When we grow up in family systems that don’t have parents that respond to us in the way we need we may start to believe there is something wrong with us. This sense of wrongness can seep into all parts of our lives and make it difficult to have satisfying relationships with partners and children.
Parents don’t set out to shame their children. However, due to their own upbringing parents may unconsciously mis-attune enough times over a childhood for the child to start developing unconscious beliefs about themselves. These beliefs may sound like, “I’m not worthy of love,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “People don’t want to be close to me.” A parent would never want children to think about themselves this way. However, it is quite common for children to create these opinions when parents come into parenting with their own history of shame.
In her book, Understanding And Treating Chronic Shame, Patrica A. DeYoung, explains how shame becomes a part of a young person’s life.
A child has to have at least one caregiver who is able to respond in an attuned, consistent way to what the child feels. If this is missing in a major way, the child will translate the distress of the mismatch into a feeling like, “I can’t make happen what I need… so there’s something wrong with me.” (DeYoung, 2015)
In order for parents to avoid shaming their child they need to regulate their own nervous systems. A regulated nervous system is one that allows emotions to flow through without the parent being overwhelmed by them. This means showing up for their children by providing emotional connection and responding to the child’s needs. For children, they are relying on their parents to help them contain and integrate unfamiliar emotions.
Caregivers don’t mean to inflict shame, but for some reason or another, they aren’t able to respond to a child in ways that hold, manage and help integrate the child’s affective and emotional experience. (DeYoung, 2015)
As the child’s life unfolds they start to develop core beliefs about themselves out of the shame. Beliefs that exist in our subconscious play a big part in how we make decisions and show up in relationships. When we are attempting to get close with someone the belief “I am not loveable,” will suddenly emerge from our subconscious. As the other person tries to get closer we may push them away. If you don’t believe you are loveable you won’t believe another person when they are telling you they love you. Since the belief is coming up unconsciously a person going through this will not know why they are trying to get out of the relationship. One common response is beginning to feel overwhelmed by the other person and come to the conclusion that this is not the person for them. In reality the relationship could have lots of healthy aspects. The unconscious shame is sabotaging what could be a supportive bond.
The way out of this cycle of shame is to develop a relationship with someone that can shift the neurological setup that supports shame. Being able to show vulnerability and feel supported with a loved one creates new ideas and beliefs about ourselves. Suddenly we start to see that we don’t have to assume something is wrong with us. Relationships start to feel like they can meet our need to feel connected and secure.
This can happen with a partner, a really close friend or a therapist. If you suspect you might be dealing with chronic shame I invite you to contact me.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
DeYoung, Patrica (2015). Understanding And Treating Chronic Shame: A Relational/Neurobiological Approach. United Kingdom, Routledge.