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    Saturday, July 20, 2024

    On Mother’s Day, don’t look away

    After reading The Day’s May 6 article about the 13-year-old girl whose mother and aunt paid 10 other kids to "beat and humiliate" her, I shared this on Facebook:

    My words will probably never reach the 13-year-old girl whose mother paid 10 kids to "beat and humiliate" her, but I am going to say them anyway:

    May you know that even if you were disrespectful to your mother, this shouldn't have happened. I am so sorry that it did.

    May you not internalize the shame they projected onto you.

    May you know you didn't deserve this.

    May you not let this rob you of healthy connection.

    May you not let this turn you into someone who humiliates others.

    May you not let this break your spirit.

    * * *

    My post garnered comments from near and far.

    "This really happened?"

    "Are you serious?"

    "Is this real?"

    "I can't imagine the kind of person who would do that."

    "This makes me sick."

    "It's horrific."

    "Heartbreaking."

    "Unbelievable."

    * * *

    These responses made sense to me ... but something inside me snapped.

    Yes, it really happened. I am serious. It is real. It is heartbreaking and horrific.

    But it's not unbelievable.

    I can imagine the kind of person who would do this because my mother shamed and humiliated me, not just as a child, but throughout my life. I talk to women nearly every day with similar stories. I wrote a whole book about how shame gets “passed down” through our maternal lineages.

    Of course you don't want to believe it. Thinking about it does make you sick. It's so horrible that you question that it happened.

    Our collective inability or unwillingness to believe that this happens perpetuates it because we can’t change what we can’t (or won’t) acknowledge. We can’t heal what we turn away from.

    But a little shame is OK, right? We need it to keep us in line, yes?

    “At one time, there was a “positive" purpose for humans to experience shame. The same can be said for an appendix.

    According to evolutionary biologists, early humans needed an appendix to digest food. Although we no longer need it for that purpose, we are still born with an appendix. Sometimes they make us sick. That’s why they are removed. At some point the human body will evolve to the point where it doesn’t have an appendix.

    According to evolutionary psychologists, shame evolved to serve a function of social defense, similar to the way pain protects us from things that hurt us physically. We are born with shame “hardwired” into our physiology. It is no longer needed for that purpose. And yet we still “have” it. And it can make us sick.” — From my book “You Are Not Your Mother: Releasing Generational Trauma and Shame.”

    No, we don’t need shame to make us “good” people. That’s what guilt is for; to help us know when we’ve done something out of alignment with our values or moral code, so we can course-correct. It’s much harder to course-correct when we believe that at our core there’s something wrong with us; that we’re irredeemably bad. That’s what shame will have us believe.

    It’s tempting to point our fingers at this mother, tsk tsk, and say “what’s wrong with her?” This is, in and of itself, shaming. The solution is not more shame.

    “Shaming is one of the deepest tools of patriarchy because shame produces trauma and trauma often produces paralysis.” — Author bell hooks

    Shame oppresses. It is the opposite of mothering, of nurturing.

    So on this Mother’s Day the solution is to not look away, but to look within and become aware. To notice where shame lives inside you so you are aware of it and can start to unshame all you're taught to be ashamed of. Sit with these questions and answer them with clear-eyed compassion:

    Where does shame live in me? What does it sound like? What does it feel like?

    Where did it come from? Who benefits when I oppress and traumatize myself (or others) with shame?

    Karen C.L. Anderson lives in Waterford. She is a master-certified life coach and author of several books about complex mother-daughter relationships.

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