How to eliminate feelings of failure, guilt and shame
This week on the blog we’re joined by parenting coach, Tania Lopez from Full Circle Hypnotherapy who has created a guide to help us eliminate feelings of failure, guilt and shame, around parenting.
Over to Tania…
Before I talk about feelings of failure, guilt and shame, it’s important to set the context in relation to compassionate and conscious parenting.
When it comes to compassionate parenting, I like to look at it in a holistic way.
What kind of internal voice are we using? Is it critical and blaming or is it kind, loving and forgiving?
Do we tune into children and look beyond their behaviour to address their needs?
Do we draw comparisons with other parents and either come out better or worse? Do we keep up appearances for fear of being judged?
Everyone has an opinion on parenting and that’s because we’ve all had the experience of being parented, even if we grew up without parents. How do we, as a society show compassion towards parents and children?
This leads me on to conscious parenting.
Before explaining conscious parenting, I want to look at unconscious and self-conscious parenting.
Unconscious parenting is when we are unaware that past programming and triggers are being activated in our interactions with children. When we are triggered, we react automatically and it can make us feel powerless. When we don’t feel a sense of internal control, we may blame children and their behaviour.
Self-conscious parenting is when we are super aware of other people’s perceived views and opinions about us. We may feel judged and evaluated for our parenting skills and decisions. We may change what we normally do in order to please others, and in doing so, we abandon ourselves (our views, beliefs and principles) and we abandon our children and their needs, in order to meet society’s expectations. This is also a powerless state as we will feel like victims and blame others for our behaviour. For sure, when we’re in public and feeling judged, this can trigger our fight/flight/freeze responses. These can be so automatic and hard to interrupt.
It’s worth remembering, that self-conscious parenting is about us being the story maker and teller. We are only guessing at what others are thinking about us, and the story and the subsequent feelings are of our own making.Tania Lopez, Parenting Coach
Conscious parenting is when we strive to become aware of our past programming and how it impacts our relationship with our children. It’s not about being perfect but it is about being aware of what is not working and taking responsibility for making changes. It’s definitely not about making yourself wrong, your child wrong or blaming external factors. This is where the possibility of change exists. It helps us to parent the child in front of us rather that the child we had hoped for or the expectations we placed on them due to our past programming. We can start to make changes to inter-generational patterns that don’t serve future generations.
Our past programming
It can be hard to be a conscious and compassionate parent because we don’t have a blueprint for it and no role models to pave the way. This can be so outside of our experience, knowledge and comfort zone so you really are a trailblazer if you are being a conscious parent!
If our past programming was compassionate and conscious, we would be kind, loving, forgiving and gentle with ourselves.
Instead, we learned and normalised the feelings of failure, guilt and shame which actually arise from unconscious and self-conscious parenting.
Our very own parenting manual!
A lot of people say that there isn’t a parenting manual, but there is – sort of!
We have all had a “download” from the way we were parented. The only problem with this download is that it’s full of viruses and needs rebooting and updating.
You may be trying to parent differently from your parents and this can seem manageable when things are going well. However, it can be challenging when things are difficult and you may revert to doing things the way you were parented – it’s almost as if that particular page on parenting wasn’t refreshed!
And this can lead to feelings of failure, shame and guilt because we feel we should be doing better.
We need to go a bit deeper than “I should know and do better.”
Why does it feel so bad when we fail?
It reminds us of past experiences when we failed and were made to feel not good enough. This can leave an imprint in us and every time we don’t do something well, this feeling of not being good enough gets re-ignited.
An effective way to deal with failure is to use self-enquiry. Ask questions out of curiosity and compassion.
- Is it OK for others to fail?
- Is it OK for you to fail?
- If not, why not? Is the bar set for others different to yours?
- What is it about failing that’s wrong?
- Does it say something about you? Is it personal?
As a toddler when we were learning to walk, we fell over hundreds of times. At what point did it stop being OK to fall or fail?
It’s probably at this point that we stopped learning to our full capacity because we became so afraid to fail. We started to associate failing with something concrete about us. Instead of “I’m struggling with this because it’s new” or ”it’s a difficult skill to master and there is a process of learning”, we draw a conclusion:
”I am a failure.”
Rather than making this broad, sweeping generalisation about yourself, I would encourage you to “get curious before making conclusions”.
Further self-enquiry is necessary.
- What did I learn?
- Did I learn anything about myself?
- What can I do differently next time?
- Can I take a smaller step or a different step or a step in a different direction?
- Can I ask for help?
- Do I have to to this on my own? Especially when it comes to parenting, no-one is meant to do this on their own.
Be in questioning/curiosity mode, even if you don’t know the answers yet. They will come the more curious you get. If you’re only in conclusion mode, you’ve closed yourself off to new possibilities, perspectives and insights.
Whenever we fail, it is a reminder that we’re moving outside of our comfort zone and as a result we won’t be as competent or capable. It’s only at the point of failure, that learning can start. A lot of people see failing as a full stop and don’t try again. Failure is the launch pad for new growth, awakening and learning. So embrace failure as a starting point or continuation point, rather than a foregone conclusion about yourself.
Shame is feeling bad for who we are. It’s personal. “I’m a bad parent or I’m a bad person”. Our first experience of shame was probably in a childhood incident when we felt embarrassed or shamed and it really left a mark. We tend to go over these “shameful” secrets in our minds and it only further activates and embeds the feeling.
Shame can only exist in secret and Brené Brown, a research professor, has excellent TED talks on this topic.
A really helpful way to overcome the feeling of shame is to take an observer position. As an observer, notice the part of you that’s experiencing this emotion. Don’t deny the feeling, notice it is there and just be with it.
Now imagine the observer as the kindest, most loving person you know in real life or a character from a film or a book. How would they speak to this part of you? Imagine the most compassionate conversation and know that this observer is holding a non-judgemental space for you even when you’re sitting in judgement of yourself. This presence offers you unconditional love, forgiveness and empathy. Nothing you do will make them withdraw their love or abandon you. They know you were and are doing your best. They know that your actions, or inactions, don’t say anything personal about you, the human being. This was a moment in time and will pass. Allow the love of this presence to flow through your body and reach those parts where you located the feeling of shame and let the feeling of love envelop these parts.
This is the process of re-parenting yourself.
Guilt is about feeling bad for what we did. We are taught from a young age to feel guilty when our actions were met with disapproval and we were berated.
The good thing about guilt is that it does mean we can try to put things right, for example: we can apologise, make amends and take responsibility for our own part.
However, when we feel guilty in relation to our children, we over-compensate. For example, we shout at our child, feel guilty and give them a treat. We’re actually rewarding them for our behaviour which we have labelled as bad.
It’s a natural instinct because we want to maintain good relations with our children and we don’t want them to think we don’t like or love them. Unfortunately, this can become a vicious cycle that just repeats automatically.
Over-compensation can lead to tricky power dynamics in the relationship and children can get confused and think the power has shifted onto them. And as much as we need to share power with children, this power imbalance, which rises out of guilt, is not healthy.
One way of dealing with guilt is to use the process of the compassionate observer described above.
Self-enquiry and compassionate curiosity
Another way of dealing with guilt is to not over-compensate. Now, this may feel challenging to many people. Remember, you can still talk to your children about what happened but this is about refraining from your actual actions of over-compensating. Allow yourself to sit with the feeling of guilt and move into self-enquiry.
- What was it that you needed in that moment when you shouted?
- What did you need in the moments before?
- How well are you taking care of your needs?
- Is this a pattern?
- Can you interrupt this pattern?
- Do you need to ask for help/support?
- What was it that your child needed either in that moment or before that moment?
- Is it possible to meet both of your needs?
When we over-compensate, we bypass the chance to make changes, and this behaviour becomes habitual. So, although it may feel hard, this can be the start of a new and conscious behaviour. In the short-term, over-compensating may feel like you’re making things better, but it doesn’t help with making longer lasting changes.
Are these feelings normal and natural?
Well, they can feel normal and natural because we’re so well versed in them and it’s such a common experience. We all know exactly what someone means when they feel guilt or shame.
We’re all experts at these feelings because most of us were parented unconsciously. That’s not trying to blame our parents, but it is the reality. So now, it’s our job to re-parent ourselves consciously so we can parent our children consciously.
It becomes easier to be conscious and compassionate with children when it feels more natural for us. When these haven’t been offered to us as children, it can be hard to be conscious and compassionate.
We need feelings of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and unconditional love to be the normal, natural feelings rather than being ridden with feelings of guilt, shame and failure which we then spend most of our adult lives trying to overcome.
Some final thoughts:
Even within a failure, can you see a little success or learning?
Even within the feelings of guilt and shame, can you see the positive intent of your behaviour?
Can you see yourself through the lens of compassion and consciousness?
You can find more from Tania here: