Whilst there are a lot of reasons one might feel shame and experience its toxic effects such as those caused by body image, socio-economic status and mental health(to name a few), a common dilemma most women face is related to motherhood and career. In many ways society views motherhood and womanhood as one and the same. Therefore whether you are a mother or not, the issue of “mother shame” is something you might have experienced. Let’s elaborate with some examples.
Often there is a “set age” decided by the community for a woman to have a child. If you are above this set age, let’s say, 25 and not yet married, you have a lot of answering to do. If you are above 30 and minus a “mini me”, you better explain what you are planning to do with your eggs to every concerned relative and citizen. If you have decided to have no children, you are selfish and ambitious. If you have had one child and not the second one yet, there’s always someone nice to remind you that two is better than one. If you already have three minions vying for your attention, oh well, what were you thinking?
Now that we are all on the same page let’s understand what “Mother Shame” is and how to overcome its toxic effect on us.
In her book “I thought it was just me (But it isn’t)” the shame and vulnerability researcher and author Brene Brown defines shame as
“The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
She describes shame as a web of layered, conflicting and competing social – community expectations. These expectations dictate – Who you should be, What we should be and How we should be. All women at some point in their life deal with the dilemma i.e. Motherhood vs Career- the decision to have a baby or not and even the decision to be a working mother or a stay at home mom. No matter what you choose, you are bound to feel a range of emotions like guilt, dissatisfaction, fear, anger and above all shame.
To begin with, let’s understand what the difference between shame and guilt is.
Guilt is about what we have done and shame is about how we feel. When we feel guilty about something we can usually take some actions to amend it. When we feel shame, we feel isolated and powerless to do anything about it.
Guilt – I did something bad
Shame – I am bad
Guilt – That’s a horrible thought
Shame – I am a horrible person because I had that thought
To all those facing this dilemma, there’s good news and there’s bad news.
Bad news – Shame stems from feelings of fear, blame and disconnection and is not something you can avoid
Good news – Although, we can’t completely get rid of it completely, Shame and vulnerability researcher and author Brene Brown gives us a way to override the effects of shame by applying the 3Cs
Courage – Whatever we are going through, let’s start a conversation about it, because the moment we find the courage to speak about it, we are taking away its power to make us feel ashamed. Start by acknowledging and sharing how you are feeling with those you trust. Once you realize that everyone around us is as human as we are, we no longer feel the fear to let anyone down or fail.
Compassion – Compassion is different from empathy. Empathy is the ability to tap into our own experiences in order to relate to what someone else has been through. Compassion is our willingness to be open to that process. Having compassion takes practice and very strong commitment. We need to start by having compassion for ourselves first. So remember, we all have insecurities. Primarily for women it is physical appearance and for men, it’s being seen as weak. When someone says something that hits our soft spot, we react and the most innocent remark can sound like a criticism. By identifying the triggers that arouse feelings of fear and discontent, we can start to move past them.
Connections – For most women connection is about mutual support, shared experiences, acceptance and belonging. By developing a strong support system that includes family, friends, mentors and life coaches, we are able to not only free ourselves, but also work towards freeing others from the vicious cycle of shame. Find your tribe, the people who understand you and build those connections so you can all move past the feeling of being disconnected that is shame.
Start applying the 3C’s formula to beat the toxic effects of shame and be free to chase your dreams. If you feel like sharing your own experiences and struggles with me or and need any support, then write to me. Feel free to comment and share this with someone who needs it.
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