shame, motherhood, guilt

I’m currently re-reading Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, on vulnerability and shame.  If you aren’t familiar with her work I highly recommend all of her books, her work is amazing and will change your world for the better.

In Daring Greatly, Brené shares her research of what it means to live Wholehearted, which she explains is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.  It means being able to think ‘no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough’.  I know from my own experience, and from working with mums for almost 10 years now, that this is something most women struggle with.

We’re living in an epidemic of not enoughness.  From the moment we roll out of bed we’re aware of not having enough, whether it’s time to get ready or not having had enough sleep, we start our days on ‘not enough’. And this is before we even get started on our own feelings of not being enough, and I know how this feels, I struggled most of my life with the feeling of not being good enough and this was only amplified when I became a mam.

The problem of not feeling good enough stems from a scarcity culture where we focus most of our attention on what we don’t have and from the expectation for women to be ‘perfect’.

I know from my work with mums that many see perfectionism as a strength, and I used to too, however perfectionism is our greatest weakness. For a start it doesn’t exist, so any attempt to achieve it is always going to leave you feeling like you’re running short and yet we still set impossibly high standards for ourselves and beat ourselves up when we can’t reach them.

From her research Brené define’s shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we’re flawed and therefore unworthy of love or belonging.  She explains that we all have shame (unless you’re a sociopath), we’re all afraid to talk about it and the less we talk about shame, the more control it has over us.

This is why I wanted to share this blog and my own shame story, and as scary as it is, I am able to do so only because I follow the steps required for shame resilience as highlighted by Brené.

As mothers, and especially if you’re a perfectionist or highly-sensitive person, we’re prime candidates for shit-storms of shame. I’ve been working on my own ‘enoughness’ for years, practising self-compassion and shame resilience, so when I do suffer with feelings of shame they last maybe an hour or so, and I hope by sharing this with you, you too can work through any feelings of shame and learn to cultivate self-compassion, not just for yourself but for your children, because when we do this work ourselves we’re invariably teaching these skills to our children and THAT is priceless.

Let me set the scene.  I’m 4 months pregnant and approaching the end of my second week of insomnia.  I’m averaging 2 hours of sleep a night so to say i’m feeling exhausted is an understatement. So if you’re reading this all bright eyed and bushy tailed it might not seem like a big deal at all, but if you’ve ever had one of those days when you’re just so exhausted and get triggered, you know how it feels, i’m writing this for you.

It’s 8.35am, the school bell rings at 8.45am and the girls are still trying to de-tangle their hair. My eldest (who is 9) has a sore throat so I told her not to do her swimming lesson today but she now decides she wants to and we have to start searching for her stuff.  My 6 year old decides she wants to take her smoothie in the car and if I wasn’t running around looking for her sisters swimming gear, and worrying about being late, perhaps I would of ignored the mini disaster movie playing through my mind of bright purple smoothie being spilt all over the car and me having to clean it up, so when I told her she couldn’t take it because we didn’t have a cup with a lid she burst into tears!

It’s now about 8.38am, (if you’re a punctual person like me perhaps your heart race is increasing just at the thought of being late) I have one child lying on the floor screaming ‘i’m not getting my shoes on and i’m NOT getting in the car!’ and another holding back the tears because her throat hurts and she really doesn’t want to go to school, and i’m holding back tears myself because, seriously does it really have to be this hard???? I’m trying to remain calm but then the time pressure, the exhaustion and the ‘same shit different day’ thoughts all get the better of me and my fight or flight response is triggered.  Good bye calm, rational thought, hello raving lunatic.

I shout at my youngest ‘for god sake get your fricking shoes on and get in the car!’ and this is where the worst bit comes. I follow with ‘you’re horrible! you absolutely drain me!’. Hello shit-storm of shame and guilt.

Now even though I cringe as soon as the words leave my mouth i’m too triggered to do anything about it.  I have one thing on my mind, get them to school NOW.  You can’t think rationally when we’re in a fight or flight response.

As we drive to school I see my eldest’s face in the rear view mirror, I know she’s not feeling great but she’s already been off this week and has already had a letter sent home because her attendance record is less than the expected 96%, I know she’ll be fine by mid morning but I see her little face holding back the tears and my heart aches.  My youngest is still crying over the un-spilt smoothie and the bell has already rung as we pull up to school.

As I get back in the car the shit storm commences.  First there’s guilt, which Brené defines as ‘I did a bad thing’, but then worst of all comes the shame, which is the feeling of ‘I am bad’.

Through her research Brené discovered that the 2 areas women feel shame the most is, firstly their looks and secondly, motherhood. And there I am looking and feeling like an exhausted, washed out fish wife.

I fight the tears on the drive home but as soon as I step through the front door the flood gates open. ‘I’m a bad mam!’

I think of my beautiful, sensitive soul and how I just called her horrible and sent her to school.  I feel completely worthless and like I don’t deserve her at all. I think of my eldest with her sore throat and how cold she will be going swimming and wish i’d just thought screw the rules and kept her home (even though I know she’ll be fine).

For me the hardest part is knowing how our beliefs shape our lives, and being an over-thinker like I am, I start worrying about the beliefs I’ve just installed in my daughters.  I worry my eldest will develop the ‘keep pushing even when you’re sick’ mentality that seems to drive our workforce even though this goes against everything I teach them about listening to and honouring their bodies needs.  And I fear I’ve scarred my youngest into believing she is ‘horrible’, which literally couldn’t be further from the truth.

I have a good cry and let it all out.  I allow myself to feel the guilt and shame because feeling our emotions is how we release them, this is the kind of thing I teach in the Mighty Mama Tribe, and I always practise what I preach.  It hurts like hell but the real damage comes when we try to suppress our emotions, they have no where to go and get buried in our bodies ready to erupt at a later date, or worse, erode our health.

Once I start to feel some relief I begin to apply some self-compassion.  I imagine my best friend rings me up and explains the exact same scenario and I talk to myself like I would talk to my friend. I understand how she feels and I empathise, I tell her that everything is ten times harder when you’re sleep deprived and that no one is perfect, I tell her she had a bad moment but she is NOT a bad mam.

Just as I was starting to pull myself together my mam calls and offers me just the antidote I needed, empathy.

As Brené explains, if we share our story with someone who responds with understanding and empathy, shame can’t survive.  Shame is a social concept, it happens between people and it also heals between people.

When my mam called I retold her the tale through tears and she completely understood, even when I told her I called my little one ‘horrible’, she replied with empathy not judgement.  I wouldn’t of been able to share the full story with her if I hadn’t already been able to apply some self-compassion, and of course trust that she was a safe person to share with.  And I wouldn’t in a million years be sharing this story with you if I wasn’t practising shame resilience and able to work through those feelings.

After speaking to my mam my shame lifted but I still felt guilty until I spoke to the girls after school.  I apologised to my daughter for saying she was horrible and explained that it was the behaviour I found difficult when I was so tired and reinforced the message I tell her daily of how loved and amazing she is.  It’s funny how we can tell them 400 times a day how brilliant they’re but we forget that and focus on the one time we slip up and say something mean!

Being vulnerable with our kids, admitting our mistakes and putting right our wrongs is an essential skill, and as we practise it, we teach them it too.

I’m not perfect, i’m human, and a much nicer version of me when i’m not sleep deprived.

We all have bad days but that doesn’t make us bad people.

The most important thing is to allow the emotions, give yourself time to really feel your guilt and shame, then practise self-compassion, and if you’re able to share your story with someone you trust then do so, because when understanding and empathy are present, shame can’t survive.  When you’re able to do this for yourself you will be able to teach these valuable life lessons to your children.

My girls know the difference between guilt and shame, they know they’re safe to feel their emotions and express them in a healthy way, and they know the importance of self-compassion.  And I trust that they will grow up knowing that they are enough.

Vicky x