To begin this Shamefessional, I do want to reiterate the definition of shame I’m using when I mention my shame and that of others. And that definition is brought to us by the amazing research by my hero and role model Dr. Brene Brown who defines shame as the following,
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
Let’s begin now with these reflections I learned tonight about how my shame has helped me grieve the loss of my parents in a more healthy, positive way.
A few weeks ago, Emily and I started attending a grief support group that centers around the Buddhist iterations of dealing with and working through one’s grief. Em has been able to attend more than I have since I leave further away and work weird hours/days, but she’s kept me involved and in the loop about the group and her experiences with it. She shared with me today an email she sent the facilitator of the group about some issues, and something the leader said back about her grief over her relationship with her father really struck a nerve in me and inspired me. She said,
When I was able to relate to him [her father] as a small boy who was also a victim of violence in his own life, I was able to change the nature of my relationship with him. And it is from this new relationship with him that I grieve him.”
I wrote in my homily at mom’s funeral, “I have found empathy with her in the last year or so exploring my own shame, sins, and wounds.”
I can say the same for my dad who died just 5 months after my mother. My discovery of shame and such was too late in life to bring me closer to them before they were gone, but in my heart and mind I became more forgiving, loving, and empathic to how and why they let addiction wreck their lives and family; I became less judgmental, puzzled, and hurt.
It was by discovering, accepting, and seeking to work through my own chronic shame issues that, paradoxically enough, gave me more forgiveness, patience, understanding, love, and empathy for my parents, their addictions, their hurt, their shortcomings, and above all their own shame as people. And as a clinician and therapist-in-training, I’m not saying that everyone will or must experience their shame in this way, however, for me it is how I’m seeing it and living through it.
As our group leader said about her relationship with her father, it is this new relationship with them, albeit post death, that I’m able to not be so sad that are gone, angry that they weren’t the best parents, or what have you, but that I can grieve them for who they were, my parents, who were hurting, broken, people who did the best with what they had and healed what shame they experienced the most they could.
I grieve them more easily because my shame issues and healing of chronic shame I’m experiencing because, as Dr. Brene Brown says in her research, I believe shame is highly correlated with things like addiction. I believe that my parents were wounded, hurting people who, due to the difficulties and trauma they experienced as children, used things like alcohol and pills to numb their pain and their shame from that pain.
However, I grieve more the lack of a good, close parental bond I feel was the reality of my relationship to them, and that had I learned earlier in my life how my shame impacted me and influenced me then, in hope and wishful thinking, I could have had time to build a better relationship with both of my parents before they unexpectedly reposed.
My experience of shame and accepting it in my life brought about my seeing them as being so wrought with shame and hurt, as I am with shame and hurt, that it gave me compassion for myself and then for them as people trapped by the nastiness of shame. My shame has helped me to see their shame and the shame that is all over my geneogram and family tree.
My shame awakened me to the shame experienced and lived by my parents in their battles and wounds. It is because of my continual working with and healing from shame that I can grieve them better and relate to them in ways I couldn’t before. I can relate to them with empathy, compassion, grace, understanding, experience, mercy, and grace. In the battle against my own chronic shame and the wounds its caused and still causes, I can put myself in my parents’ shoes and see why they did what they did and made the choices that the made. With this, I move away from any anger I may have had, any bitterness, or lack of sympathy to a place of relation, empathy, and grace.
In the midst of all this grief I’ve seen through 2015 and 2016, there is love mingled with it that stems from my inspiration and ability to write this because of the love and vulnerability I share with Emily, who is my lifeline and companion in life whom I love, cherish, and with whom I want to spend my life, to the newfound love and relationship I have with my parents who managed to raise 4 incredible children who will carry on their love and lives.
In the midst of grief, our love for one another, our significant others, and our parents can grow all the stronger…