Shame lives in the shadows. Shame thrives on secrets. Shame is that still small voice that whispers to us we are not worthy, we don’t belong and we don’t deserve love.
Shame and guilt go hand in hand. Guilt keeps us stuck in the past. Shame tells us, “I am bad.” Guilt tells us, ” I did something bad.” When we give voice to shame we reduce its power over us. When we give voice to guilt, we can accept responsibility, apologize, and move forward.
Over the past year, my kids have been sharing memories with me. These are not fun filled, sunshine and roses memories. These are uncomfortable, vulnerable memories that are shared with caution. At first, my kids tread lightly, testing the waters, careful to protect my feelings. More recently, the stories are more painful. They are vivid, detailed stories filled with emotion. Some are stories of events I don’t remember or have blocked out.
A few weeks ago, one of my kids started sharing a memory of a trip to a restaurant years ago, and like on cue, her sister began to insert details she remembered. Together, like a tennis match, words going back and forth, they shared pain of a day I did not remember. However, the minute they started talking, it was as if a TV had turned on in my brain and it all came flooding back to me. I could see it all happening in “real” time. I sat there with the color draining from my face. The guilt and shame I felt was visible and palpable. I had trouble catching my breath. I inhaled and said, “tell me more….” Yes, I wanted to know more. I wanted them to give voice to the pain. I wanted it to spill out all over the table.
What I have found it that when we give voice to these painful memories, we can let them go. It is not about placing blame but about accepting responsibility. Listening to my children share their pain of the past, allows them to release it. It also allows me to apologize and accept responsibility for for not being the mom they needed or deserved as youngsters. Together, we can release the guilt and shame of the past in order to move forward.
I know that my kids, now young adults, are more comfortable sharing these memories with me because I am stronger and more at peace. Is it fun to hear these stories my kids share? No, but it is vital to our healing. Together, we are becoming closer, developing deeper, more meaningful adult relationships because they are willing to be vulnerable and I am willing to listen without judgement.
Shame and guilt can not survive in the light. So open the curtains and let the light in. Live in the sunlight of belonging and acceptance. Live in the light of unconditional love and peace.