In former posts, I have mentioned that I am an avid reader and fan of Brene Brown and her writings and lessons have had a profound impact on me personally. I often re-read her books and for the last 6 months have been listening to many audio versions while driving in the car to pass the time. Recently Brene Brown started offering courses (she previously had course offerings for mental health professionals) to the general public and I am currently taking a course through her program Courage Works. It has been an interesting experience for me personally because while I have become a student of her teachings via the written word and audio-books, the process of taking her course has forced me to actually think about and write down answers to questions and to actually do the work as opposed to simply taking in the information. Her course is an emotional roller-coaster that leaves me feeling a range of emotions and causes me to stop, think, question, pause, wonder, and in some cases shut down my computer because of the sometimes overwhelming nature of the topics we explore and discuss. A major driving force of Brene Browns work is rooted in shame. The topic no one wants to talk about, the subject no one wants to address and the root of so much pain, fear and unhappiness. No matter how much I read, how many times I listen or now through the work involved in this course, understanding and dissecting what triggers shame for each of us personally is a grueling and emotionally exhaustive endeavor. I don’t have it figured out, not even close. Yet through this work, it has hit me (like a sledgehammer to the head and heart) that while I may not be able to remedy areas of shame for myself as quickly as I would like, I have the ability to focus my efforts on eliminating shame and the side effects that go along with shaming for my own children.
There is a big difference between shame and guilt (as I have learned recently) and while parents or caregivers can utilize shame to change a childs behavior we may crush who they are in the process. This is especially poignant for me as a special needs parent. In the autism community, much of the focus is spent on trying to change behavior, trying to generate typical behaviors, teaching our children how to be “normal” and to eliminate undesirable or uncommon behaviors and actions. While much of the therapy we have implemented has been extremely helpful and beneficial, there are times that I question whether or not Charlie feels on some level that he is being forced to fit into a box that is just too small for him. Perhaps he is very aware that the “world out there” does not think his behaviors are acceptable and while as his mother I recognize that there are absolutes we must teach him and work on in order to ensure his safety, respect of individuals, right vs. wrong, it is a personal struggle for me to guide him in these ways while ensuring I am in no way making him ashamed of who he is as a person. As defined by Brene Brown in Daring Greatly, SHAME IS THE INTENSELY PAINFUL FEELING OR EXPERIENCE OF BELIEVING THAT WE ARE FLAWED AND THEREFORE UNWORTHY OF LOVE AND BELONGING. Most people (after reading that definition) would do their best to avoid inflicting that emotion or feeling on anyone, especially their own children.
So in an effort to take what I am learning in this course and apply it in my everyday life, I will focus on my kids. In all honesty, I am not quite ready to focus on myself just yet and that’s okay. So boys, this one’s for you. Here is what I want you to know from your Mom who has chosen the Arena of Parenthood as my first mountain to climb……..
- I am okay with your “neurotypical” behaviors and will not make you feel ashamed or misunderstood because of these behaviors.
- I will work alongside your teachers and therapists to help you adjust some of your reactions or emotions but only to the extent it will help you grow and learn and not to stifle your own feelings and emotions simply because I may not “get it.”
- No diagnosis will ever define who you are or who you will be as a person. Be proud of your own unique personality and quality, own it and tell your own story.
- Our world can be disapproving and judgmental at times – as your mom I will do my very best not to be. You can be you with me and I will join you where you are.
- I will stop asking how I can change your behavior, change who you are and change why you act certain ways. I will start focusing on how I can improve our relationship, our connection and how I can help you.
- I will not shame you into changing or behaving in a certain way. I will teach you, guide you and make you aware of how your behaviors impact those around you.
- You are not flawed. You are amazing and inspiring every single day. You are trying every single day which is a major accomplishment.
- Just because I think you are great and will not shame you into behaving in certain ways, does not mean you can do anything you want. Guilt about how you behave is okay and will come at times as I parent you, but guilt is about your behaviors not about you as a person.
- Never forget how authentic you are today as a child. You show up every day and have no fear in letting your true self be seen.
- Being vulnerable is okay. Asking for help is okay. Keep trying, keep putting yourself out and there keep being seen. Never worry about the critics who are not in your arena.