I’m working on a series of children’s books about shame. In each book, you meet a child who has a shaming experience. Each child lives with this shame and expresses it in a different way. Then an adult in their life steps in and gives them a strategy (or superpower) to deal with that shame.
In my original first book, the superpower was the Illuminator. The Illuminator’s power is to dispel the dark cloud or shadow that shame casts over you, by focusing and listing positives about yourself. By doing that, the child casts off the cloud of lies that shame is telling them.
I started “illuminating” in college. Around my junior year, I began to feel like the cloud of shame around me was so dark that I could not see any light. I needed something but was too afraid to talk to anyone. I thought they’d just affirm what I was thinking. The last thing I needed was someone agreeing with what my shame was telling me.
Something had to change, so I went out and I bought a journal. I decided I would write a mandatory five good things that happened to me each day. I wasn’t ready to make it about me, but finding the good and light around me still seemed feasible. I began to list. (If you know me, you know lists are my love language.)
When I started, the lists were feeble at best. “I got ice cream at dinner." “I went for a run.” “I got an A on the test.” I still wasn’t addressing the core issues, but it was enough for me to begin to be more hopeful.
The thing with illuminating — which a friend of mine, Maraeca Butler, a counselor in Arizona, reminded me — is you have to be careful to not make it about performance. “It can often be a twist of shame,” she said, “to base our worth on our abilities or accomplishments — basically, earning our worth or the love of others.”
I think that’s why, for me, my initial versions of illuminating (I would do it off and on for 10 years) would help with some of the symptoms of shame, but did not get to the core of my shame. I was still looking at it like I had to earn love, or that I needed to be "fill in the blank here" to have people's approval. It was not something I deserved for being myself, it was something I had to work to achieve.What I did not realize was that I had no self-worth statements in my journal, or in my heart.
When you illuminate, or when you illuminate with your child, don’t just list the accomplishments you’re proud of; also include items about your/their innate self-worth. It may not come natural to you, it DEFINITELY did not for me, but if you Google it you can find many examples. OR, go to my previous blog post written by the brilliant Maraeca Butler "What is an Innate Self-Worth Statement?" She gives great examples of what an innate self-worth statement is and why they are important. For simplicity sake, an example of one that Maraeca has given is: “Everyone deserves love and belonging, and that includes me.”
That’s a critical truth to teach our children. One I didn’t believe of myself for the longest time. In fact, I remember, in college, reading and being terrified by a Paulo Coelho quote: “You will be loved and respected only if you love and respect yourself.” It made me cry, because I knew I didn’t love myself, and I wondered if that meant I could never be loved.
I never want my kids to feel that way. Frankly, I want no one to ever feel that way. That’s why it’s so important to remember the innate affirmations. It’s good to be proud of our achievements, but they’re not all that defines us. More importantly, you do not need achievements to have worth and to be loved. I think we all need to work on remembering that truth.
There’s another Coelho quote I find much more hopeful now. One I try to remember every day. “One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.”