Re-Framing Our Shame

In Nola’s childhood, no one acknowledged what her father did to her. Not her mother who rationalized his abuse. Not her grandmother who looked the other way. Not her teacher who saw some of her bruises. Not even her flying monkey siblings who joined the denial bandwagon despite their own abuse.

Because Nola was the only person in her family refusing to ignore the abuser’s sins, her family made fun of her for remembering. She was scapegoated and left alone to deal with the emotional pain. If she mentioned it to anyone, she was accused of living in the past. In Nola’s family, the accusation of living in the past was said with great contempt—contempt which should’ve been reserved for the evil done to her.

Nola left home and found a counselor and began to heal. Years later, she realizes how the damage is still affecting the lives of her siblings and their children to this day.

Many of us felt shame before we even have a chance to make our own choices. It’s important to determine if this is congenital shame as the result of being human and born into a dysfunctional family, or this shame is our own. If someone beat you or molested you that shame is theirs and you need to find a way to get rid of it immediately before it does any more damage to your soul. The sins of parents affect their children and grandchildren.

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Evil covered up, only creates more toxic people and destroys entire families. This is what the commandment means when it says the sins of the fathers will affect their children to the third and fourth generations. Many misinterpret this to mean God is punishing children for their father’s sins, but the Bible refutes that idea.

The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins…
-Ezekiel 18:20

Consider the case of an alcoholic who beats his child. That child grows up to drink and beat their own child and so it continues for generations unless someone stops the pattern.

Often evil is portrayed as spooky and bloody faces with demonic laughter or murderous affairs. Many books and movies misrepresent evil with a broad stroke. Even the devil is treated like a caricature with red skin and horns and pitchfork, but according to the Bible, the devil actually appears as an angel of light. True evil often appears benign.

M. Scott Peck in his book, The People of the Lie, describes parents who ignore their children’s physical and emotional needs. These parents are model citizens who dress in the best clothes to go to church and work in competent careers, yet they have no empathy for their own children.

God intended parents to represent God to their children. Parents were to provide and support and encourage and act like Jesus to their children.  The narcissistic parent is far from a Christ-like example to their children.

The chaotic family led by a shame-filled narcissist creates an environment where lack of parental love robs us of self-worth and identity, this in turn creates shame and thus shame perpetuates more shame while the cycle continues. This is part of the generational curse which comes with narcissism. A golden child might grow up to be a narc like their parent. Of course not every golden child grows into a narc—it’s just one possibility due to disordered parenting. The scapegoat might suffer in different ways and abuse their own children in new patterns.

It is natural to self-protect, but the desire for self-protection to the point of avoiding vulnerability is actually toxic. At the heart of malignant narcissism is the desire to protect self. This survival of the fittest mentality is what causes the narc to be unsafe. There are times we need to self-protect because we were naive and vulnerable to the point of being door mats. The type of self-protection that is toxic is when it harms others and protects our self to the point we over look our own sins and mistakes because we want to look good. Narcs always want to look good so in the process, they damage other people in order to protect themselves.

We all mistakes, the issue of re-framing shame is to first get rid of toxic shame that someone else thrust on us before we allow God heal our broken parts through healthy community and sharing of our stories.

If a true princess has done wrong,
she is always uneasy until
she has had an opportunity
of throwing the wrongness
away from her by saying:
“I did it; and I wish I had not;
and I am sorry for having done it.”
-George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

Often those who are the most shame-filled become narcs. They feel so low about themselves they will do all they can to save face and look good. Such people can’t take off their masks because they can’t bear to face the truth about themselves and they’ll do everything to destroy anyone who exposes them. This survival of the fittest mentality of power over is evil.

Narcissism gives us a front row seat to what evil looks like. Ask any ACoN who has tried to have a relationship with their parents. We all know the cold shoulder given when the narc no longer uses us. We know the exclusion and ostracizing that happens when we don’t go along with lies. We know what it is like to be shunned and shunted away from the family and left to suffer alone. Unfortunately society winks at evil and many turn their heads the other way.

When ACONs* re-frame the shame we once lived with and call evil by its right name, we can changed the landscape of our families. It might take years for others to wake up, but at least we have taken a stand and declared, “This far and no more.” When we choose the light of honest living, we can no longer accept the darkness. The truth has set us free from the family curse.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
-Isaiah 5:20

 

*ACoN-Adult Children of Narcissists