This is the book I've been reading by John Bradshaw. I'm only partially through and I will always say when I recommend or mention a book: take what resonates, leave the rest behind although be curious about what is dissonant or what invokes reaction. This book was recommended by a dear friend and it's put many puzzle pieces in place about my childhood, my relationships and a more recent conflict. It seems shame has been binding me for years and fear others finding out my dirty little secret has kept it in place - in fact I've been carrying it with me in the form of a small grey cloud that has been with me ever since I was very young. I never fully understood it but it was a heaviness in my system that felt similar to depression, but I never understood where it came from or what the story was - until now.
I'm going to speak about my childhood, my parents and experiences I've had with different people along my path (no names or specifics). I will do my best to only speak about things that are mine to speak on, my feelings and acknowledging this is only my perspective, there are always two sides to every story and I do NOT wish to shame anyone in return for the shame I felt or feel currently.
This writing and sharing is about ME taking responsibility for ME, not blaming any one or any one situation. I am in fact incredibly grateful for these lessons.
Speaking specifically of my childhood: I've already done a lot of healing with regards to my relationship with my parents and experiences that happened in my youth. As Bradshaw mentions in his book: Unfortunately as children the things that imprint on us the deepest are usually the times when our parents are struggling as well as when their own shame may be coming out based on their belief systems, religion or upbringing. Passing the shame from generation to generation.
For any parents out there currently reading this: YOU ARE AMAZING. Period. I can only imagine the personal trials, challenges, patience, resilience and endurance it takes to raise another being, while you yourself are also growing and changing. Thank you for doing what you do. You are doing the best you can each and every day. For those who are going to one day be parents, myself included, this doesn't mean we need to figure out how to do it perfectly - it's just going to happen anyway, we WILL mess up. We sometimes say and do the wrong things - in any situation. Don't let fear of failure or mistakes bind you. THIS is what I'm unraveling. The power of owning your mistakes and saying your sorry is so powerful to a child.
Speaking of my own parents: I love them both deeply - I hold them with the utmost respect, knowing they provided and loved me in the best way they could with the tools they had and as I've grown I see them more as the humans they are in all their messy brilliance - I can love and cherish that always. I also sincerely appreciate all the other people, lessons and challenges I've had in my life up to this point as they brought me HERE with you.
Part One: Toxic Shame Imprint
There are three main events in my life that triggered this sensation of deep shame. While there have been others when I felt immense shame I'll just speak on these three through a three part series, but it should be noted that all the other major or minor instances in which I've felt shame came bubbling to the surface after this most recent incident. So I felt I was drowning in the shame of my childhood, past failed relationships and present conflicts moving me into a state of near immobilization and isolation. But I didn't fully realize what was happening in my system until I began reading this book and unraveling my own shame story.
In my interpretation of Bradshaw's book, between the ages of 1-3 a child is pushing boundaries, saying no, being defiant and resisting anything and everything. Thus the term "terrible twos". (Please read his book for further definition of the stages of growth in a child). In a toxic shame household the child is being told it is "bad" or "wrong" for simply carrying out this childhood process of growth. Put on top of that conservative religious principles and beliefs of "sparing the rod, spoil the child" or "children should be seen and not heard" as well as the belief of inherit sinfulness we're born into as humans, not to mention women, aka Eve, being the temptress - well it's a toxic shame fest. There is a tampering of any sense of self or identity. Put on top of that the need for children to have healthy mirroring from a parent or caregiver in order to create or feel identity. Then if a parent or caregiver is absent, emotionally detached, unavailable for interaction and/or attention the child is then left with very little sense of self as they grow. The imprint bottom line: there is something wrong or "bad" about you for simply being who you are as a child.
Sometime around the age of 12 or 13, as I was reaching puberty, my father was triggered by something I said or did and had (from my perspective) a verbal/emotional break down. My mother and I became the forced space holders - being told not to speak. Only being able to sit and listen as he unraveled all his fears and concerns about me. Who I was becoming as a person, my character, my spoiled attitude, my disrespect, my lack of being part of the family, etc. Apparently there were other people who voiced concern about this to my father as well - which he mentioned. Essentially he was telling me who and what I was. Then setting some hard rules about working for the family business when I was not in school and my mother no longer being able to buy things, toiletries, etc for me. I'd have to earn my keep so to speak.
I sat for 3 hours listening to this, crying and watching my mother cry in silence. Looking back I can see this scenario with immense compassion for my father. He was clearly very distraught, worried about the integrity of his daughter, her soul and her life. Perhaps even questioning his own actions as a father. I have no doubt some of the things he said were in fact true - that I was being disrespectful and probably ungrateful. I feel immense compassion for my mother, for whatever fear, shame, and guilt she may have felt during and after that situation. I also, and most importantly, feel immense compassion for that young girl who was just being a prepubescent teen, pushing against rules and structure, who was also struggling with depression, being a highly emotional child, empathic and completely lost in her own world as she slowly was shifting into becoming a woman. From my perspective, much of this completely unknown or unrealized by my father or even perhaps my mother - no one asked what I was feeling or struggling with internally before or after this incident. I certainly didn't realize what was happening.
This shame situation imprinted on me that:
1.) There is something inherently wrong with me.
2.) I am a bad person.
3.) I have poor character.
4.) I have a lack of respect and integrity.
5.) Other people know it and see it too - not just my father.
Again imprinting that I am inherently a "bad" person simply for being me, a young teen.
WHEW... yup that's a lot and it's heavy. Take a few deep breaths. Again - no blaming or shaming my parents. This isn't really about them, but me unraveling my own patterns and wounds. Finding the root wound and finding freedom from there.
Needless to say from this point on I held immense anger towards both parents. Feeling completely abandoned and itching to get out of the house ASAP. Internalizing my pain, shame and anger, under which was deep grief and sadness - feeling utterly alone, lost and sure there was something very f*cked up about me. So I spent years covering that "ugly" part of me. Being the nice girl, putting on a smile, listening to everyone else, holding the space, not speaking up much, always holding the fear that if anyone got too close or if anyone REALLY got to know me - they'd see that ugly self, all those things my father said I was and all of my shame. All of this was a pretty sub or unconscious effort.
I moved into being a full on "man hater" so to speak in my late teens and early twenties - it obviously leaked into relationships showing up as resentment and anger towards partners - even without reason. Inevitably choosing men who were emotionally detached and unable to connect similar to my father. Always "needing" from men but never really getting what my heart desired. Nor even ever fully opening my heart to partners. Even in friendships, never fully allowing my true self to come forward. Becoming angry at girl friends because I often felt unseen or heard, not because of them, but because I never fully shared or showed up. Ending friendships because I didn't know how to communicate my needs or even feelings, let alone even knowing what I needed to begin with. Then feeling immense shame for not being a good friend. At one point feeling like I just should not be friends with people because I inevitably hurt them. And the cycle continued in varying ways throughout my twenties and even early thirties.
Even as an adult who has unraveled and healed a lot of this painful past throughout the years, I always felt a weird sense of not wanting people to see "who I really am" - I wasn't even sure why or where it was coming from. I also never really knew fully who I was. I always felt a bit lost and unsure - like I couldn't fully connect to my core essence. Even now it takes everything in me to really feel into what I truly want and who I am in any given moment. I am just now putting together all these puzzle pieces and bringing breath into these unconscious patterns. While sometimes I feels quite terrifying it honestly now feels more like freedom. I know there is a path ahead, which will undoubtedly uncover more but in this moment it feels more exciting than daunting... who AM I? what ARE my deepest desires? what IS my heart longing for? what DO I want in this moment? and the next? who are the people I choose to open my heart to? what will happen when I do? how will this deepen my connection to others and creating community? my curiosity is peaked. Anything feels possible!!
...and in this moment I choose ME.
I choose to open my heart to me.
To really show up for me.
To take off the masks for me.
To let go of the security blanket and facades for me.
To be brave and courageous for me.
To be tender and compassionate for me.
To deepen my self awareness for me.
To love me.
As I am.
Shadows, mistakes, wounds, failures and all.
Because in doing that
I'm also loving the brilliant, radiant, messy, beautiful human that is me.
I have always struggled with the term "self-love". At times it even angered me. It felt like a term just thrown around the spiritual or self help community, sometimes flippantly, but what did it REALLY mean and how do you REALLY feel it in your system??
I feel like I'm finally starting to understand... and FEEL it.
Thank you for witnessing my process. My deepest desire in this moment is that my sharing inspires, invites reflection and/or leads to putting some of your puzzle pieces into place. Part Two of this series will be coming when the time aligns. We will see how this shame fest was triggered later in my life and what led to the ultimate unraveling of this long, twisted pattern and story - placing me on the path to freedom and self actualization.
With deep love and gratitude,
Terri Lynn Perry is a Dream Weaver, Facilitator of Sacred Spaces, Artist and Traveler living in Olympia, WA.