The problem in our culture is that we think we have to do this parenting thing alone. In fact our culture celebrates those who make it on our own. We often face crisis in isolation. I go to the grocery store, to the gym, to the mall and am surrounded by people – yet very alone in my inner turmoil.
Surrounded yet alone.
We’ve never been more self aware, and yet in the last 10 years anxiety has only risen. One in five youth struggle with anxiety. One in five.
Something is missing. Clearly the environments we are creating for our children needs some looking at.
Before you were born, people were already telling your story. What gender you were, a possible name, what features they hoped you would inherit, and what features they hope you would not. Maybe the story being told about you was that your parents longed for you, or maybe no one wanted you. Maybe the story being told about you was one of fear of the world you were coming into; a teenage single mom, poverty, or a home filled with domestic violence. Your story started even before your parents story began and goes past your parents, parents. Our family history creates the foundation from which our story picks up. When we come into the world others continue to add to our story: “Isn’t he cute?” “She’s a little chubby baby.” “Why is he so small?” “Such a colicky baby.”
Others further add to the story as we grow. “She’s just shy.” “Don’t mind my lil monster, he’s a handful.” “She’s uncontrollable.” And further still, she’s anxious, he’s depressed, she has ADHD, he’s oppositional, What’s wrong with you?! Weirdo, freak, geek, slut, gay, jerk, delinquent, lazy. The additions people make to our stories never stop and this influences how we tell our own story.
Who influences our stories the most is those close to us like: parents, foster parents, teachers, intimate partners. What I tell myself, the story I write, is influenced by these relationships. Our story we tell ourselves right now is being held by a larger story. Our story is encoded by our implicit memory. Implicit memory has no record of time. It remembers what was spoken and created in us – even to the extend of what wasn’t spoken, but we wished would have been. 60-90% of communication is non verbal. We pick up what what is being spoken without words and remember it in our implicit memory. Our actions and emotions reveal what was written on our implicit memory. This is why we go into situations already assuming what will happen, “They will think I’m stupid.” “This isn’t going to work.” “No one ever stays in a relationship with me.”
You could call the underlying “emotion” created by the events in our implicit memory that has shaped us, shame.
More than any diagnosis or mental health issue, shame is our nemesis, especially with us parents. It’s an epidemic. It’s dangerous because we often shape our stories around shame because shame is created in us by those closest to us. When we experience shame it’s de-habilitating. The story I have created in my mind from shame, whether true or not, has now shaped my perception of the world around me, and of you. Shame didn’t enter our story through one large life event, but snuck in through a series of small events. We think to ourselves, “No one else struggles with this.” Anxiety is often shame in disguise, “I am not enough to handle this situation.” This makes us feel anxious.
So what do we do? We hide. We hide from our co-workers and aquaintances, but we also hide from our partner, our kids, our family. We are present, but not present. Often when people become brave to tell the struggles their family faces you will hear them say, “No one knew.” The problem is that shame only grows the more we hide in isolation. Being hidden is the opposite of being known, but being known is the answer to conquering shame.
Being known requires more courage than you will ever know, because to be known to takes the participation of an “other”. Shame wants to disconnect people, but hear this. If we become courageous enough to tell our story to people attuned to us… our family’s story can be rewritten. Our stories are rewritten when we find safe, compassionate, community. It literally rewires our brain. When we rewrite the stories of others it doesn’t just rewrite their story, but their children’s stories. It rewrites the stories of generations to come.
You need to read that paragraph again. Do you see the power of when people are seen?
When we see one another it gives what every human needs: to be seen and understood. You could say that we create one another’s stories. It is a great responsibility we must remember. When mental health issues rise, we must look within with courage and look to how we are contributing to others as the problem, but also as the solution. We are agents of redemption. This is our mandate, our responsibility that does not require a degree, but a heart of compassion.
It’s time to rewrite the stories of our families by courageously choosing to face ourselves and others. We can’t embrace compassion and attunement for our kids without experiencing compassion for ourselves. Learning to tell our stories in safe community heals us, connects us, rebuilds us… together.
More than ever, we need a village.