Recently someone asked me the age-old therapeutic parenting question: "How do we KNOW they are acting out in shame and fear? How do we actually KNOW they feel that all the time?"
I have wondered the same thing. You don't see it, so how do you know? Who is the person who was able to climb into their heads? Where did this whole theory come from????
It came from the children, themselves.
Some of them have healed and attached enough to talk openly. Some have grown into adulthood and can now share their stories. We have learned so very much from those who have literally walked in our kids' shoes, but were given the help they needed to find healing ... and can now help.
What I found so very interesting about Denise Best was how most of the things in her presentation came directly from the children she treats. She uses their words. She sees these things over and over and over again.
And she sees how therapeuitc parenting really does work over and over and over again.
Now, in this discussion, I want to share something which was finally explained to me in detail - the difference between shame and guilt. It's like I always knew they were somehow different, but had never known how to distinguish it in words, nor had it been done for me.
In "Therapeutic Parenting for Traumatized Children," Denise defines it simply:
Guilt says "I feel bad about what I did."
Shame says "I am ALL bad because of what I did."
After her years and years of experience with kids just like ours, she says, "It is common for children to display a lack of remorse for their behavior, this should not be confused with their level of shame."
Our kids don't feel bad for the other person. They immediately slip into feeling bad about themselves. They don't feel they are good. The shame just builds and builds and builds. Yet, all we see are these very defiant, manipulative and pain in the ask-me-no-more-questions behaviors! Grrrrrrrr. Check out what other people are finding ...
Daniel Goleman (author of "Emotional Intelligence") is studying the role that shame plays in relationship difficulties and violent behavior - and finding a correlation.
I have been getting back into the groove of acknowledging my child's shame - not buying into the miscues. However, earlier today, we were all outside setting fires (we do live in the country - don't freak). This child had a disagreement with a sibling. They weren't necessarily wrong in what they did, but they could have handled it better. No biggie. Yet, when I pointed it out and asked them to fix it, BOOM, the body language shifted, as did the face and voice. Being fresh off the therapeutic parenting conference, I used that as MY red flag to immediately address the feeling behind the action.
First, I was standing a good distance away from them. The whole situation probably made my child feel very exposed.
I walked closer. "Sweatheart, ya' know, this really isn't that big of a deal. There was just a more productive way to handle it. Not a big deal." Smile. Rub on the back. Play with the hair. "I'm right here." Just a long, very quiet pause. The other two girls had walked off. Finally, I asked, "Are you feeling strong enough to go make it right with your sister?" "Yeahhhhh." "Would you like to do it by yourself, or would you like me to be with you?"
Hug and kiss and an "I love being your mom," and they ran off to take care of it on their own.
It was actually something as insignificant as wishing they had a walking stick as cool as their sister's.
We have millions out here. But that minor altercation combined with a correction which left them feeling very vulnerable. No matter what my voice sounded like, or what my intention was, or how big I was smiling ... my. child. felt. shamed.
"As with any feeling, when shame is denied it will only resurface to create even more pain and havoc." ("Shame & Psychotherapy" by Marc Miller, Ph.D.)
It's not that they're getting away with anything. They need natural consequences. They need to fix things. But they need us to give them a way to do it which builds them up instead of tearing down what is already flattened.
Ya' know the phrase "being judge and jury?" I have this great desire inside of me to make sure my kids feel really bad about what they did. I just do. Please don't shame me for that. *wink*
I joke, but I DO! I have caught myself trying to come up with more I can do or say, because my kids don't appear to feel badly enough for what they did. Dr Paul Eckman, from the University of California, says there is no emotion more private than shame. In fact, humans have not developed any facial expression that definitively expresses it.
"My name is Christine, and I'm a shamer."
I've had all the same questions and concerns that Ursula has. I have worried that by addressing shame and doing a quick "redo" or a "fix" that my kids will blow off the severity of ALL they do, and won't heal and won't change their behavior. I very clearly remember the day I took a deep breath, and thought, "These people who are advising this aren't just pulling it out of their butts. They have healed it. They have walked with families. Some of them have been unattached and/or traumatized themselves. They have seen it with their own eyes, and they know it works, which is why they keep telling more and more people to do it. They're not gluttons for punishment."
I had to trust their experience and try it, or say, "Screw it. My kids are somehow magically different."
I took a step of faith. It felt horrible. Many days it felt like it wasn't enough. The behaviors actually lessened, but that felt like I wasn't coming down on them hard enough - like I needed to see their misery. Some days it is SO HARD. It is SO BACKWARD. It's not like there aren't consequences, but I WOULD FEEL BETTER IF THEY WERE BIG, FAT CONSEQUENCES BECAUSE SOME DAYS THEIR STUFF IS SO CONSTANT IT IS OUTNUMBERING OXYGEN MOLECULES!
I will confess (lots of those today, huh?), I have a little journal I keep on my computer of things I want to do ... things I want to say ... consequences I want to instill. It helps me. I absolutely have moments where I walk into the bathroom, glare at the mirror and say things like, "You. little. *!%*!&*^%$!"
What happens in my bathroom stays in my bathroom.
So, I absolutely do believe our kids feel shame and fear a lot. My child is attaching and healing, so theirs is less, but it is still there. They can talk about it now. They can thank me for stopping and looking past the behavior and saying, "I'm right here. This seems to be a tough day for you." They can say THANK YOU!
I told my kid about this post, and asked them why I have never (until recently) ever seen any shame in them. "Cause I HIDE IT! Duh!"
My child is yet another person who totally knows what they're talking about.
(photo by Julia)