that ugly 5 letter word
Not all bad words have 4 letters. There is one with 5.
If you ask a nutritional coach what it was, they’d say it was “chips”.
If you ask a teenager, they might say “chore”
If you ask my husband he’d say “bills”.
But the word I’m thinking of is much worse than all of these. It’s a word that my generation has grown up trying to get rid of and I’m starting to realize it may have been a mistake. In this blog post I’m going to get very real and open with you. I’m not just a life coach you know… I’m also a woman, wife and mother.
My 5 letter bad word is:
We’ve tried to bury this word, and this feeling for good reason. We’ve been exposed to a toxic shame that is really bad for us. Toxic shame is that shame that tells me I’m a horrible person because I messed up, or because someone else messed up all over me.
Toxic shame used to keep women locked up and afraid to admit they had desires and feelings. Toxic shame has damaged many a person’s self esteem so deeply that we’ve created a whole “self esteem” campaign to help the “next generation” avoid those awful, low, miserable self esteem issues we grew up wearing like the latest fashion craze.
I was totally on board with this “self esteem” craze, not unlike the big hair of the 80’s, and truly believed I was doing (& looking) good!
Me: circa 1987ish
In an effort to fight against the lies that toxic shame produced in me over the years, I totally discounted shame all together. I didn’t want my children to experience the pain of shame because the only way I knew shame was in an everlasting way that was extremely painful.
I’ll never forget the moment I failed at keeping that promise to myself that I wouldn’t look at my children with shame in my eyes.
It’s inevitable you know, to never experience times growing up when a child’s actions result in a parent’s shame.
So, this one time my daughter got in trouble at school, and my war against shame was momentarily lost. In my anger and disgust at what she had done, my eyes burned with shame. Sitting in the principal’s office with my remorseful and shame-filled daughter, I said, “You should be ashamed of yourself” and almost choked when I heard the words come out of my mouth.
Then I spent the next few years trying to “recover” and help my daughter “recover” from that horrible moment where we both felt shame.
Recently, while reading the book Joy Starts Here I learned something about shame that has made me rethink this “bad word”.
Here is what it said: (emphasis mine)
On the right hemisphere side, the emotion of shame makes us want to hide our faces when people do not have joy to be with us. This shame is very helpful when we forget who we are and do things that are not life-giving. Learning what drains the joy around us helps us become better joy starters……We can feel shame from the “no joy” looks we receive (when we mess up). This way we learn that we are not bringing other people joy. Without shame, our brain will not learn to change its ways. (Page 93)
In this one simple paragraph I’m blown away by the discovery that shame has a purpose.
Shame helps our brain know that what we just did was wrong. It doesn’t pile on the guilt, but it does signal, “hey…. that wasn’t life-giving…. Let’s not do that again”. Shame can correct us within 90 seconds and get us back on track.
My problem with shame was that I would stare at it and “become” that bad feeling. That’s why I wanted nothing more to do with it. I was only familiar with shame that I would soak in for way longer than 90 seconds! (toxic shame)
Now here’s the problem with the other side of dealing with shame improperly. When we gloss over and minimize shame over time…. Shame stops doing its job.
Eventually, self-justification becomes our shield. The brain becomes incapable of feeling shame and what we end up with is a self centered mild form of narcissism.
Or maybe we end up with a teenager who doesn’t realize (or seem to care) when her actions, words, or plans aren’t life-giving and don’t bring joy to those around her.
It’s pretty hard to parent effectively without healthy shame. But as a PERSON who struggled with shame messages, I realize now that I didn’t have the “brain power” to use shame properly.
As a mom who struggled with shame messages, I passed onto my daughter the “overcorrection” of shame message problems. I wanted so desperately to protect her from toxic shame, that I forgot that shame has a purpose, a very important purpose in development. (I’m guilty here of the proverbial “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”)
Learning to return to joy from all 6 big negative emotions, including shame, (within 90 seconds!) is just one of the 19 relational brain skills that we need. But if we are missing some of these relational brain skills we usually just think that’s our “normal” or part of our personality.
But what I’m here to blow your mind with is the message that with training, we can grow to become who we were designed to be and not just the sum of our missing pieces.
This is what I’m all about. I know we can’t get these skills alone. We need someone to model them for us.
I am becoming aware of the fact that this particular skill is one I still need to work on. I’ve already learned to return to joy from sadness, fear, anger, and hopeless despair; but this 5 letter word was one I had written off as not necessary.
I want my daughter to benefit from healthy shame as she enters adulthood. As a parent, I need the skills before I can pass them on.
I guess it’s time for me to call my life coach and get some help with returning to joy from shame! And it’s also the next thing on my list of things to talk to Immanuel about! (I love having a life coach that will help me talk to Immanuel about hard things like 5 letter words!!)
What about you? Could you use some help with something similar?