Helen and Maria

Helen with her amazing daughter Maria

“Sometimes we can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Each person has a unique life experience and often sharing that story is a huge inspiration to many. It doesn’t require earthshattering events to touch the lives of others, it only takes actions showing love or compassion. This week, we continue exploring aspects of shame and how it directly impacted someone’s outlook.

Nearly 3 years ago, I connected with Helen on social media. Her posts intrigued me and soon, we began messaging on a regular basis which developed into a warm online friendship. Helen also has a beautiful daughter named Maria about whom she often posts and reminds us how privileged she is to be her mother.

One day, she recounted to me the day that Maria was born. There were no difficulties during the delivery and when it was finally over, she couldn’t wait to hold her little angel in her arms. However, fear and concern quickly appeared on the faces of the medical staff and they swiftly carried Maria out of the room. Helen’s fears were soon confirmed when she was told that Maria was born with a rare chromosome abnormality which among many issues, robbed her of the ability to speak and to this day is in need of constant care. She was also told that there was a strong possibility that Maria would not make it past her first birthday.

Upon hearing about her daughter’s condition, Helen’s first thoughts were, “Why me, God”? “I always tried to do live right and honest, why are You punishing me”?

This kind of scenario is the perfect display of how shame can paralyze us. Helen thought she must have done something bad yet she did nothing wrong; nor was God punishing her. Shame often successfully influences us to believe it was something we did and not knowing what that act was only exacerbates our shame.

Like most of us, Helen’s propensity towards shame began many years prior. As a young girl she was frequently ridiculed, abused by those she trusted, and rarely felt self-esteem. This kind of upbringing is an extremely fertile environment for shame to thrive.

Shame begins at an early age; often before we learn to speak. Sadly, it frequently is put upon us by ones we love yet they don’t realize they’re doing it. Parenting can be filled with frustrations and sometimes we lash out at our children just to gain back some control. We may blurt out something like, “Stop asking me all these stupid questions” not recognizing it very well may make the child feel shameful. There are countless other examples of how shame unwittingly is planted within us by those we love who never had any intention of doing so. Now, imagine all the times it was done specifically to make you feel shame and you’ll begin to fathom the depth of its negative influence over our lives.

Fortunately, Helen’s story took an unexpected turn. When Maria was around 5 years old, Helen noticed, despite not being able to communicate, she always showed a gigantic display of unconditional love. Maria knew no prejudice nor spite; she only knew how to love and wasn’t afraid to show it. For someone who once questioned, “Why me God”, she now happily asks, “How was I so lucky”?

“Having Maria has definitely made me a better and stronger person,” Helen admits. I for one am privileged to know Helen. You’d be hard pressed to find a more caring and compassionate individual. Many times she’s shared with me how much joy there was in helping a total stranger with never expecting anything in return.

What’s also important to remember that this is Helen’s story. You or someone you know with a special needs child could have a very different outcome. In no way would I ever suggest or imply that your situation needs to be similar. I am here to help educate you about the difficulties of shame and not to give you reasons to experience it. Whatever your story is, I only hope that it does not burden you with additional undo shame.

In next week’s post, we’ll discuss how to recognize shame and examine a few techniques how we can heal and become victorious over it. If you have questions about your own difficulties with shame, please feel free to reach out directly to me. This is my purpose and passion in life. Thank you and I look forward to your comments.

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A New Beginning

“There is power in believing, as well as not believing, in yourself.”

This is the first in a series of articles on what I believe to be one of the most serious and least discussed issues we all face and that is none other than emotions of shame. Not only does it create feelings of complete unworthiness, it also is the culprit behind extreme arrogance and conceit. What may be its most insidious trait is that it continues to grow and strengthen its grip on people while most don’t even realize it’s happening.

The first step in this process is to make sure the definition of shame is clearly understood. When asked to define shame, often the word guilt is included. However, there is an important distinction between the two and recognizing that difference is vital in healing the damage shame has heaped on us over the course of our lives.

In short, guilt is feeling badly about making a wrong decision, a mistake or a bad choice. Guilty feelings can be a moral compass of sorts because it will remind us in the future to take different actions. Shame, on the other hand, is a bad feeling about ourselves. We can’t help but make those mistakes or bad choices because WE somehow are no good, not worthy, or a host of other negative ideas we’ve been told about who we are. With guilt, there is a possibility of change but shame doesn’t allow growth because of what or who we believe we are.

Shame is a self-reinforcing emotion and actually thrives each time we experience it.

It is a feeling that we as humans should try never to experience on a personal basis. While there are other ways of experiencing this emotion, these do not affect us in as damaging a manner. Perhaps one may be ashamed to be a part of a group, family, or some kind of association. That type of shame doesn’t confine and defeat us as when we are ashamed of ourselves. For the purpose of healing and self-growth, it’s essential to understand that shame is the negative things which we’ve come to believe about who we were and are.

The reason for so much emphasis on understanding this distinction comes from my own personal experience. I will always remember, February 22, 2013, sitting across from my therapist, Dr. Shannon Smith, when that realization hit me. I finally understood that most of my own problems were based on the negative things I believed about who I was. Others certainly helped influence those beliefs but ultimately, I was the one who had to fully believe those lies in order to make them true.

Over the next several posts, I’ll be sharing my experiences as well as some who were brave and vulnerable enough to allow me to share theirs. In 2015, I completed a book on the subject which was Inspired by and dedicated to my therapist. What I didn’t know before I began was that writing this book would help me better understand my own journey and inspire me to begin helping others. In short, it changed the direction of my life’s work.

Next week, we will feature a story of someone who realized how her own shame was a major stumbling block in her life. Until then, if you have any question how you may be impacted by yours, feel free to contact me directly. My thanks to Robert J. Morales for the photograph. His website is filled with hundreds of great photos.

What a Mother knows

“There is so much more a mother can teach us than what we think is possible”

Today in the U.S., we celebrate Mother’s Day. Moms – ma, mum, mommy, or whatever you choose to call her – have been celebrated for thousands of years and rightfully so. Regardless of the type of mother you personally experienced, the idea of what motherhood represents is certainly a concept worth celebrating. Although it’s utterly impossible for all of us to actually be a mother, it would be fair to say there is much to learn from the principles and characteristics which motherhood represents.

With so many remarkable attributes she embodies, it’s difficult to know where to begin. A mother first of all, is nurturing. When her child is born, it’s completely dependent on her. Her body is biologically predisposed to give of itself for the sole purpose of the infant’s survival. Often love and duty overlap; seemingly in an ongoing manner that puts her own health and wellbeing at risk or in peril.

It is often a thankless job yet there are times when no greater opportunity for joy exists. No matter what she sets out in life to achieve, more pleasure is derived from the accomplishments of her children than her own. Mothers have been the inspiration for countless authors, poets, and artists and the reason for the success of so many.

While teaching life’s most important lessons, she can still discipline with a gentle hand and a caring heart. She instinctively knows when it’s more prudent to bend the rules and not stick to the hardline. At times, it seems she has eyes in the back of her head and also moments when those same eyes shed tears over things we never thought she knew.

She is a supreme example; not because there is a trophy to win but because her heart and soul compel her to be. Constantly looking for ways to improve, she never complains about being overwhelmed. Sure, there may be regrets or wishes that some situations could have been different, those thoughts do not manifest defeat but instead urge and propel her to become better.

Motherhood is a sacred responsibility and one which can demonstrate to each and every one of us innumerable lessons on how we can live a good and honorable life. While there may be some who never had anything resembling a good mother, there are still plenty of meaningful principles and values we can learn from Motherhood.

Thankfully, I have been one of the lucky ones to have had a mother certainly worth writing about. If there is anything I could change, it would be that I would have learned at a much younger age to appreciate her full value. There is no doubt that my love of writing is a direct result of her influence. Even at this moment, you are experiencing her efforts because she happily and enthusiastically edits all of my articles.

What are some of your experiences either directly with your own mother or thoughts on the idea of motherhood? Please leave them in the comments. I’d like to thank Robert J Morales again, for the very fitting photo from his portfolio where more of his unique perspectives can be seen.

Constructive Growing Pains

Photo by Robert J Morales
“Sometimes we unexpectedly create magical moments”

There is no question that self-growth and personal development ought to be a focus in our lives. Last week, we discussed how some people attempt to replace those efforts by focusing mainly on helping others while neglecting their own. There were, however, a few comments that didn’t quite fully agree and stated how much they learned while earnestly striving to help someone in time of need.

As I read their remarks, it became evident this was definitely something I wanted to cover this week because it is indeed very true. In fact, one of my own personal goals when working with clients is that I continually find ways which allow me to grow right along with them. At first, it may seem strange or even a bit ironic that a coach, counselor, or leader should learn and develop from those whom they are supposed to be teaching; nevertheless, it is almost impossible not to happen.

During moments of growth, our minds our focused on the significance of the particular lesson it is conveying to us. But like many things we learn, if we don’t regularly use it, its impact may diminish and we may even forget how we benefited. When the opportunity arises to explain and put it into an understandable and teachable dialogue for others, that act further cements and strengthens its meaning to us. By verbalizing that experience, it forces us to more closely analyze why and what happened to initiate that growth.

In many ways, these kinds of experiences are far greater because not only are you becoming stronger with your development but you’re also helping others have a growing experience and an opportunity to help others in the future. It is a pure magical moment; a universal win-win which is always the best outcome.

No matter where you are or how you see yourself, there is always something to learn as well as room for growth and improvement.

Is there ever any reason to avoid or ignore growth? Frankly, those who hunger for knowledge find that the more they learn, the more there is out there to be learned. What types of coaches, instructors, or experts would not want to constantly improve their skills and abilities to become better and more proficient at their professions?

It would suffice to say that anyone claiming to have completely mastered something or that his efforts are constantly a ten out of ten, would be delusional, arrogant, or very afraid of taking a good look into that proverbial mirror. It is nothing short of a fool’s dream to believe there is no more that he can be taught and has reached the pinnacle of excellence.

There is always room for improvement. I greatly appreciate those kinds of comments which make me pause and reassess what I wrote. Those are learning moments for me and will no doubt translate into more effective writing, speaking, and coaching. Even when those moments are difficult and reveal flaws in my temperament, while they may be difficult to accept at first, committing to improvement is always a journey worth the taking.

My thanks again to Robert J. Morales for the photograph. Robert has produced television commercials in Los Angeles for over 20 years and is now working towards making his hobby as a photographer become his profession. Find out more at https://www.robertjmorales.com/. Thanks you and I look forward to some constructive comments.