I wrote this in response to a query from a writer for Martha Stewart magazine who was looking for answers from women 50+ to this question: What’s the #1 piece of advice you’d like to tell your younger self? My answer wasn’t used, so I am sharing it with you.
You are a distinct and separate person from your mother. You have your own desires, preferences, wants, likes, and dislikes. You have your own wisdom, your own truth, your own values. You are not her “Mini-Me.”
Before you learn this, however, you will spend years of your life trying to please her and appease her. You will spend much of your precious energy trying to earn her love and approval. You won’t trust yourself. You will turn to her over and over again for advice that ultimately won’t serve you. You will dim your light if it appears she doesn’t like to see you shining. You will adjust yourself, contort yourself, and bend yourself into someone who is unrecognizable to you.
You will feel stunted, less-than, and pathetic. Your shame will have you eating too much food, having sex with men who don’t respect you you, drinking too much, spending too much, taking dangerous diet pills, and putting yourself in dangerous situations. Eventually you will start to treat others the way she treated you…the way you treated yourself. Your shame will have you lashing out at others, pretending to be someone you are not, telling fantastical lies, and engaging in behavior that is unfair to others because you feel so inadequate and irrelevant.
Root yourself in your autonomy. Ground yourself in your humanity. Acknowledge your shadow. Take your power back. Surrender to the whole truth of who you are. Understand that you will not die if your mother doesn’t approve of you, even though in the back of your little girl brain it surely feels that way. Breathe.
Because shame does not become you.
What advice do you have for your younger self?
Much, much love,
P.S. I think about shame. A lot. I am fascinated by it. I notice when I feel it. I notice the thoughts that create it. I notice the unmet needs that underpin the actions I take when I feel shame. And then I ask myself if there’s a healthier way to meet those needs (thank you to Christie Inge who’s work has been central to this practice).
In this way I am able to unshame myself. Unshaming ourselves is the greatest act of love and courage the world will ever see. For ourselves and for the world.
Here are some of other shame-related posts: