Dear Visible Man,
I am writing because I am ashamed. I am ashamed of myself because I have not been willing to stand up to my mother. I am 31 years old, and have always considered myself to be a strong black woman, but I continue to allow my mother to control and be abusive towards me.
I was raised in the church, where I learned to “honor my parents.” However, I feel that my mother used scripture to manipulate and control me. If I made a mistake, she used scripture to hold that mistake over my head. To this day, she still demands that I continue to obey her and if I fail to do so, it’s another mistake that she needs to correct through scripture.
I feel that my mother seeks to live her life through me. Even though I now live on my own and have a job that pays me well, she tells me that unless I do things her way, I will be a failure.
I have completed law school at Howard University, and I recently became involved with a person that I hope to eventually marry. Due to her history of bad relationships and mistrust of men, she has been abusive to my male friends in the past, and she has already indicated that she doesn’t think that my boyfriend is good enough for me. However, she still wants to meet him. I’m hesitant to let that happen, though– I fear that my mother will destroy this relationship.
How can I live my life without the ongoing interference by my mother?
Seeking My Way, Portland, OR
Dear Young Woman,
I would like to congratulate you on your willingness to write about an issue that is clearly painful for you. Having said that, I believe that we should focus on reinforcing your empowerment instead of devaluing your psychological self. Therefore I will ask that you refrain from the internal assaults and further wounding you are delivering to the psychological self . Work with me to reduce the pain that is there, instead of adding to it. Let’s work towards healing the emotional wounds that you have endured for so long.
It is evident that you are responding to feelings associated with shame. The feeling of shame can be defined as:
- A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness or disgrace.
- An act that brings dishonor, disgrace or public condemnation.
- An object of great disappointment.
The basic nature of excessive shame is that the person enduring shame feels unworthy, defective and empty. Shame can be debilitating, toxic and extremely destructive, and it separates the individual from the psychological self. Shame creates an internal crisis that attacks the inner self through triggering a spiral of negative self-talk.
Shame can occur in different and distinctive subtypes: social, competence, toxic and existential (being). For the purpose of this writing, I will focus on the competence and existential being subtypes. These are defined as the following:
- Competence Shame targets five core-internalized beliefs of the individual:
“I am not good enough.”
“I don’t belong.”
“I am unlovable.”
“I should not be….”
This form of shame can be cancerous in that it thrives in and increases the perceived gap between what individuals can do and what they think or feel they should do. The outcome is that the individual feels like a fraud or failure. Individuals with competence shame feel weak, inadequate, or ineffective. The appearance of competence shame reinforces the belief that the person who suffers from it is defective.
- Existential (Being) Shame is the most difficult of the subtypes because it consciously attacks the individual’s right to This is done via the internalization and repetition of the following core messages:
“My life is meaningless.”
“I am worthless.”
“I have nothing to live for.”
Where the other forms of shame may just increase perceived gaps, existential shame removes hope and meaning completely from one’s life. Of the different subtypes, this form is the one that is most predictive of suicide.
YOUNG WOMAN, these subtypes have been laid out with the hope that you will see that you may be responding to intense emotions that are by their nature, slicing away at the core of your psychological self. Shame differs from humiliation in that humiliation requires the actions of others to induce those feelings of inadequacy. Shame in and of itself is self-reinforcing as well as self-inducing. It does not require external energy. It rests and rebuilds from within you.
However, healing from your shame is also within you. There is a two-phase approach you may take to begin and reinforce the healing process. This is called understanding and action.
During the phase of understanding, you must want to:
- Be patient with the wounded psychological self as it moves towards healing.
- Be curious about finding the personal answers to the questions and doubts that cause your shame.
- Accept the self and your reality.
From there, you must want to affirm the following within your psychological self:
- Personal Responsibility– assuming responsibility for your shame and not blaming others is key to change.
- Planning- is essential to healing shame. It is essential to develop a workable plan that addresses the shame that occurs in your daily life.
- Perseverance-shame will continue to resurface as one continues to work towards healing. It is important to internalize this concept when times become more difficult.
It is in the “understanding phase” that you want to question the church and home-instilled foundation that holds your value of honoring your parents and balance this with the manipulative behaviors and actions of your mother.
There is no writing in the scriptures that sanctions the manipulative and abusive behaviors of your mother. Your own inaction in resolving your internalized conflicts maintains the hold your mother has on you.
Your behavior and lack of movement may be an indication of “living in fear” and unwilling to work towards “living with fear.” If so ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I in fear of?
- Why am I holding myself to the same path I’ve already walked on?
- Why am I fearful of walking a different path?
- What will change for me if I transformed myself to living with fear?”
Within the understanding phase, seek to answer the following questions:
- Do I love myself? If so, how do I show that I love me… and love me more?
- What do I want? What am I willing to do in order to get what I want?
- Am I willing to let go of my past and in doing so, let go of my mother? Am I willing to grasp the future that is unknown to me?
Take the walk to the new path—that is, acceptance of reality. Come to understand the possibility of the following realities:
- My mother’s distrust of men has destroyed her attempts of happiness in her life.
- My mother’s need to live her life through me may ultimately result in my life mirroring hers and being just as empty and distrustful.
- My mother does love me and yet her love is contributing towards my life lacking in happiness and fulfillment.
YOUNG WOMAN, as you move into the next phase i.e. action, please consider the following:
- I, not my mother, am responsible for my feelings. I can heal the wounded self.
- I love my mother, as shown in my actions. However, as much as I love my mother, I want to love me more.
- My mother contributed to my foundation of “being” and becoming a woman. It is for me to take direction of my life from this point on. I can and will do this.
Create structure and boundaries for self. Inform your mother of the following:
- Specific behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable.
- Your no tolerance policy of abuse towards self or disrespect towards your male friends.
- The willingness to “let her go” should she continue to hold to her current actions and behaviors.
YOUNG WOMAN, in closing, I leave you at the crossroads. I have listened to your pain and suffering. As you have been “living in fear,” you have allowed the psychological self to suffer under the weight of your mother’s lost and unfulfilled past. It is for you to embrace your shame.
Your wounds are the results of being in conflict of serving two masters, one loving yet cruel, the other begging, pleading for freedom from the self-imposed yoke. As you stand at the crossroads, understand that only you can free the psychological self and attain the life you seek. However, in order to do so, you must want to “live with fear.”
Yes, it is a possibility that the price for freedom may result in loss of connection or reduction of interaction with your mother. However, remember that you, in partnership with the psychological self (and not your mother), have achieved the fulfillment of your educational and professional goals.
Will you trust the self to attain the fulfillment of personal happiness in the form of a intimate relationship?
Will you have BELIEF, FAITH & TRUST in the journey that lies ahead?
Loving the Self
As much as I love you,
I love myself more.
Loving me more, does not mean
I love you less.
It only means
I love me more.
The Visible Man