Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Remedy for Shame

From a very early age, we need to learn to understand our emotions so we can learn how to control them. If, for example, a father tells his little son to wipe those tears away because real men don’t cry—the little boy will have trouble understanding his emotions. A little girl who screams and kicks, to which her mother quickly responds by giving her whatever she wants so she will stop, will also not learn to control her emotions.

Consider Samantha who grew up in an authoritarian home where her father spoke forcefully, showed little affection and had strict rules.  His rules, such as, “No talking at the dinner table,” took the fun out of life.  When she broke the rules, he reacted quickly with angry words that made her feel afraid.

Samantha’s father threatened her, causing her to fear him.  He resembled a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde who had two completely different personalities and was like a volcano on the verge of eruption.  Samantha always wondered how he could act like a tyrant at home, yet be kind to a stranger.  The only place she always felt completely comfortable was the home of her aunt and uncle, so she would go there as often as she could. Unfortunately, Samantha’s fears followed her into her adult years, undermining her self-confidence.

Loren grew up in a home with permissive parents with few boundaries that left her without a sense of security.  Because her father was an alcoholic, she was not able to have a close relationship with him.  Although Loren never found the best role model in her mother or father, she did find it in a neighboring family where she spent most of her time.  Because she saw constant conflict between her mother and father, she quickly learned to avoid hostile situations by running away from them.  She learned to deal with conflict by avoiding it. Growing up with no boundaries contributed to her experiencing extremely painful and shameful encounters.  The shame followed her into adulthood and became a major adversary.

Although dissimilar, these two examples have shame in common.  Both children grew up under reactive parenting. The first child had an over-controlling parent, and the second had an under-controlling parent.[1]  The over-controlling parent often causes his child to hold his emotions in, while the under-controlling parent causes her child to act out her emotions. However, neither child knew how to identify shame in their lives, and, even worse, they didn’t know how to get rid of it. Because neither set of parents were emotionally available, both children found some other person with whom to connect.

What every child longs for is to be loved unconditionally and accepted simply for being himself, regardless of how he measures up to external standards, and doing this will give him a higher self-esteem. If a parent withholds their affection from a child because they are disappointed with the child’s behavior, the child will come to see himself as worthlessness and will feel insecure. 

The remedy for shame is for parents to try to resolve the conflicts and confusion that arise for the child in the family. Children need us to teach them the dangers of envy, greed, selfish-ambition and power. The best way to do that is to teach them the biblical values of love, joy, peace, and faithfulness among others. God’s way doesn’t come naturally; in fact it is unnatural to our sinful nature and our sinful world.  However, unless we live and teach God’s way to our children, they will never know the person God meant them to be. We do this by making deposits into their lives of our faith, character, love and forgiveness.

I slid my card into the ATM machine and then punched the corresponding numbers. Suddenly, fresh, crisp bills came out.  I picked them up and placed them in my wallet. Then I reached down and grabbed my three-year-old son’s hand and headed for my car.  As we walked, his little mind was thinking about what he had just seen.  It was the first time he had ever seen an ATM machine, and because I was in a hurry, I hadn’t noticed his curiosity.  By the time we reached the car and drove away, he said to me: “Daddy, you know I have some money in my piggy bank.  What do you say we put our money together and buy one of those machines?”  It was a great moment I have always treasured.  However, I took the opportunity to teach my small son about the basic concept of banking, which has some real similarities to life.  If we want to make withdrawals, we have to make deposits.  The only way our children will understand the significance of their lives is if we deposit the truth about who God is and who we are.  Good parenting is about depositing the spiritual principles of God’s Word in our children so that when life demands withdrawals, they have some answers. It is the real remedy for shame. If we make enough deposits of love through an authentic parental model, our children will overcome shame and develop a healthy sense of self-confidence.

[1] Van den Akker, Alithe, Maja Dkovic, Rebecca Shiner, Jessica Asscher, & Peter Prinzie, “Personality types in childhood: Relations to latent trajectory classes of problem behavior and overreactive parenting across the transition into adolescence,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, no.4 (2013): 750-764. doi:10.1037/a0031184

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