Image by John Hain from Pixabay

When you look in the mirror, how do you feel toward who is looking back?

For me, it seems to vary each time I look. At one time, I couldn’t tolerate looking in the mirror at all, other than to make sure there was nothing on my face or in my teeth, to shave, or straighten my tie. If I avoided eye contact with myself, I could pull it off.

Several years ago, I listened as someone described talking to themselves in the mirror and verbalizing affirming statements of self-respect and love. I couldn’t imagine the absurdity of doing such a thing. I thought of the Saturday Night Live skit with Stuart Smalley and agreed that this idea was a joke.

Attending a weekend workshop for personal development, the facilitator had us gaze into the eyes of a random stranger for an unbearable amount of time. But I endured, tolerated, and survived that experience as I had learned to do while growing up in a home riddled with addiction and generational dysfunction.

To survive my childhood, I learned to control my behavior and the words I spoke. And I learned to hide my emotions and my thoughts. Fortunately, no one had access to my thoughts and feelings as long as I kept them to myself. They were my secrets and I guarded them fiercely.

I was afraid that if anyone knew what was going on in the privacy of my mind and heart, they would reject and criticize me. My safety strategy both protected me and convinced me that I was an imposter.

What is the impact of adult child shame?

If you have shame, you may easily find yourself on this list.

  • When you look in the mirror, you don’t like what you see.
  • You expect people to dislike you.
  • You feel like a fraud.
  • You are suspicious of those who act friendly toward you.
  • You give up on yourself. What’s the use?
  • You feel insecure, especially in romantic relationships.
  • You often feel shamed by others.
  • You are suspicious of those who think highly of you.
  • To get what you want or need, you are passive and indirect, or
  • You aggressively take what you want, believing it is the only way.

What is the solution?

As a personal development coach, I work with clients who, like me, have a full deck of unhealed wounds.

Before I found help, life was just a cycle of reactions to triggering events. I thought I was living a normal life. I didn’t know it could be any other way and assumed that anyone with a happy life was just doing what I had done to survive; pretending.

Shame becomes a habit once the brain notices the repeating pattern and makes it automatic. If I don’t break the habit of thinking of myself in critical ways, I will continue to judge myself harshly and assume that others think at least as poorly of me as I do.

I am an adult child alcoholic parents. Although it has been decades since I lived under their direct influence, the impact reaches beyond those years. Recovering from adult child shame requires self compassion and forgiveness. It has nothing to do with blaming or forgiving my parents who had their own emotional wounds and survival strategies.

My recovery began with recognizing my own addiction to alcohol and getting help in AA to stop drinking. It deepened when I began attending meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics, Alanon, and Codependents Anonymous. By getting sober and engaging in ever more meaningful conversations with therapists and fellow travelers, self-compassion and self-forgiveness has emerged.

I continue to learn that my childhood perceptions and survival strategies no longer serve me. And thanks to the love and support of others traveling the same path as well as authors, speakers, therapists, and coaches, I’m healing and learning new ways to relate to myself and the world.

Shame reflects what I decided was wrong with me as a child. Those ideas stuck with me as subconscious beliefs and remained until I learned to question them and heal from the emotional wounds of growing up in an alcoholic family.

As I do this inner work, the energy previously devoted to surviving this life has been redirected to enjoying it. I believe this is possible for anyone. My path has worked for me. I’ve found inner peace, clarity, love, and joy.

Your path will be unique to you. No one I have met has traveled exactly the same path. No matter where you are on your journey, please know that you are not alone and that healing and recovery are possible.


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