Coaching & Support Before, During, and After Adoption

The Fruits of Guilt and Shame

by | Jun 4, 2014 | Blogs by Gayle Swift, Blogs by Joann DiStefano

GIFT.Shame.Fotolia_50833208_XSThere is a quote from Allegiant by Veronica Roth that has intrigued me since I read it. It states that, “Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, everyone. We can’t escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.”

I began to think about that quote and looked at it through my experience in this society in which I live. As young children we learn how to feel guilt. However, guilt is not bad if its goal is to develop a moral compass in order guide and limit behavior in ways that are not destructive to self, others or society at large.

Guilt assists us in being human and keeps us from believing that we have to be perfect, shame is debilitating to one’s sense of self. Guilt pushes and encourages us to improve. On the other hand, when we feel shame, we feel fundamentally flawed in some way, that we are damaged.

Shame has become pervasive in society today. Through marketing and media, it has shaken our sense of identity and makes us feel disconnected within ourselves and from others. Shame overwhelms and discourages. It eats away at self-esteem.

Most Adopted children feel shame because of being adopted. Children placed minutes after birth, still feel that their birthmother has left them. They assume this abandonment resulted from a defect in them. Even if when told otherwise, that memory of separation still lingers.

In addition, they may believe that the shortcomings, flaws, and addiction patterns present in their birth family will develop in their own lives. Thus they feel burdened by their ancestral history. So, how do we help to eliminate that shame that is lurking within our children? That is not easy. However, I do strongly believe that love and connection can assist in the healing. Our children need to internalize their inner strength. They need to feel, recognize and trust their value within themselves. Only through this value will they begin to mend.

Recently, I watched the Harry Potter movies. He definitely had a difficult childhood and probably felt a lot of shame and internal damage. As he grew, the character, which played Harry, never appeared outwardly powerful. Yet, the more love he was shown, the more courage he acquired. He began to see his value and strength. He became powerful first, internally and then eventually, externally. Although he had a genetic connection to Voldemort’s evil qualities that could have influenced him,] he was able to overcome these shortcomings through the love and connected with others.

Love and connection helps all of us rid ourselves of debilitating shame. By being supportive and compassionate, we can help our children to mend and have the strength to be all that they can.

How do you assist your children to avoid feeling predestined to biological family history of addiction? How will you help your kids to distinguish between shame and guilt?