When Childhood Shame Lingers



I felt deep shame. My body shut down. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t react. All I knew was that I needed to get away from him as quickly as possible. I excused myself by saying I needed to go sit in the backyard, but he was concerned and so he came to talk to me.

We sat in the backyard for a few minutes and we just talked. Or, rather, he talked and I listened. I wasn’t yet capable of speaking.

Finally, he said something to me and I burst into tears, unable to hold them back any longer.

What was this traumatic event that sent me into fight-or-flight mode? My partner was trying to have a conversation with me about something simple – I’d accidentally left a heater on and he asked me to be mindful about turning it off when I was done with it. No big deal, right?

It wasn’t a fight. I wasn’t under attack. It was just a regular conversation similar to conversations every couple in the world have every single day. This was something that most people would think nothing of 5 minutes later.

But my mind and my body went into protective mode and anticipated something more.

This is because, when I was growing up, if my parents made it a point to have a conversation with me about something I’d done, it was with an agenda. It’d already been decided that I was in the wrong. It’d already been decided that I was bad. It’d already been decided that I needed to repent. Depending on what age I was at the time, it’d already been decided that my punishment would be a spanking (if the sin was considered especially bad, I’d be spanked with a belt).

My mind had already been wired decades ago to anticipate physical and emotional abuse in response to what, in most families, should not have been a big deal. In most families, a conversation would be had and the child would be seen as capable enough to learn without needing to be shamed or physically hurt to drive the message home.

Do you want to know what my partner said that made me burst into tears? He could see something was happening to me at that moment but was unable to get me to speak because my emotions were too strong. So he told me, “I don’t know if this is what is going on, but you should know that I don’t want you to confess your sins to me.”

That was it. The wound that had scabbed over but never fully healed was now opened. My tears flowed, and I was released from the burden of confession and repentance that has been so deeply ingrained in me.

Parents, your job is not to make your child feel shame for their sin. Your job is not to be the one they need to confess to. Your job is not to punish your children for their wrong-doings.

Your job is to teach, guide, and love.

Don’t let your babies grow up so scarred from their childhood that simple conversations with their partners become too painful to handle.

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