The Legacy left by punitive parenting is undoubtedly a sense of deep personal shame. This extends back generations in my family, and that legacy will affect my children’s children as well. My Grandparents, Parents, Siblings, and I have all been shaped and informed by guilt, by a feeling of unworthiness. This is the root of the damage done by using punishment as a discipline tool.
One of the biggest obstacles that stand in the way of my emotional health is my habit of second-guessing myself. I function pretty well; I’ve learned to make decisions, but I still worry too much about what ‘everyone’ thinks of me. For the most part, I make the best choices I can, and try not to base my decision on anything other than the situation itself, and the facts at hand…but sometimes, I avoid making a decision or taking action. I avoid it until the time to take action is long past. I hate that part of me. I have always longed for real confidence- the ability to live and not even think about how I appear to anyone else.
Sometimes why we do certain things is a mystery to us. That’s why it takes a crisis to wake us up, make us sit up and take notice. We have epiphanies about ourselves when our lives get stressful- when our circumstances force us to look at ourselves truthfully. My self-doubt and my periodic obsession over how others would evaluate my actions bothered me. There must be a reason that my default emotion was embarrassment- it had to have a root. Sneaking a stealthy ride on the coattails of embarrassment was an anger I did not understand. I wanted approval so badly- some sort of affirmation- but I would get so angry. I was angry at myself, for needing approval, and I was angry at all those nameless ‘others’ for their judgment of me. But…why?
I don’t remember how I found this, but it was almost 6 months ago that I stumbled upon this list- Adults Shamed as Children. I only read the article because my father is a recovering alcoholic. He’s been dry since before I was born- but he has admitted to me that he knows he’s only a hairsbreadth away from drinking again. So in some ways, I consider myself the daughter of an addict. I was terribly shocked to discover how many of the traits, habits, and emotions I recognized in myself. The deeper I dug, the more I realized that the deep shame I carried was related to my feeling that I could never, ever meet my parents’ expectations. Clearly there must be a flaw in me, I had concluded, because I could not seem to remember or obey all the rules. I was always slipping up; intentionally, my mother assured me! She convinced me that I was forgetting the rules because I didn’t care, didn’t respect her, didn’t love her. Every time I messed up, she let me know that she knew the real reasons I disobeyed. My Mom, as it turns out, is an addict too. Her drug of choice is food; and it almost killed her before she admitted it. Both of my parents carried (and do still carry) immense burdens of guilt and shame. My Dad recognized a lot of it as false guilt, and told me about it. Being the intuitive, empathetic child that I was, I sensed this deep shame in my parents, and assumed some of it as my own. My Daddy couldn’t hide much from me, and that led to an openness between us that my Mother and I have never quite managed. The reason for this was that my father was honest with himself about what went on in his own head. It tempered in some ways, his reactions to us, allowed him to restrain his anger without feeling he had sacrificed his authority. My Momma, on the other hand, is not nearly so introspective, and could not face the things inside her that made it so easy for her to strike out at us in anger. She never once considered that maybe it was her reaction that was the problem. She lacked the ability to look at herself and evaluate the emotions hidden by her rage.
When I looked over this list, I decided to highlight those items that described me and those that described my husband in separate colors. Together, we embodied almost the entire list.
I cried. How could two emotionally handicapped people make a marriage? How could we hope to raise healthy kids? It isn’t something I cared to dwell on. I keep the list for reference because I need that information. It is the only objective source of information I have. You see, guilt and self-hatred and self-denial had become normal to me. Actually there wasn’t a point at which it hadn’t been normal. I can hardly imagine what being healthy will look like for us. We struggle at it, day after day. Our Hope, our rest is in the Lord. He is our Healer, the author of Salvation. He is the one who makes the unworthy, worthy, and gives peace to those without hope. I cannot reconcile the idea of a God who loves us with such a sacrificial love that he DIED for us, with the idea of a God who would desire us to beat and shame our kids. I don’t believe for one second that the pain and rage my husband and I deal with are part of his divine plan! I cannot accept that. There MUST be a better way.