I’ve recently been learning some things about myself. It sucks. Personal growth is cool and all, but why does it require so much work and discomfort?
Part of my reason for wanting to work less hours was to be with my kids more, especially as we’ve been dealing with some rage-y behavior issues from one of them. (I’m being intentionally vague so that one day when they try to sue me for defamation I can say that I never actually used their names and could have been talking about ANY kid who lived in my house between the years I wrote this blog). In the process of figuring out how this person’s behavior works, I’ve also evaluated how I work.
I’ve determined that when I feel like I’m losing control, I get embarrassed/ashamed, I get pissed, and I shout. Always the same thing: embarrassed, ashamed, pissed, shout. Embarrassed, ashamed, pissed, shout.
What am I ashamed of? Whelp. Sit down. You got a minute? According to the shame expert, Brene Brown, (I’m currently reading another one of her books, “Dare to Lead,” I also highly recommend her ‘Braving the Wilderness.’) ‘shame’ is, basically, insecurity. The deep-down conviction that you’re a failure, inherently bad and flawed and not worthy of love or belonging. (‘Guilt,’ on the other hand, is an actual useful emotion, felt in response to a specific event/situation, not an over-all judgement call about yourself). So, if I understand her correctly, shame is the nasty, mean voice in our heads.
And, embarrassment is shame with an audience, right? And then the flush that we feel inside becomes anger, defensiveness, snark, snapping, lecturing, cruelty, maybe even violence. So, when something happens that makes me feel stupid or weak or small, naive, confused, lost, lonely…any number of things that ping the shameful parts of me, I feel embarrassed/ashamed, then pissed, then I shout.
Look, I feel insecure and uncertain ALL THE TIME while parenting. All the time. Like, I’m making it up as I go. They ask me 1,000 questions verbally an hour, and another 1,000 silent judgement calls have to be made just to deal with their very existence.
I do NOT know what I’m doing. And I’m terrified they’ll figure it out. So, I rage. Out of fear and uncertainty, and a core belief that I’m not good enough or that I don’t belong in this role, am not who I say I am…out of fear, comes my rage.
And in response, certain members of my family cower, certain ones shout back. Then we all feel terrible, and no one really hears what I’m saying. They fear me, and no one cares what I’m feeling, because I just spewed rage all over them…and then I have to apologize and try to fix it. I vacillate between “mean mommy” and “nice mommy” instead of what’s really happening, “hurt mommy” and “healing mommy.”
When one of my insecurities gets pinged, I react larger than I intend. When something that brings fear or shame up in me is exploited, I crouch over it like a she-beast and hiss and bark to keep people off of it and to try to harness some control again.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail Killer Bunny (that’s me)
I’m not alone in this. I’m not the only full grown adult human person who fails to be self-aware enough to emote properly, and instead whose ego dips into mutiny. Instead of saying, “yeah, I totally screwed that up,” or “I’m not really sure what to do here, I need help,” or, “boy, this is making me feel really panicky, and I don’t like that feeling,” we yell and throw blame at others. It’s the opposite of self-awareness, the opposite of wisdom, of peace. The opposite of what I want to do, and what I want to model for my kids, or see them do.
It turns out, that the rage issues I see in my kid that freak me out thoroughly, are probably the very same I have in me. I’m an adult, so I’ve learned to spin mine to justify them, and they present in more palatable (?) templates like screaming and cursing, seething, bitterness, and stressful silence, versus head-down, fists-banging in the aisle of Target. When my kid snaps, it seems spontaneous, irrational, overly dramatic and terrifying, but it doesn’t actually come from nowhere. If I’m patient and watching closely, or, more importantly, listening closely, it happens when she feels cornered or compromised. There’s almost always a feeling at the core of it. Big feelings translate to big actions.
In her, and in me, if the feelings can be addressed honestly, carefully, respectfully, the behavior that is attached is way different.
We’ve started using the words, ‘are you feeling anxiety right now?’ ‘Are you feeling worried, alone, embarrassed, disappointed?’
I’ve been doing therapy and reading all these parenting and self-help books that are all leading me to the same conclusion: we need to be vulnerable, we need to acknowledge and face our shame, out loud, before it comes out in an action. Brene Brown speaks to how strong vulnerability is in relationship connection- with family, friends, colleagues, employees, even in moments of conflict, share who you really are and what’s tender, what you fear, and it actually makes the human-human moment more authentic and workable. Don’t hide behind the ‘armor’ we build to protect the shameful parts, expose them and give more of yourself to people, and get more back. It’s profound, and I love it, but it’s hard.
I gotta get it right for me before I can expect my kids to do it. As a parent, we have to give our kids the language and the safe space to express what they’re feeling (because we’re going to have to deal with it in their behavior anyway) to help them become wise, self-aware, empathetic adults. We need to be able to do that in ourselves first. We have to give ourselves the permission, and also the skills, to express our insecurities, embarrassments, and shame, or it, too, will come out explosively and unproductively.
So, basically, I need to be, like, a zen super chill mega mom so that I don’t holler, and my kids don’t holler at me.
I’m a work in progress. Shields down, I’m trying. I’m leaning into the tender stuff, the deep down truthy truthful me stuff, and I’m hoping to help my kids do the same. What would life look like without shame controlling us? I want to see.