Friday after school, we had an unusually peaceful few hours before going to pick up dinner from our favorite BBQ place. Often, the time between after school and dinner can be trying. Both boys returned from school, busied themselves with chores, books, and playing without incident or a tantrum by me (begging to be allowed to focus and finish my work).
So, I placed our dinner, a hefty bag of BBQ, Brunswick Stew, and MacnCheese on the counter, while I washed up. The bag toppled as my younger son reached for it. It seriously exploded as it hit the floor, shattering the containers sending the macncheese and stew in all directions. My son, immediately distraught–flopped into the dog’s bed and put his hands over his face. First, my heart broke for how bad he was feeling.
BUT THEN I felt something so magical, which defies articulation, the miracle of being able to hug him and tell him: It is ok. It was an accident. If he had been agitating his brother or me or horsing around, I would have lost my shit and surely defaulted to shaming and guilting him. Old habits die hard. He was bummed that the stew, which was my dinner, was completely lost. I assured him: “It is fiiiiine, I am disappointed by my lack of stew and the reason I am not mad is because it was an accident. Accidents happen and I can eat some BBQ with you. There is plenty. I will have stew next time.”
Inappropriately, of course, I added, while scooping up the mess with a spatula into a trash bag, “Save your guilt for when you are being an asshole to your brother or me. That is something to feel bad about.” I continued by sharing that guilt is for those moments when we have knowingly made choices that cause trouble. Shame and guilt are not for– accidents, circumstances out of our hands, or things we do not yet know.
Fuck shame, shaming, and shamers. That is what I say. I used to feel so terribly ashamed for things that were said to me or about me by others. I used to feel ashamed for the unkindness which I was taught that I earned. But recovery teaches me to reserve
shame guilt for only my own poor choices. AND No matter how bad my choices, I am not even a tiny bit responsible for someone else’s behavior. EVER. It is not possible to effectively impose shame on a person who has been inoculated with shame resilience. I think repeating and continuing deceptive and hurtful behavior is shameful and shameworthy.
I am working with my sons to illuminate the difference between shame and guilt. To be willing to be taught but not controlled by them. Shame says “I am a bad person and deserve bad things.” Guilt says “I did a bad thing and can do better.” Either way, amending is the best way to get through to the other side. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how to amend. It always takes courage and humility and those can take time too. Shaming and blaming will lead to nothing good or wholesome. We are learning to recognize those who try to gain advantage in those ways. They are not safe.
My older son lightened the moment by saying “Goddammit Magda, this is why everyone hates you.” We laugh endlessly over family experiences that once brought me shame. My boys know and get me and love me and all the awkward painful stories which I share with them. Whenever something is fucked up and we don’t know why, one of them will always say “Magda did it”. Poor lil Magda.Much Love,
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