June 27, 2006 EJOURNAL...
The Hidden Messages
I received many comments about my last ejournal about shame, and several people asked if I would print my list of “What a husband does when he really, really, really loves his wife” and “What a father does when he really, really, really loves his child.”
I was planning to send those out in this ejournal but my computer crashed and I lost the files. So, until I can find them, I’ll have to wait on sending them to you.
I did, however, want to comment some more on shame, particularly since several parents lamented that they used every one of the six most common forms of shame with their children and wanted to know what to do instead.
So, let me share some random thoughts.
The hidden messages of shame
In case you missed the last ejournal (you can read it HERE), here are the six most common forms of shame that parents use with their children:
The six common forms of shame are:
It would be a helpful exercise to sit down and write out what the messages are behind each of these common forms of shame.
First, the put-down. The message is that you’re bad, you shouldn’t be the way you are, you’re not OK.
Moralizing gives an even deeper message than the fact that the child has displeased his or her parents. Moralizing communicates that the child has somehow failed God. This is a crushing message for a child to handle, because if he or she can’t go to a parent and can’t go to God, who is left to go to? I think this is one reason so many Christians see God as punitive.
Age-based expectations are unfair because they belittle the child for his or her level of competence, demanding an action or behavior that is not age-appropriate. Parents do this all the time by scolding a baby for crying, or by expecting a three year old to be able to sit still for long periods of time. Age-based expections show a complete insensitivity to the child’s level of development.
Gender-based and Competency-based Expectations create the same confusing demand on the child as Age-based Expectations and carry the hidden message that he or she is a failure for not being able to live up to some sort of gender role or level of achievement that he may not even fully understand.
Finally, Comparisons are the death blow to relationships because they isolate and separate and create a sense of competition.
So the basic messages that shame communicates are: (1) you have to be different than how you are to be loved and accepted (or even tolerated); (2) your worth will be defined by whether or not you do what others want (particularly people in some sort of authority position); (3) you will be isolated unless you conform to other people’s ideas of what is good and bad for you, right or wrong for you; and (4) what YOU want, think, and feel doesn’t matter.
Shame and the False Self
Thomas Merton, the famous theologian said, “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person; a false self.”
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of shame is that it encourages the creation of a “false self.” After all, if who you really are doesn’t feel OK or loved or valued or that you belong, then it makes sense to hide who you really are and present the impression of being someone different. We create an “image” of the kind of person we think will please others.
There’s a story of a little girl whose parents kept scolding her for standing on the pew in church. She finally sat down, but said, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.” This is what we do, we create a false self who “sits” on the outside while the real, inner self is still “standing” on the inside.
Brennan Manning calls this false self “the imposter.” Imposters are preoccupied with acceptance and approval and are born when as children we were not loved well. The imposter becomes adept at presenting an acceptable outward appearance and looks to outward things—friends, accomplishments, wealth, recognition, status—to prove its worth and provide itself with a sense of personal meaning.
When we are imposters, we are afraid to be who we really are. Stephen Pressfield expresses this dilemma very well in The War of Art:
"Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. Resistance feeds on fear. We experience Resistance as fear. But fear of what?
"Fear of the consequences of following our heart. Fear of bankruptcy, fear of poverty, fear of insolvency. Fear of groveling when we try to make it on our own, and of groveling when we give up and come crawling back to where we started. Fear of being selfish, of being rotten wives or disloyal husbands: fear of failing to support our families, of sacrificing their dreams for ours. Fear of betraying our race, our 'hood, our homies. Fear of failure, fear of being ridiculous. Fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, that we ourselves have worked our butts off for. Fear of launching into the void, of hurtling too far out there; fear of passing some point of no return, beyond which we cannot recant, cannot reverse, cannot rescind, but must live with this cocked-up choice for the rest of our lives. Fear of madness. Fear of insanity. Fear of death.
"These are serious fears. But they're not the real fear. Not the Master Fear, the Mother of All Fears that's so close to us that even when we verbalize it we don't believe it.
"Fear that we will succeed. That we can access the powers we secretly know we possess. That we can become the person we sense in our hearts we truly are.
"This is the most terrifying prospect a human being can face, because it ejects him at one go (he imagines) from all the tribal inclusions his psyche is wired for.”
The “Wiring” of our psyche
I've come to realize that all of us have what Stephen Covey and others call a "map of reality." And this map (or series of maps) is drawn up from our upbringing, our temperament, our experiences, and the other input into our lives as well as from generational and cultural "maps" of the way things are and the way they should be.
But our map of reality is only a map. It can never be entirely accurate, it's just a way of looking at life that allows us to create a sense of order in our lives. Like Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" said of traditions, our maps let us know who we are and what is expected of us.
We tend not to realize that, because we're human and live in a fallen world, our maps are guaranteed to have distortions and inaccuracies. In fact, our maps can be complete deceptions.
The false self creates a map that is distorted and deceptive, because it is based on hiding who we really are.
I’ve counseled many, many people, and I’ve received a lot of counseling myself. Every single one of the people I’ve worked with, including myself, were attempting to reach what I think of as five core states of being.
The five Core States are:
(1) Being Here. This can be described as a sense of being fully present, of “fullness” and “wholeness.” This is a state of simply being able to enjoy the present moment. It's amazing to me how much of my life isn't even lived because I'm either dwelling on the past or on what's going to happen next and I miss the only time I can really live--NOW. So many of us have been led to believe that we don't deserve to be here, so we don't ever fully "be here." We let our false selves be here in our place.
Shame makes it impossible to achieve any of the five core states, because shame communicates that you are not loved, not OK, you don’t belong, and you won’t be taken care of. Shame also destroys your ability to be fully present, because, since you live primarily out of a false self, “you” isn’t the one who’s here, only your false self is here.
So what do we do?
First, we make sure that we never, never, never create an environment where our children have to develop “false” selves in order to receive our love and approval. This is a very tall order, because most of us are living, at least partly, out of our own false selves that we created because our parents shamed us into believing our real selves weren’t “enough.” We've may have lived in fear and hidden who we really are for most of our lives, but we don't want our children to have to hide what they think or feel or want.
Next, we make sure our children know they are loved, “warts and all” and that, no matter what they do, we will never stop loving them or withhold our love from them. This is also a very tall order, because most of us have never known real love and acceptance and don’t even love ourselves. That’s what shame does—it creates self-hatred and self-rejection.
Finally, we re-examine our life map and look for rules and regulations that have been programmed into us by others. Many of the things we require of our children don’t come from any other source than the fact that our family or culture believed them to be true. Maybe they aren’t—it’s just that’s those are expectations have been “wired into our psyche” by our upbringing.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, an example of a belief that was “wired” into the psyche of my parents’ generation was that men who had long hair were rebellious, irresponsible, strange, suspicious, even dangerous. Back then it was a scandal. Now all sorts of corporate men have long hair and they are considered innovators. In the end, it turned out that men having long hair didn’t necessarily mean anything about who they were.
Could it be that some of your family’s rules are as nonsensical as the “rule” that there’s something wrong with men having long hair?
So stop super-imposing your personal “grid” of good and bad and right and wrong upon your children (and on yourself) and start loving and accepting them (and yourself) for who they are.
Next time…Shame versus the Spirit of Adoption
Abba's Child by Brennan Manning. Shame undermines our feeling of being loved, taken care of, and safe. Manning's work takes you back to the heart of God--the only one who can truly love us like we need to be loved, take care of us like we truly want to be taken care of, and make us feel like life is a safe place for us to be.
I Corinthians 13 in The Message Bible and in Phillips New Testament. Read this over and over, dwelling on each description of what love is and meditating on how God loves you in that way. Then meditate on how you could love yourself in that way. Finally, meditate on how you could love your children that way.
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