Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw is another of the classics on my shelf.
To be honest, John Bradshaw himself is a bit of a classic. If you get the chance, follow the link to read more about his fascinating life… from (almost) priesthood to counselor to management consultant to public speaker, he’s seen a few things. And he knows of what he speaks.
Three of his books are favorites of mine: The Family, Homecoming and (of course) the one I’m writing about today. The reason I chose this one is because until very recently, guilt and shame consumed me. No, it should be in capital letters: CONSUMED. ME.
My story of adult guilt and shame has been shared throughout this entire blog… but the bulk of it is HERE.
My childhood might have had its share of shame, except… and this was pivotal when I realized it… children don’t understand shame in the same way adults do. They *feel* it but it’s not named. It’s that feeling when you take a cookie from the jar without asking and you know it’s wrong but you do it anyway. It’s also the feeling when you steal the handmade egg carton tulips with pipe-cleaners for stems from your kindergarten teacher’s desk because you know your mommy will love them, only to stash them in a tree on the way home because the fear outweighs the desire to present them.
Kindergarten. Only 55 years ago. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Another student had made the tulips from egg cartons – each egg holder a bulb, painted a pastel colour. They sat in a vase on the teacher’s desk. On the way home, I got scared and stashed them in a hollowed crook in a tree. Then I confessed to my mother. She marched me right to the tree, where they had been only minutes before. Gone. We went to the store, bought more egg cartons and made new tulips with pipe-cleaner stems. Mom came with me to hand them to my teacher and apologize. I can still remember sitting on the bench with those tulips in my lap, waiting while my mom talked to the teacher. It was mortifying in every conceivable way. And memorable. Obviously.
Childhood is filled with lessons, big and small. Learning what is right and wrong is taught in the home, at church and at school, of course, but it’s also innate, I believe. Nobody needed to tell me I was wrong. I knew. That’s why I hid the evidence. But being the kind of kid (and adult) I am, I confessed right away. The wisdom of that choice is a subject for another day (and another book: Bradshaw’s The Family, perhaps?).
Not all guilt and shame is wrong — or in Bradshaw’s vernacular: toxic. This book provides a neat chart of TOXIC Guilt & Shame vs. HEALTHY Guilt & Shame, along with so much more. Honestly, we used this book in one of my college courses as a textbook. There is ***that*** much stuff jammed in it.
I’m not going to tell you everything that’s in this book. It would be impossible, anyway. All I’m going to say is that if guilt and shame rule your life, it’s not much of a life to live. You can do so much better for yourself!
You may wonder what happened to stop the toxic guilt and shame from consuming me? Let’s talk about that for a moment.
I’ve been to several therapists in my life. There are three who stand out: Liz, the Episcopal Priest; Debra, the feminine, wise, goddess-mother; and Amy, the bright star who was new at therapy and learning right along with me.
When I talked about being a bad daughter, wife, mother and human, each forced me (in different ways) to look at the choices I had at the time. Each wanted me to consider certain words… like “survival,” “abandonment” and “deprivation”.
Each therapy experience was a step forward.
About ten years ago, the first chink in my armor occurred when my (late) first husband said something profound to me. He said, “You’re closer to our kids from 4000 miles away than I am. And I’m right here!” He wasn’t necessarily correct but he wasn’t wrong, either. I remained very close to our children – talking to them daily and visiting as often as I could. But he was close to them, too. It was just a different kind of close.
Another step forward.
Then one day about two years ago, I was talking to my kids during a visit. They were all in their early-to-mid 30’s. I was apologizing, yet again, for my bad choice to move away all those years ago. They said, “Who better than us to decide if you’re a bad mother? You weren’t and you aren’t.”
I know they’ve said this in one way or the other for years. But I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) let go of it. For some reason, this time I really heard them.
And then, of course, there’s my age. My fifties have changed me. I’m in my last year of the decade and have to say, I am a different person than the one who entered it. I’m not better or worse… just… more accepting of myself. This is not to say there’s not tough days or moments but, they are few and far between on the “hate myself” meter.
I didn’t need a book to tell me I was allowing guilt and shame to eat me alive. But I did need one to pull all the emotional ick apart and get me unstuck. This is that book.
Self-help is about knowing when you can “DIY” and when you need professional help. A book like this will help you determine which it is for you and the subject of guilt and shame. So, let this book help you untie all the knots. You’ll feel so much better!