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What Shame Told Me After My Mom Died by Suicide

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

“Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”
– Brene Brown

Guilt tells us that we did something bad and shame tells us we are bad. Both are liars who seek to punish and execute us before a trial could possibly take place. They are both based on ‘‘shoulds,” telling us we “should” have known better, done better and been better. No matter what story they tell, it is always the same… it is always a story of how we are somehow severely lacking as human beings, and all of the stories they tell are lies.

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My survivor’s guilt told me it was my fault that my mother had died by suicide, that I could have or should have done something to save her. My shame told me that I was worthless, I was bad, that nobody liked me and I would never succeed, and I should never even try because my failure was the one thing that was certain. After all, I had failed at the most important job I ever had, to save her. Shame had its way with me for decades, and it’s truly a wonder I did not wind up in some horrible situation or dead before my time because my shame wanted me dead… it hated me that much.

When we believe and buy into the voices of guilt, owning them as our truth, they became the monster that is shame, and shame will truly eat us alive if we allow it. If we have grown up in abusive situations, it can be easy and even automatic to buy into the voice of shame, because, after all, it tells the same old stories that our abusers told us all the time. Shame perpetuates the stories of lack and worthlessness, and it looks for any proof it can find to consolidate its stories. Unfortunately, when we grow up believing in these stories of limitation and fear, they have a way of manifesting over and over again in our lives. We will automatically attract into our experience people and situations that show us what we believe to be true about ourselves and about life, and each time it happens again, the belief becomes further entrenched into our psyches. Shame is the most rotten poison there is, and it has the power to rob us of our happiness and our very lives if we do not stop it in its tracks.

Shame is the power stealer of all power stealers. Shame teaches us that it is not safe to allow ourselves to be seen or heard. It teaches us to stay small. It convinces us that it is helping us in protecting ourselves from the rejection that would surely follow any attempt we could make to put ourselves out into the world in any meaningful way, and so we don’t even question it. Shame stifles and strangles us, forcing us to shrink ourselves and hide away from the world for self-protection. After all, the last thing any of us wants is to be rejected, because rejection is akin to exile. Exile is the absolute worst outcome, for the support of our family and community is necessary for our very survival. Exile is equal to death, and so we acquiesce.

Once shame has us in its clutches, it seeks to control us and keep us from the power that is ours to embody. It is soul-stealing. When we believe its lies, as we surely will, we will hide, shrink, withdraw, contract and try to disappear completely. We become people-pleasers, existing just to make others happy so we can protect ourselves from the exile that we fear. Our survival is paramount, and so to live in shame’s grip is to be relegated to a life of mere survival, where thriving is never, ever a possibility. To live this way is not living at all.

What can we do to free ourselves from the clutches of the abusive, hateful monster that is shame? How can we get our power back? If we are to heal and live the kind of lives we deserve to live, then we must take ownership of our lives, every aspect of them. We must grieve our losses, including our perceived failures and limitations as human beings. We must learn to accept all of the parts of ourselves that we have been taught were bad or wrong, knowing that what is needed in order to heal these wounded aspects is our love and compassion, the love that can only come from us. We must learn to take ownership of our stories, all the messy, ugly, seemingly unloveable parts of ourselves, what we have done, not done and how we have lived, and what was done to us. We have no choice other than to own all of who we are in order to heal and to take our power back from the grips of shame’s evil grasp.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.”
– Brene Brown

What I am suggesting may seem an untenable feat, but I assure you it is not. We are more than our stories, more than our losses, and we are far more than any notions of limitation that we have bought into. Self-honesty is our savior, for once we come out of the closet with all of our skeletons, there is nothing that shame has over us any longer. This is how we take our power back from shame. We own it all. When we open the door wide and allow it all to be aired in the light of day, we become free, and in the process we become masters of our own destiny.

Photo by Gage Walker on Unsplash

Originally published: February 23, 2021
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