The Shame that Binds You

By Ken Wells - 07/12/2022


Series Three: Blog Forty-three

I recently visited relatives who live in a small farm community in the Midwest. I was privileged to be invited to a small community coffee. The town’s population was 40. Everyone was pretty much related to each other. It was held in a nondescript farm office. They made the coffee but you bring your own cup. I borrowed one from my relative. There were three other men plus me.

In the beginning everyone was quiet and I stared at the bulletin board and the walls around me. Then, one of the guys began talking about Jerry. He had recently died from a stroke in his old age. These are guys who grew up with each other and interacted for decades. Jerry was single. He was a mama’s boy whose mother had chased away the only two girls who showed interest.  He was described as an eccentric individual with a peculiar pattern of obsessive compulsive behavior. He loved making beer bread on Saturday mornings. For years one of the men attending the coffee would take a bottle of beer to him on Friday so that he could make the bread. Jerry refused to be seen purchasing beer at the grocery. He lived an uneventful life. Jerry went through a midlife crisis.  He broke out and bought a bicycle and started drinking Mountain Dew.

His most neurotic behavior involved the 20 chickens that he raised. Jerry did not eat eggs. He generously distributed them to his neighbors. You became a regular recipient if you engaged conversation and gossip with him. On his basement wall he maintained a detailed account of every egg he ever delivered for 46 years! The record included date, name and the amount of eggs delivered. He delivered 13,646 dozen eggs to those who would gossip with him. Jerry liked to refer to himself as “we”. He would often say to himself “I don’t know why we do this?” However, he continued the count until he got too old to deliver the eggs.

People act obsessive compulsively to reduce fear and anxiety of not being in control. Most addicts can relate to Jerry even though they don’t raise chickens or keep fastidious records of their kind acts to others. They share with Jerry the anxiety and fear of not being in control.

Addicts carry the shame of their parents. This is triggered when a child is put in a position of needing to respond as an adult. There is a myriad of ways that this can happen. Sometimes kids carry their parents’ rage. If you ask them in adulthood what their parents were so angry about, they won’t be able to tell you. Yet, they have adopted a similar anger response to things in life that their parents expressed.

Sometimes generational shame is expressed through depression nourished by mistaken beliefs such as “life is overwhelming and I cannot cope”. During the present moment they won’t be able to tell you why they feel so discouraged. Likely they won’t be aware that they are carrying generational shame through depression.

Roles that children play can also express carried shame. Family roles can be healthy when they are chosen and not assigned. When a child becomes a scapegoat, the family clown or hero, they fill a need that is left unmet by parents who have the responsibility to meet those family needs. Kids make up where they fit into the family. Doing so promotes validation through approval from their parents. Frequently, children lose their sense of self-awareness through identifying with their family roles. They discover their value in what they do rather than who they are. Yet, they can never do enough to fulfill the need for being validated for who they are. This is how children get set up to carry their parents’ shame.

If you are a rager as an adult and don’t know why, it is often because you are carrying your parents’ rage. Dad or mom got the kids’ attention when their needs were expressed through rage. A child absorbs this energy and exercises the same behavior to get the same results. They learn to carry their parents shame by becoming a tough S.O.B. when things don’t work out the way they want. They learn to explode in order to provide the same or opposite results when things did not work out for their parents.

When you trace the feelings that keep you stuck, it will often lead back to shame that has been carried by your mother or father or other significant caregiver. At first it will be confusing, but when you peel back the mistaken beliefs that shroud the dominant feeling, it will lead to a discovery of the shame source that kept your parents stuck. Examine the mistaken belief that energizes your unwanted feelings. Once you uncover it, explore how this same mistaken belief dominated your parents when you were young. This will help you understand what keeps you stuck now.

Generational shame is carried through powerful feelings like, depression, anger, sadness, fear, loneliness etc. It is shrouded in mistaken beliefs that trigger behavior which keep the shame intact. Compulsive behaviors, i.e. addiction and family dysfunction, are fueled by generational shame bound by mistaken beliefs. Even Jerry’s OCD behaviors about counting the eggs he distributed are tied to generational shame. His fear of abandonment and loneliness fueled his generous behavior which was tied to an elusive need for control driven by the generational shame that he carried.

< What are the feelings that keep you stuck?

< What mistaken beliefs shroud the feelings you feel stuck with?

< Trace how your parents may have been stuck in the same feelings with the same mistaken beliefs. This will be the pathway of understanding to how generational shame is passed to you from the previous generation.

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