When I was in primary school, probably around 8 or 9 years old, a friend’s mother dropped me off at my house in her car. I got out and did what I always did when I was dropped off across the road from my house – I walked in front of the car so the driver could see me because in my mind and my experience, of course she would be watching to make sure I got in the door before she left. But she wasn’t watching, and so she didn’t see me, and she accelerated, and she hit me. Not hard, but she hit me, with her big 4WD.
I was in shock. I had been hit by a car, and a huge car at that. So what did she do? She blamed me. She discharged her own shame for hitting a child with her car onto me. She told me that I should have known better, that I should know to always walk behind a car, never in front. Of course I couldn’t tell her that I had expected her to wait until I was inside my house before she drove off as had every other parent that had ever dropped me off before – because that was what safety required of a parent in this situation, and I had walked in front of her car so she could see me more easily as I got there. She wouldn’t allow that.
No, I just went further into shock as she blamed me, and ran inside my house and hid under a table and cried. And cried. I had been made to feel too stupid to tell anyone about what happened, BECAUSE I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER, so I didn’t. I didn’t tell my parents, I didn’t tell my siblings, I kept all the shame to myself and I carried it with me, until today, when I could finally unravel it, share it and let it go.
Today I am 34. I carried this shame – this entrenched but unconscious feeling of “I am stupid” – with me for the past 25 years. This underlying sense of feeling stupid followed me with every move and every decision I made. For two and a half decades! Despite my high grades at school, despite my 92.15 ENTER score, despite my Distinction average at university, I always thought I was stupid. I always thought that I should know better.
And as I sit here, I realise how much this feeling of being stupid affected my life. I felt too stupid to ever get a real job in my field, despite my qualifications. I felt too stupid to chase a lot of the things I wanted in life, because being stupid I felt I didn’t deserve them, or couldn’t achieve them anyway. And maybe most significantly, for the past 25 years I’ve discharged this shame onto others whenever anyone has made me feel slightly stupid, in my conscious mind.
And now that I’ve unravelled this, I finally don’t feel stupid anymore. I’m not stupid. 25 years later, and I’ve finally been able to lift this evil veil from my life once and for all. And it’s not like I haven’t been trying!
It’s been a long, hard road to get here – and why? Because someone else couldn’t deal with their own shame. Because someone else took the easy road and discharged their shame onto an innocent child. I suffered for 25 years because of the decision that lady made that day. As a child I had no protection against this kind of thing – children are open, that’s why they are so beautiful. And it is up to us as adults to protect that beauty, and to honour that openness, not betray it.
And if we do betray it, as can and does happen (no one is perfect, and we likely all carry some shame from the past) – we need to take the steps as soon as possible to make things right. To make sure that innocent child knows we over reacted, that it wasn’t their fault – and most importantly that they are not stupid. The quality of the next few decades of that child’s life may depend on your ability to take responsibility and apologise. This is important stuff; don’t ever think that because they are ‘just a child’ that they won’t take it on. It’s because they are ‘just a child’ that they likely lack the resilience required to not take it on.
So, through sharing my story, there are a few things I’d like you to take with you…
- The importance of teaching a child resilience to this kind of shaming from the day they are born through teaching them the difference between “I am” and “I did” – the difference between the actor and the action. This applies not only to parents but also to anyone who is a role model in a child’s life – teachers, coaches, aunts, uncles, parent’s friends, etc, etc. See this article for more info. Check out Brene Brown’s work for information about building shame resilience. Here is a study showing that gentle and nurturing parenting from birth helps with healthy brain and emotional development.
- The realisation of how much of an effect your actions can have on others, especially young people, and therefore the importance of working on your own shame through honouring your sense of worthiness and belonging, so you are less likely to discharge your shame onto others. We need to break the shame cycle. And that starts with you. Check out Brene Brown’s work for information about learning how to handle your shame. Or if you want the fast forward version of clearing your shit (shame included), check out Dane Tomas’s clearing techniques. (I did a clearing session with Dane a week before this all finally unravelled for me and it made all the difference. And if you can fast forward the clearing of your shame, so you can live with more peace, intent and clarity now, why wouldn’t you?)
- The importance of learning to be gentle with and forgiving of ourselves, as this is the only way that we are able to go through an experience of discharging our shame onto someone, and following through afterwards by taking responsibility and apologising. Only by accepting and loving ourselves in this moment, despite having done something to hurt another, can we have the self-compassion needed to make things right by them, and by ourselves. Self-love is the only way to heal the cycle of shame. Check out this great article about practicing self-love.
Thanks for reading my story. I hope it inspires you to become a better version of you. xo
Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Science
Currently studying: Master of Human Nutrition
But most importantly, Imperfect Human
Photo credit: edward musiak – innocence of a child