If something you read evokes a strong reaction, you can make a strong bet that something is happening on a deeper level within you.
I’m reading a great book about vulnerability and the first few chapters tackles the subject of shame. Brenè Brown, the author of ‘Daring Greatly’ explains that the top 2 shame triggers for women are body image followed by…motherhood.
You don’t have to be a mother to experience mother shame… Society views womanhood and motherhood as inextricably bound; therfore our value as women is often determined by where we are in relation to our roles as mother or potential mothers.
In my last blog post I talked about the motherhood challenge that has recently popped up on Facebook. It has been on my mind a lot so I tried to unpick what it was all about.
When I first saw the pictures they made me feel uncomfortable and inadequate. I now understand these feelings to be shame. I reposted an article in response to the challenge as it validated how I was feeling and helped to bury my feelings of shame. Whilst the article colluded with my hidden inadequacy, reposting it jarred against my values as someone that believes in compassion and unity between women. My shame response was so strong it overpowered my values.
I also reposted this picture by comedian Ellie Taylor as again it aligned with how I wanted to feel.
But my honest reaction to seeing this picture in comparison to the family photo’s was how alone this person looked. If we’re going there with shame lets talk about my deepest fear of being old and alone. Quick supress these feelings of shame and fear by reposting a picture that validates I’m ok.
One of my secret reasons for going travelling was because I couldn’t deal with being surrounded by the women in my life getting engaged, married and pregnant. I didn’t know it at the time but my shame response was triggered and my gun was great at firing me across the globe to run away. Don’t get me wrong, of course I’m genuinely happy for these significant mile stones in my friends life. What it does is hold a mirror to the fact that I’m in my 30’s, single and nowhere near settling down and doing all those things. Saying that, I’m no Bridget Jones, I’m pretty happy being single and I’m in no rush to find the right person to have kids with. I’d rather be single and happy than be in a relationship that’s not suitable for me.
So back to this motherhood challenge and shame. The book says that when you speak out shame it loses its power. So here I am with my power wand – woosh. Experiencing shame of not being a mother whilst feeling good about being single and appreciating the freedom I have as a non parent is an interesting paradox.
I remember distancing myself from my friends who were getting pregnant. I got very upset, feelings of being left behind were stirred up and resistance to my friendship group dynamic and socialising rules changing. I realised I was so completely stuck in my head about it all so decided to speak open heartedly to my (new mum) friend about how I was feeling. It was a hugely powerful conversation that made me reconnect with her and appreciate her experience more. What I had done (without realising) is bring my shame to the surface and talk it out.
So I’m glad that I reposted the article for it to get a negative response for me to then cringe at the realisation that it went against so much that I stand for. It has really made me stop and look at what’s going on for me and this whole motherhood thing. It sure as hell ain’t going away and I’m really pleased to know that if I get a strong response in future, it’s just shame popping its head up to say hello.
I wish women would talk about this more openly. I’m astounded at the negative response a few other people got reposting the article. But at the same time I’m not as the author does the very thing it accuses the challenge of doing, dividing women.
I was speaking on the phone earlier and got excited that I was in India, in a gorgeous house to myself for the weekend, for free, with homecooked food whilst talking about shame with a good friend. She replied that you may look at people and not feel complete, but people are possibly looking at you thinking the very same thing. It’s not just motherhood, it’s dis/ability, body image, possessions, an endless list. In the words of another friend. …everything you need is within you. It’s not something external, not a place, not a thing, not a child…everything you need is within.
Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash
Damn, you’ve got clever friends!! haha
Damn right I have! ☺
Thanks for posting this honest exploration of complex issues, darling Lesley. The motherhood question and fear of ending up old and alone are also themes in my life which are so complex that I haven’t even managed to begin to unpick them yet, but know that I have to. When I start to, I hope I can be as brave as you in sharing my innermost thoughts and conflicting feelings. Shame around these topics for all sorts of reasons is a big issue, and I’ve realised it’s not just for us women but for men too – society puts pressure on men in relationships to want to be fathers, and if they don’t it asks them “how can you deny your wife/girlfriend the opportunity to be a mother?” – that seems like a potentially shame-evoking question to me. Thanks for your continually inspiring posts – sending lots of love and looking forward to seeing you in a few months! <3 xxx
Ah thanks lovely. It’s a biggie for sure and something I think isn’t spoken very openly about. I recommend the book as it talks about men and women both experiencing shame. Good luck with your own exploration when you are ready. Big love x
I’ve been meaning to explore your blog properly for ages so now I’m here I’ll look around ;0) But I wanted to thank you for writing about this – I’m thinking that awkward feelings I have had may have been shame too. If I feel uncomfortable, I now text/message/call people and apologise because I can’t help wondering if it’s on my mind, maybe it affected them too. I’m flippant with words sometimes, so do try to backtrack to compensate for my tactlessness ;0)
Our decision to be childfree is no longer an issue for us, despite confusion when we try to explain to others (I was reading relative blogs this morning). However, for others, as Ellie Taylor states, it is a painful subject which is around us everyday. Keep sharing all your love and your big heart, Lesley xXx
Thanks Deb. I can get the confusion you mention when explaining to other people that you don’t want kids, because it’s very much assumed that’s what you do when you’re married. I have another friend in the sane position. It’s a super sensitive topic and us humans are constantly impacting each other with our words. I’m sure the people you are referring to know you have a big heart and are coming from a good place. Sending love x