“I’m so angry with myself” she tells me, her voice cracking with fury, “I should have checked it out long ago – but I had my mother’s reaction; ‘That’ll be expensive. Leave it to come right by itself’. You know how she was.
What makes me angry is that’s how I tell myself I’m not important enough to look after properly! It was bad enough when she did it but now I’m doing the same thing to myself? I should know better!”
I do know how her mother was. I also know that when she was small she tried her best to be perfect, to be good enough so that maybe her mother would manage to love her better. I know she used to beat herself up for any imperfection – she still does, for example, “I should know better!”.
“So what you’re saying, “ I respond with a sad smile, “is that taking months to get the help you needed shows you believe you are not important enough and that makes you angry with yourself. The fact that you did that shows you are not good enough – not getting it right yet. That makes you feel shame, so you behave in ways that imply you’re not important enough. That makes you get angry with yourself so you shame yourself again for believing and behaving as though you are not important enough. The anger and shame make you feel not good enough so you … are you getting me?”
She looks at me with big eyes for a frozen moment, really seeing the perpetuating cycle and then bursts out laughing, shaking her head.
No-one learns when they are shouted at, beaten or shamed.
When we are shouted at we feel threatened and scared so our brain helpfully shifts into ‘survival mode’. Danger sensors alert, chemicals prepare the body to fight off the danger, flee from it or freeze – like animals do in the wild. In those moments our rational brain is not really online. We are not calmly assessing what is being said and done and coming to thoughtful open-minded conclusions. No. We are nervous and jumpy and our brain is shouting, “RUN! Kill it! Just stand still, don’t move. Maybe it will go away.”
That’s why our child can’t hear or appreciate discipline in the heat of the moment. That’s why it’s best to wait until things are calm to do the disciplining. That’s why you can’t behave in the ways you’d like to when you are all het up. That’s why IT DOESN’T ACTUALLY HELP TO BEAT YOURSELF UP ABOUT IT AFTERWARDS!
It does the opposite of help.
In a volley of comments after my post my reader Olivia and I co-created the concept of the ‘Dalai Mama’ and I just love it. Thanks Olivia!
This is the mama or papa we all want to be. It’s the calm, wise, compassionate, all-knowing, all-accepting being we beat ourselves viciously with a stick to try to attain.
How weird are we? Can you imagine the Dalai Lama being trained to be who he is with beatings, threats and shame? Jon Kabbatz-Zin tells a story of how he once mentioned the hugely pervasive problem of low self-esteem in a conversation with the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama was surprised and saddened that such a thing could be.
Can you imagine that? Not even having the concept within you.
The truth is you are fine exactly as you are.
Really. The DL knows that.
Even with all the things you want to learn to do differently, all the ways you still hurt yourself and others, all the ways you keep yourself small.
You. Are. Just. Fine. As. You. Are.
We learn and then we can do differently. If we had nothing to learn what would be the point?
We each do the best we can with what we’ve got at every given moment. This is also true of our parents and anyone who did us harm.
I didn’t say our best is necessarily any good.
WE DO THE BEST WE CAN WITH WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT WE’VE GOT AT EVERY MOMENT.
And it is good enough.
It makes no sense at all to try to scare or shame yourself or your kids into being ‘better’ than what you are. You are where you are. As you learn more you will do differently. Until then are you supposed to live in shame? That makes no sense to me. Go out there and learn proudly.
I’m not afraid of the Dalai Mama. I will turn to her for reassurance that all is as it needs to be in every given moment – even the things I REALLY wish were different.
How have you been beating yourself with the Dalai Mama?
I wish all of us were taught this from birth – but, better late than never. Pass this on to others who may benefit from knowing they are fine just as they are.
I am a friend of Olivia’s and this is a frequent subject of conversation (the self-hate and shaming and auto-bullying that then inevitably spills out over my two beautiful and innocent girls)… and I would LOVE to introduce this concept to my kids. Wonder how, especially having turned into MamaZilla this morning over slow moving preparations for school…
Oh Anne I laughed out loud at your MamaZilla comment. But isn’t that EXACTLY the time to demonstrate this concept? “I hate that I was MamaZilla this morning and not the Dalai Mama – but I don’t hate myself. I could turn on myself now but that would only make me feel worse about myself and make the chance of my MamaZilla-ness emerging increase – ‘cos I’ll be all stressed from telling myself I’m bad. I want to learn how to do it differently. See girls? I am not beating myself up or hating myself. I’m going to lovingly think about why it drove me so totally mad that this morning was so slow – and next time I feel myself all stirred up like that, I will ask myself what I need and give it to myself. It will probably be reassurance of some kind – maybe that I am important enough or good enough or that it will all be fine. Hey, remind me will you? When I’m getting grumpy just remind me to give myself some momma-love.”
Check out next week’s post on this topic 🙂
Thanks for your comments
Yes Anne is indeed my very dear friend with whom I have shared my most intimate parenting struggles – and the good bits! Love love love that you made a post out of our online conversation Eilat. Hope to meet you in person one day!
How could I not? It hit such a nerve with so many. It’s lovely to meet you online like this. And I made contact with Leslie from PureJoy Parenting. A lovely introduction you made. Thanks.
Another incredible post. Thanks for the time and the heart you put into it. I’ve realized that most moms want the same thing – for their kids to be healthy and happy. They sometimes forget their own happiness in the process, though. I particularly love your correlation to the Dalai Lama since he wrote one of my favorite books, The Art of Happiness. I also feel validated by the “Dalai Mama” concept because my last two posts deal with something in a similar vein, but with a different approach. This first is called, “Hello, Younger Self” where I give myself advice, and the one posting today is called “Confections of Motherhood.” Can’t wait for your next piece!
Hi Rachel. Thanks so much for your comments. I popped onto your blog a while ago and it’s lovely. I couldn’t leave a comment though – it wouldn’t let me somehow. I’ll go see your posts. They sound good 🙂 I love the going back in time to support your younger self idea.
I’ll check on the comment mix-up. Thanks for your support! It was great to stumble upon your blog one day and immediately love it. I hope normalizing the challenges of parenting in a chaotic world will help heal a lot of struggling people.
Absolutely. And the more of us that use our hearts and voices to bring that healing into the world the better! So glad to connect 🙂