Do you feel backed into a cage with your feelings and emotions? Are you ashamed that your child died by suicide? Do you hide and conceal mental health issues? Are you ashamed to be sad? Do you feel shamed by others that you did not see the signs and prevent it from happening? Has someone judged the way you are grieving? Either you are getting over it too quickly or taking too long to move on?
Shame can come from different sources: you can create your own shame and shame can be placed upon you by others. Shame is self-focused as being bad vs guilt that you did something bad.
Shame is the feeling that you don’t belong, are broken, unworthy of love, and lack connection to community. The origin of the word shame takes us back to the words hidden and taboo. Brene Brown, the shame researcher, reminds us that shame feeds off judgement, concealment, and silence.
I found this quite interesting, shame is a proximal trigger for alcohol and substance abuse, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Shame makes a person feel though change is impossible. Shame is often used as a parenting strategy and children are shamed at an early age. Shame can come from school peers, teachers, friends, strangers, employers – anybody you meet.
In the case of death by suicide, shame can lead to cultural separation from your community and support system. Suicide is stigmatized and often viewed as being a crime or a sin that no one talks about. As a result, you may find as a suicide loss survivor feeling rejected, and outcast because of the cause of death.
The feeling of being left alone to figure out how to move forward is now in the spotlight called survival. Child suicide is messy, complex, and complicated. It can lead to isolation driven by the feeling that your circumstances are unique and that nobody else has experienced what you are going through, that your situation is worse than anybody else’s. You want sympathy but are unable to let anyone connect with you, help you. In truth, child suicide is not unique. Others have traveled this path. Others have survived.
Suicide can create feelings of abandonment by your loved one. They did not intentionally leave you. As much as you would like to believe, they were not thinking about the pain and suffering their death would cause you. They simply wanted to end their own pain.
How to Overcome Shame
Know what triggers you into feelings of loneliness and disconnection. It can be that feeling of uniqueness in your grief, and nobody understands what you are going through. You may tell yourself that you can’t live without your loved one. By understanding what throws you into isolation, you can now work to overcome it.
It is important to talk to yourself just like you would talk to someone you love – how would you advise them? Would you say you are so stupid to a friend, or would you say you did the best you could?
Shame cannot survive when it is spoken and met with empathy. Reach out to someone you trust and tell your story. It takes courage to do this. It is critical to step out of your comfort zone – to help yourself move forward. When you share your story, find the right person to be open and vulnerable with. Not everyone is the right person for every circumstance. Here are some examples: As a kid, I had friends that I played softball with and only saw them at practice and games. I had friends at school, and we only talked at class. I had friends from the neighborhood and saw them on weekends and after school.
When I had difficulty with softball, I sought my softball friends. When I had trouble at school, I talked to classmates and when there was chaos at home, I ran to the neighbors. I knew they could relate to what I was going through. Be aware if you choose to only seek empathy from those with similar experiences, then your circle of support can get smaller and smaller. Suddenly, the only friends you have are ones that have experienced child loss.
To prevent a circle of help and support from getting smaller, be open to who can support you. Empathy does not necessarily come from only those who have experienced exactly the same thing. You might be surprised to find someone that has not gone through what you are going through yet truly care and are empathetic. There are people who want to support you in your grief yet have not lost a child. All it takes from them is to find a part of themselves that is open to deeply hearing your experience. Finding that place allows for them to show empathy and compassion.
Other people may place their expectations on you on how to grieve and you may find yourself doing everything in your power to live up to their expectations. Let go of them. One of the ways that I have found to do this is to give yourself permission to grieve and grieve on your terms. Of course, you really don’t need permission to grieve yet practicing this simple act helps to let go of others’ expectations which allows you to reduce feelings of shame, unworthiness, and lack of connection. It is then that you can take another step towards healing.
Remember that judgment, concealment, and silence feed shame. You cannot change other people’s opinion however you can stop concealing your story and wipe away the silence by sharing it.
I have experienced a great deal of healing through writing blogs and books, being a podcast guest and speaking about suicide. I did not do these things before my son died by suicide in 2018. Being an advocate for suicide awareness and helping others walk their grief journey has helped tremendously in keeping shame at bay. While this is the way I did it, you have the choice of doing what is right for you. As the popular shoe commercial says, just do it.