eleven year-old, was beaten till welts rose on her buttocks because her “religious” mother could not stand the sound of her daughter blurting out a four-letter-word. Children do not separate their “self” from their body, and the physically abusive family is experienced at attacking and devaluing the core of one’s being.

We are a violent culture, and the majority of persons in North America have felt the shame–for we cannot feel of “worth” to another when we suffer these painful and debasing intrusions in our bodies–of physical abuse at some time in our lives.

The Sexually Abusive Family:

The sexually abusive family goes deepest into the psyche of the person to evoke shame. Although sexual abuse is usually carried out by a single person in the family, almost always there is complicity by the other parent or siblings, consciously or unconsciously, to evade the reality of the behaviour. According to some accounts, at least one in three women and one in six men have been sexually abused. The sexually abusive family invades the body of the child, this center of one’s being: one’s sexual self.

Sexual abuse takes many forms, from the overt to the subtle. It may be the father making “cute” remarks about his daughter’s developing breasts, or the mother bathing her son when he is eight years old. It may be enemas given on a routine basis or sexually explicit “educational material” put in the child’s hands before she is ready for it.

It may be an older brother repeatedly fondling his sister and threatening her with recriminations should she “tell.” And, of course, it may be direct acts when the child is exploited for the sexual pleasure of the adult through genital stimulation and/or intercourse. The child-victim is mortified, loses the sense of her own self, creates a terrified secret with the offending parent, is fearfully anxious that it will happen again. (Indeed, it often does; one researcher reported that once sexual abuse has started with a given child it is repeated on the average of 83 times.)

Often the child feels–because she is so young, she has little or no cognitive understanding of “why”–that she is worth nothing to her family, and hence to herself. She experiences the molestation as a violation of her feelings, freedom and the discrete reality of her body. She experiences it as though something is flawed about her. And she becomes, in her own eyes, the object of scorn and guilt. The scaring occurs and the shame-making is acute.

These examples and their multiple variations give us some idea of how shame becomes embedded in us to a greater or lesser degree.  Could you identify with any of these families from your experience? If so, please know that as we continue in our talks we will explore how to heal those deeply embedded wounds, and help you find peace within yourself.

I do want to explore the difference in shame and guilt.

Guilt has often received bad press, and well it should–if, and only if, you are talking about neurotic guilt–guilt that self-flagellates and changes nothing. If you are talking about mature guilt, then guilt is one of the great inventions of nature. For mature guilt lets you know what is unacceptable, and offers you opportunity to do something about it.  We all must learn repeatedly to replace shame with mature guilt.

Shame, on the other hand comes to you as a feeling so deep and so incapable of your getting a grasp on it that it seems there is nothing you can do.

Let me give another illustration.

John feels shame that he is not the sort of person who can ever excel at his work. Whatever happens, a demotion, a “blowing-out” by his boss, he senses that this is because he is “basically inadequate,” so he hangs his head and lowers his eyes and dampens his energy.

Finding the “smarts” and the courage to re-evaluate himself as “guilty” of inertia and poor training, he begins to create and achieve goals that are possible for him. So if he sets certain standards, and then if he doesn’t achieve them, he can rightly feel guilty that he is failing and can increase his efforts to succeed, or redefine his goals. He has moved into consciousness that his worth can be defined by realistic possibilities, not by the un-focused and “hidden” demands of shame-making expectations.

Perhaps you have been mistaken, insensitive, unethical, self-critical, scared, negligent, stupid, and masochistic, depressed–behaviours and states of mind you can do something about. But never have you been “bad,” never “not belonging”; always, you have been just an ordinary struggling person and, now with an expanding awareness, joining with others to make your inner and outer life work better, striving to extract from the day its possible satisfactions and nursing a lively curiosity about what’s next.

The Scorpion and Human Nature

Terry and his dad Glen were walking along the shore and came upon a scorpion struggling in the tide, trying to get back to the sand. Glen tried to scoop the creature up, but the scorpion stung him and fell back into the tide. Glen tried again and was stung again.

Terry said, ‘Dad, leave him alone! He’s not worth saving.’

But Glen tried one more time. This time he was successful and threw it onto the sand.

Terry said, ‘Why waste time on an ornery critter that’s too stupid to know its being helped?’

Glen answered, ‘Son, the scorpion stings by instinct. It’s his nature. I chose to help him because that’s my nature.’

Glen was teaching his son a profound moral lesson about being human. Like other species, we’re born with an instinct for survival and a disposition towards selfishness. Yet, blessed by a sense of compassion and the power to reason, we also have an instinct to think and act beyond our self-interest.

Human nature is complex. It’s as much in our nature to be kind, loving, and generous as it is to be cruel, selfish, and dishonest. We can nurture or ignore our nobler instincts. Some people act like scorpions. Trapped by negative instincts and response patterns, they think it’s their nature and hide behind the belief, ‘That’s the way I am.’

No one is born with good or bad character. We’re born with the capacity to have either, to choose our ultimate nature. When we choose to be good, we are good.

So I hope and wish for you that if in this talk you have understood perhaps painfully your early experience, please know that there is no wound or hurt or early experience that cannot be healed through the power of love and support and acceptance from a loving community.  We will be exploring many of these ways to inner heal in the future, but for now remember that “You belong here” and “You are loved and accepted exactly as you are, right here, right now”.

Thank you.

Copyright © 2015 Victoria Centre For Inspired Living. All Rights Reserved