S04|04 - Digging into Mom Guilt (4 steps to process shame)Mar 21, 2022
“Mom guilt” is a common word that we hear in parenting… feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough, feeling like everyone else seems to be doing better than us and that maybe, deep down… we just aren’t ever going to cut it. SHAME is the #1 thing keeping us stuck in yelling, disconnect and frustrated parenting. Join us as we dig into the true source of mom-guilt + what we can actually do about it.
What we cover in this episode:
- Personality perfectionism in motherhood + becoming a “good-enough-ist” instead
- Personalization and how it creates more shame for us
- “Volcano mom” and what to do when we lose it
- 4 steps to help you process shame in your parenting
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Crystal The Parenting Coach: Welcome to the podcast today. We are going to be talking about Mom Guilt, digging into Mom Guilt. What Mom Guilt typically is, is actually shame. Like we talked about last week's episode, but we often don't know or call it that.
So, I'm going to start out by telling you about three different ways in which shame can show up for us, which we may be calling Mom Guilt, and then we're going to move into how we can actually process through it.
I think that we can all relate to the idea of Mom Guilt, but oftentimes when I bring up shame on client calls, they're like, “Well, I don't know. I'm not really sure if that's what it is.” Shame is self-critical. Shame is self-judgmental. Shame is rooted in any of the, ‘I'm not enough, or I should be doing more or I could be doing more.’
I know we dug into that a little bit last week, but we didn't really get into, now what? What do we do about it? Now that we notice that it's a problem, what do we do about it? So, I'm going to talk about three different ways in which it shows up for us specifically in motherhood or in parenting. And then, I'm going to give you some tips to help process through that shame that are going to be really helpful. So, make sure you stay to the end. All right.
3 Different Ways Shame Shows Up in Motherhood/Parenting
- Number #1 is personalization.
So, what this means is making our children's behavior mean something about us. Story #1, I was out hanging out with my kids; I don't even remember exactly what was going on. And, I was trying to get my son to listen to me. So, I needed his attention. I don't remember what we were doing, but I was like, “Hey, come over here.”
And, he's ignoring me. “Come over here,” he's still ignoring me. Like, “Come listen to me now. I have something important to tell you,” - still not listening to me. Now, there's a couple different ways at which we could respond to this, but I'm going to talk about the most typical way in which we usually respond.
Usually, we get very reactive, right? That's the point where we yell or where we kind of lose our temper. Or even if we're not yelling, we're just more short in our tone of voice. You know, “I said, you need to come over here 17 times. Why are you not listening to me?” [laughs] Right?
That's how I typically sound when I get into my short voice. So, I'm feeling triggered. I'm feeling triggered by the fact that he's not listening to me; or at least, that's what I think is triggering me. Now, what's always actually triggering us is a thought, going back to - think, feel, do - how we think creates how we feel and fuels what we do.
There is some sort of a thought that I'm having, that's making me feel triggered. And, in this situation for me, it was, he's not listening to me or he never listens. Now, one of the things that we do is we need to dig down below these surface thoughts. So yes, that thought is true; and yes, it is bothering me. Right? ‘He's not listening to me,’ might seem really true and might be bothering me.
But underneath that, what's the problem? So, then I usually ask myself this question, it's my favorite question; Why? [laughs] It really is one of my favorite questions. So, why is that bothering me? I asked him 3 times, not 17 like my brain wants to tell me, and he's not listening to me.
He hasn't paid attention to me. He hasn't stopped what he's doing or looked up or acted like he's listened to me, why is that bothering me? So, then my brain came up with something along the lines of, ‘He should listen every time that I ask him, he should listen to me.’
And then, I went even a layer deeper of that; ‘Okay. Well, why do I feel like he should listen?’ And underneath that, it was really interesting. That's where the personalization came in. That's where the thoughts like, ‘good moms, their kids listen to them. If I was a better mom, he would listen to me more.’
That is when we make their behavior mean something about us. And oftentimes we can't see it on the surface, but when we can dig down a few layers deep into the Why, we can see that what we're actually being triggered by is us making their behavior mean something about us.
And, not only making it mean something about us, but making us mean that we're not good enough; that we're not a good mom, that we should be doing better. When really it could just mean that they're tired or they're bored, or they didn't hear us, or their ears are plugged or they're involved in some other situation that's really engaging; and so, they aren't stopping.
There's a lot of other-- There's a lot of other stories there that our brain doesn't pick up on, but our brain is picking up on this one, which is why it's such a trigger. So, this is one of the ways in which shame can show up for us, because what it's really rooted in is that, I'm not enough or there's something wrong with me.
2. Number #2, I'm going to call this one Volcano Mom.
My friend Lauren, on Instagram, talked about this feeling of like volcano, right? It's that lava kind of building in you, and you don't notice that it's boiling below the surface until it gets to the very top of the volcano and it explodes. So, I was talking to a client of mine and she gave me this example, which is perfect for today.
She was saying, “Over the last couple of months, my son has really been struggling. He hasn't been sleeping well, he's just been yelling at us. He tells us that he hates us. He's just so emotionally reactive.” This is her younger child.
She's like, “I don't even know what to do. And, I'm like trying to keep it cool, trying to keep it cool, trying to keep it cool, and I totally lost it on him.” This is not an uncommon situation. You might be like, nodding your head and like, ‘yep, feel that.’ Right?
Over the weeks and the months and the days, you're like trying to keep your cool when really there's pressure building below the surface. I totally just thought of the Surface Pressure song in Encanto, right? When like, all that pressure is building, that we don't see; and then, one day we just snap.
We just lose it on them. We become really emotionally reactive, but it's because there already was that pressure building below the surface, right? So, I'm going to call that Volcano Mom, and you likely can relate to this as well. If you aren't one who reacts, you're likely one who withdraws or disconnects. So, typically, we're going to do one of those two ways.
So, the problem with this is again, shame. So, once we lose it - once we freak out, we yell or even just we're more shut down; we're more disconnected. However, it is that you respond in the way that you don't want to. Typically, the thought is kind of the same as the first one on personalization, right?
“There's something wrong with me. I'm not enough. I shouldn't have lost it. This is my fault. I should be doing better. I should be able to handle this situation better.” Anytime ‘Shoulds’ come in, usually connected to shame. I'm going to say pretty much always, but I mean, I don't know. I don't like to speak in absolutes because I don't know for sure.
So, that's how Volcano Mom can lead to shame. So, we know personalization can lead to shame. Volcano Mom can also lead to shame becausr after we lose it, it's the eruption of the volcano in which we feel so terrible about.
3. Number #3 is comparison.
I call this perfectionism or personality perfectionism. So, I had another client who came to me and she felt like her house wasn't clean enough; it wasn't really cute. She'd tried to keep it clean all day. She had a couple little kids. She tried to keep it clean. She felt like she was constantly cleaning, and her kids were constantly making a mess of what she was cleaning. [laughs]
Raise your hand if you can relate to that. She also felt like she needed to be more crafty and more fun than she was. She felt like when she was with her kids, she wasn't always focused on them all of the time, that it wasn't as fun as she thought that it was going to be.
She didn't create a lot of fun crafts and activities and play time for them. And, she just felt like she should be more of all those things, right? Again, that keyword Should; ‘I should have a healthy or cleaner house, I should have more time to spend with my kids, I should be more focused.’
She also felt like her meals should be more intricate or elaborate or like fancy. And, she also felt like they should be healthier. So, we kind of talked about how this came to be, and a lot of it came to be from Instagram. A lot of it came to be from comparison, which we all do.
I laugh, but that really is such a huge deal for all of us because all we're seeing is this tiny little snippet of somebody else's life that seems so perfect and so amazing that we're comparing that to what we know our life is.
We're like this tiny little one shot of their clean house or their craft or their fun that they're having means that they must have that all of the time, that they must be some sort of superhuman and I'm not.
And again, the root-thought coming in is, I'm not enough or there must be something wrong with me. So, personality perfectionism might be that you might not find yourself scrubbing toilets or corners of closets, but that you feel like you should always be kind, always connected.
You should never yell - that you should always have fun with your kids and want to play with them and feel connected to them, that you should always be feeding them healthy meals and be happy and kind and keeping your house clean. Right? It shows up for all of us in some way.
Summary of the 3 Points
- So, personalization is the first one. Personalization, making our kids' behavior means something about us, making it mean that we're not enough, that we're doing something wrong as moms.
- Number #2, Volcano Mom, the pressure boiling below the surface and then eventually the volcano erupts; and we feel bad about the eruption. We feel like that shouldn't have happened. We're not good enough. We should never lose it. Right?
- Number #3, that personality perfectionism, in which we feel like we have all of these expectations of what kind of a mom we should be like and we're failing. So again, feeling that not enoughness.
So, you might likely call that Mom Guilt; like, who doesn't feel Mom Guilt? We get that. But what this really is, is shame. And, the reason that we want to dig into this shame is because shame keeps us in this cycle.
We feel shame because we're thinking, “I'm not enough or I'm not doing enough or I should be doing more. I should be doing X, Y, Z with my kids; and I'm not doing that.” We feel this shame and from that feeling of shame; we withdraw more, we disconnect more, we overreact more.
We're a lot more touchy. We're not touchy as in like reactive, right, in just like little, tiny ways. We're not going to be open and understanding of them. We're not going to create healthy or helpful solutions or boundaries or anything that could really serve us.
And, in fact, people that even do thought work, I was just talking to a client of mine the other day. And, she said that she finds that when she's feeling this way, she doesn't do her thought dumps. She doesn't sit and process her emotions. She doesn't meditate. She doesn't--
Like, any of the things that she has that are on, kind of, her care list that make her feel emotionally and mentally better, she doesn't do those from that feeling. None of us do. She is not alone in that. That is something that we all do. We actually push ourselves away from the things that will make us feel better, which I know sounds counterintuitive.
But when we're feeling that way, that's what we get stuck in. I call it the Shame Spin Cycle. When we get stuck in the Shame Spin Cycle, we create more shame by not taking care of ourselves, not doing the things that would make us feel better, being more reactive, being more withdrawn, being more disconnected; and we stay in that shame.
Like I said before, the goal isn't to not feel shame, we're all humans and we are all going to feel shame, always, forever. But we can become shame-resilient where we can process the shame and move through the shame, and not get stuck in the Shame Spin Cycle for hours and days and weeks and months; and feel like it's making us even more reactive to our kids.
So, I'm going to talk about tips to move through the shame. I would love to hear from you if you're on Instagram or Facebook, you can find me @the.parenting.coach on Instagram and also on Facebook.
I would love to hear from you how shame shows up for you, because typically we do call it Mom Guilt, or we don't even really talk about it a lot. The reason why we want to is because shame gets broken down by bringing it into the light, by bringing it into our view and our vision.
If we can't see it, if it's always behind us, we're like driving a car and it's constantly the car that's behind us; and not even behind us, but like in our blind spot that we don't even know is there. Then, how are we going to do anything about it if it always remains in our blind spot?
We have to bring it out of that blind spot and see it and be like, “Oh, okay, wait, that's the vehicle that's there. It's shame, that's what's going on there.” Now, we can deal with it. Now, we can move into it. And, as Brené Brown says, “Owning your story is the first step,” right? That's the most courageous thing that we can do, is owning our story.
4 Ways to Deal with Shame
This is a process that I've used with several clients, that I use on my own; and it helps a lot.
- Number #1 is to become aware.
So, awareness is just acknowledging either the feeling or the thought. Sometimes the feeling is a little bit strong, and so we can't even access the thinking that's there first. So, sometimes I'm just like, ‘Okay, yeah. I feel really terrible right now. I'm feeling shame right now.” So, it's just noticing the feeling.
Sometimes we'll notice the thoughts more. We'll notice the, ‘I'm not enough, I did something wrong or maybe there's something wrong with me or I should be doing more.’ Any of the thoughts that came up when we were talking throughout this whole episode, just noticing those ‘thought stories’, noticing that feeling.
So, number #1 is just to notice it, become aware of it.
- Number #2 to help with that awareness, we're actually going to write them down on paper; letting it all out.
We're not going to judge ourselves for what we're thinking. It's going to be stream of consciousness. Anything that comes to your mind about how you're thinking and about how feeling at that moment, let it all out. If you feel like there's too much, just fill up one page, just say, “Okay, I'm just going to write it on one page.”
If you feel like you can't articulate what it is that you're thinking, you can't access those thoughts, try drawing or scribbling; just doing anything to get that out. I notice that when I can get the ‘thought stories’ that are swirling around in my head out, that awareness is the first step to that, bringing it into the light part of it. That awareness is already super helpful.
- So, number #1 is awareness.
- Number #2 is gaining even more awareness by writing down whatever the shame stories are, right? That's part of owning our story.
- Number #3, the emotion.
We're going to name it. It's not guilt. If we're thinking, ‘I'm not enough, I should be doing more, there's something wrong with me,’ that's not guilt. That's shame. Right? We talked about the difference between guilt and shame last time. So, when we feel that, that shame; and the reason we want to name it is because we're trying to build emotional intelligence.
Being emotionally intelligent is the ability to notice how we're feeling in our body and give that feeling a name; that's a huge, significant part of becoming emotionally intelligent. So, what we want to do is like, okay, now that we've written down these thoughts and we can acknowledge that we're feeling this way, let's name it - this is shame. Naming that emotion.
Now, the third step is, how does it feel in our body? The reason that we're going to do this is because shame feels kind of terrible. And, when we start to feel it, we kind of try to push it away. And, we're like, ‘We don't like this feeling, let's go feel something else let's resist this, let's do something else.’
We want to stay present with this. We get stuck in the Shame Spin Cycle because we don't acknowledge the shame stories that are there and we don't acknowledge the feeling; and we don't allow that feeling in. Just like we brought the ‘thought stories’ to light, we're also going to bring the feeling of shame to light by allowing it to be present in our bodies and focusing on it.
Remind yourself, before you go into this, if you're feeling really heavy; that you are a safe space, that you can come out of this, that this is just a feeling and experience that your body is having - and that anytime it feels too heavy, you can just open your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
So, notice the feeling of shame in your body. Notice how it feels. Describe it to yourself. You might even want to describe it out loud, call it what it is, right? Shame, and then name, and then explain. Describe that feeling.
Examples of Shame + Name + Explain
I'll give you some examples. Typically, when I'm helping a client through this, they'll say something like, “I feel it in my stomach, or it feels heavy in my chest; kind of like it's squishing my chest. Like, it's pressure. Like, it's squeezing. Maybe I feel it in my head.”
Oftentimes when I talk to people about shame, even if they don't know that that's what they're feeling, they'll say that it feels hot, versus cold or warm. Sometimes it will feel stuffy. If I ask them what color it is; typically, it's more of a red or an orange, sometimes gray, black.
But oftentimes more often than not, actually, shame will feel orange or red to people when I ask them; what's the color, what's the texture, what's the temperature? And, the reason that we ask these questions is to help us gain awareness and focus, and just allow it to be there; that presence, right?
Our brain is trying to push it away, and we're trying to keep it there because keeping it there is what's going to help us process it. And then, you can take a few deep breaths, release whatever that feeling is, and delve into the fourth step.
- The fourth step is to question our stories there.
What else could be true when we go back to those stories? Sometimes I have a hard time digging into what other stories are here or what else could be true. This is something I love to do. I love to think of somebody who deeply loves me. So, if you have a religious belief, maybe you believe in God, divinity, the universe.
Maybe you have somebody who's even passed on that you feel like deeply loves you, maybe a grandparent or a parent. Maybe you have someone on earth right now that you feel really loves you, you can think about them. I want you to imagine that person sitting right beside you, being there, present with you, and you've just poured out all of these stories to them.
You've just told them all of your thoughts, all of your feelings, they know everything. What do they say to you in that moment? What comfort did they give you? What encouraging words do they say? How do they respond to those stories? What would they say back to each of the stories that you wrote down?
The reason that we do this is because every time I've done this with a person or with a group, the underlying thoughts of shame are the same; are not enough – ‘there's something wrong with me, I should be doing more.’ The feeling is often really similar; either black or gray or red or orange, it's hot, it's heavy.
It's usually constricting - we usually feel it in our stomach or our chest or our throat. When we can move through that feeling, our thoughts and our feelings are similar again. Typically, people say the same kind of things; “You're doing a good job, you're doing better than you think you are, you got this, keep going, going to be okay, you're loved, you're held, you're supported.
A lot of the thoughts there are the same. And a lot of the feelings when we can access that feeling of what somebody else feels for us, sometimes it's easier for us to then feel that self that way in our bodies ourselves.
So, that's the four-step process to deal with shame, AKA Mom Guilt, if that's what you refer to it as.
More Tips on How to Deal with Shame
I'm going to give two more quick tips before I go;
- Number one B-Minus parenting.
One of my clients said, this is my favorite concept that you've taught me. So, I thought I would tell everyone else, this is good enough-ism. So, instead of personality-perfectionism, we're going to go to good enough-ism. We don't need to be perfect. We're not robots that are 100% of the time going to be kind, and happy, and focused, and connected, and never yell; that's not the goal.
When we can lower expectations of ourselves to maybe just good enough or B-Minus parenting, we can feel so much better about ourselves and we can move through shame much more quickly because we don't have unrealistic expectations of how we should be showing up.
- The second one is not to compare your front yard to somebody else's or to compare somebody else's front yard to your backyard.
We do this so often. We see their like perfectly coiffed children and hair, and lovely mannerisms, and beautiful house that's clean; and we presume that that's what life is like for them all of the time. And, we compare that to our backyard; our worst days, our yelling, our messy kids, whatever meal we threw together at the last minute.
That's never helpful, and it's also never true, right? Everybody has a backyard too. You might not see it, but they have it also. So, don't ever compare somebody else's front yard to your backyard; you'll lose every time, you'll feel terrible every time.
So, in conclusion, remember, shame is rooted in these; ‘I'm not enough,’ thoughts, ‘There's something wrong with me,’ thoughts. You are totally normal and totally human. If you are feeling this way, try this four-step process to release shame and see how it feels. Thanks for being here. See you next week.
I hope you enjoyed today's episode. Make sure that you give it Five Stars on Apple, and check out my monthly membership for moms in the show notes.