Developmental Shame



I believe all parents do the best they can in each moment, well-intentioned and yet not always an optimal outcome.

My mom used three core pillars in my formative years.

  1. You can be anything you want to be

  2. They're just jealous

  3. Don't make waves

None of these were ideal and they certainly didn't mix well.

As I look back, I can see how they were meant to distill hope, courage, confidence, inner guidance, tenacity, and security.

But they ALL came at a cost.

Let's go backwards in time, from the bottom of the list up, to see why. 

"Don't Make Waves" was absolutely infuriating to me as a child and teen. It was almost always invoked when I was trying to navigate contradictions - whether I was just asking questions to understand or actually stoking a confrontation.

The phrase was like handcuffs, blindfolds, and rope binds (and not in a fun, dungeon-play sort of way!). Those words put me in my place and told me to conform. They reminded me I was unimportant no matter how true my observation or how logical my presentation. They told me to shut up.

She wasn't trying to do this. She was trying to protect me while navigating a power-hungry, co-dependant system that feared life without a man at the helm and used shame as a sword.

Mom and I were close as sisters and as open as best friends. Italian families are never just the core unit though. My family of origin was not the typical mom/dad/siblings. It was aunts, uncles, and cousins- all led by grandparents. My typical loud, high-energy Italian-American system was thrown into chaos.

"Don't Make Waves" often tumbled out of her in a voice that was begging me to make her job easier - a voice that pleaded with me to help her help me. I can still sense the tightness she held in her chest and the black hole pit in her gut. I can still see the fear behind her eyes as her thoughts drifted away from me and recommitted to a survival strategy of quiet endurance.

It took years of repetition before she became nearly a stranger to me. It was a lesson learned over and over again that the authentic truth inside of me was what made me an undesirable problem.

"Don't Make Waves" became shorthand that I was an outsider and not worth being addressed.

Not even by my own mom.


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