Remember that time you were last engaging with that feeling, the one that made you feel so small, so pointless, so bad, so worthless. Where were you, your power, your true positive sense of self-worth, when that feeling was happening to you?When we found ourselves feeling these feelings it’s often because of a very toxic emotional called shame. Shame goes back to something you have experienced as a child from the people in our lives that we needed and as a result, we learnt unconsciously that it was better to please them. Ideally, parenting offers a child or infant unconditional love which means we are still valued and loved regardless of what we do. The more we sense this kind of love as a child the more we grow up to feel worthy and accepted just for who we are.
Parenting is a challenging role and the reality of the permanent demands to be an unconditional supporter for our children is sometimes to much. In the real world, even the most loving and supportive parents struggle at times to hide their demands and expectations of their children and this leads to unconsciously communicating to their children conditions of love and worth.
Creating The Emotional Time Bomb
Think back to when you were a child, to a memory of when someone such as your parents communicated, through their response, but even more significantly through the feelings they expressed, their disappointment in you. How sad did that feel? An example might be a show of emotion. Imagine this scenario a mother hears her child crying because they are tired, it’s gone on and on and now, for the mother, she can’t handle it anymore. In a moment of frustration she screams out “ just be grateful I love you, stop your ridiculous crying” the mother, most likely not meaning to communicate her rejection of her child, to him, has just passed on a very powerful and painful message, that is transported deep into the child’s psyche, that crying is shameful and is worthy of rejection, this can be so powerful that it becomes deeply internalised and lies within the unconscious like a time bomb ready to be triggered later in life in any situation that resembles the experience of being chastised by mother for crying .
As a child, we are not always aware of how we can sort things out, how we can change. We don’t have the same resources or internal tools to manage our behaviour. As a child, we have a lot less power and are deeply reliant on our primary caregivers for our survival. We know as children, somewhere deep inside us, that if we are not loved then we will find it hard to thrive, maybe even survive. When, as a child, we are shamed by our parents, intentionally or unintentionally, we are sort of hit with a deep psychological bullet that goes deep within us and can give us the message that we are not wanted. The only way we can change this is to change ourselves and if we don’t we won’t be cared for anymore. Although so many of us have shamed others, our children included, it is a form of serious psychological abuse.It is abusive because the adult has power and children don’t. Children are reliant on the powerful adults to not abuse their power. This abuse of power can happen when a parent or carer has got to a point where they need their child to be in a certain way for them to be happy and the only way they can feel they can achieve this, at the time, is to assert their power over the child and make them feel very small and not important. Unconsciously it might be that the adult knows how dependent the child is on them and that suggesting to them that they are not worthy, in the parent’s eyes, then gives the parent a lot of emotional control over the child.
Addiction and Shame
The power of shames emotion on us can go so deep within our psyche that it ripples out into adult life and we can easily be re-triggered when someone later in life suggests we should be ashamed of ourselves. Many people who are dealing with addiction often also have to deal with other people in society, consciously or unconsciously, shaming them. This shaming is often subtle, so subtle that for many on the receiving end it just becomes internalised and adds fuel to the ongoing obstacles a person in recovery from addiction has to face.
Showing Shame The Door
If however shaming and shame can be identified from either the person who is shaming or from our own internal feelings of shame, then it can also be separated from us and it’s potential to demand from us to hold it and carry it. Often shame on each individual has a secret backdoor that allows itself to us. For example one person may have experienced painful message from childhood that their temper tantrums were too much and a reason for their parents to wish they did not exist, the feeling of shame may then enter into that person, later in life, through their feelings of inadequacy over having any internal feelings of anger or expressing this anger, this would be the secret back door. By identifying what it is in our lives that triggered our feeling of shame, maybe what was at the root of them, with the memories and feelings around them, we can then understand that the feelings were from the past, and understood from a child’s perspective and in many cases distorted. A child does not have the rational to work out that they are worthy and it’s their parent who are projecting their inability to handle the situation onto their child. As an adult, we can do this. If we identify where our current feelings of shame come from, how the shame creeps into us through our own insecurities hidden in the internal messages we received as a child, then we can start to separate the toxic affect shame still has on us today. This is often a process that takes time and can be explored in counselling or psychotherapy. However becoming aware of this whether in therapy is not is an important part of becoming empowered again in adulthood and often a significant step on the road to recovery from addiction