Shame and grace. These are the two things on my mind today. As a mom with anxiety, I can spiral quickly when I make mistakes. Last night I made a doozy. It’s hard to even call it a mistake – yelling at my husband about something that barely matters in front of my oldest daughter, getting so upset that I broke a plate (accidentally) when I slammed my fork down on the table.
That sent me on a spiral of thinking about what a bad mother and wife I am. How my family would be better of without me. I couldn’t sleep. There were tears and self pity. There were a lot of thoughts and concerns about whether I’m too bad, too out of control.
That’s the problem with shame and embarrassment. They don’t offer any grace. Any hope of doing better next time. Any way to change. If you are a bad mother and wife, what’s the point in trying to be better – you ARE bad. No one can offer forgiveness and support and help you to figure out a way to do better next time.
Grace and forgiveness. Pointless without an understanding that I can do better.
My husband and daughter offered both immediately after I apologized last night. They offered them again when I apologized again this morning. It’s hardest for me to offer them to myself.
That’s the hardest thing.
I still struggle with it.
My relationship with my mother was never the smoothest or the easiest. She was unable to regulate her emotions. She was unable to see a future for me that wasn’t the one she imagined and her anxiety forced her into a critical tone when she really wanted to protect me from the things she believed might cause me a problem (her anxiety told her that boys wouldn’t like me if I wasn’t a size 2 and she didn’t want me to go date-less in high school, so the obvious solution was to force a healthy teenage girl on restrictive and punitive diet plans that she also subjected herself to). These were acts of love. I know this. But it didn’t feel like love. She would get overwhelmed and angry when worried about how things would affect me. Leading to yelling and judgmental language.
At the time it felt that I wasn’t good enough, that she didn’t love me. At times I worried that she was a crazy person. Irrational and unfair. It made our relationship rocky and now, every time I act emotional I worry that I’m just the same.
That my relationship with my own daughters will be similarly problematic.
So I get worried when I overreact or get emotionally dysregulated (to use my therapist terminology to make the language less, well, emotional in here). It’s hard to forgive myself and to offer myself the grace that my kids seem to give so freely.
I try to remind myself that part of the reason they can give it so freely is because it hasn’t been required of them very often. That I’m doing the best that I can. But it’s so hard with the shame dragon riding my back.
This is why I work so hard to move from shame to guilt. As Brené Brown says, shame is “I am bad” while guilt is “I did bad.” Did I act in a way unbecoming and ineffective at establishing happiness in my relationships with my husband and children? No. I did bad. I didn’t do well at expressing my emotions and I conflated multiple situations that were completely unrelated. I did a bad thing. I didn’t model good behavior.
But, and this is a big but, I did model effective apologizing and vulnerability and guilt instead of a shame response.
I want to do better, I don’t want our relationships to be strained. I want to be a mother they can rely on and who they believe they can trust and know thinks they’re amazing at all times. But that relationship isn’t a one time thing. It’s not a one time mistake away from ruined forever. Relationships are built on vulnerability and part of vulnerability is owning up to mistakes. To offering apologies when wrong.
So I’m working on getting to guilt so I don’t have to worry that I’m a terrible mother because in these times of pandemic trauma and political pain at every turn, I need to take my grace where I can offer it.