“Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth, and your heart for love.”
First my disclaimer, I published this piece over a week ago, then I took it down. I edited it. I published it a second time, and I took it down, yet again. Fear of exposing myself and wondering if my story would be met with ridicule and judgment took over my decision. Then this quote by Marcel Proust crossed my path, “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” This story is very personal, and it is a journey that no one could ever take from me. If this past year, and actually, my entire life, has taught me anything, it is that I need to get better at surrendering and accepting God’s will. So, I took the advice of someone I admire, and I closed my eyes. I put my hand over my tender and broken heart. I breathed in and out. I recalled all my life’s teachers, even the ones that hurt me because hurt teaches you something too. I looked at them one by one and I thanked them for the life lessons they taught me, and I thought maybe it is God’s will for me to share my wisdom, my voice and my story.
So, who is this person I admire? Maria Shriver but she is in a cast of many writers who I admire. She captured my attention, many years ago, and there have been times, her voice has made me pause, and reflect on my own thoughts, my own life, and my own words. Quite often, her voice has given me hope. She has been that person who has inspired me to write, to own my story, to find my voice, and to attempt to feel heard. Then, there have been moments, after I have read her thoughts, that I truly know, and believe, I am exactly where I am supposed to be in life.
She once wrote…” sometimes it might feel like you’re speaking to just a few people, or maybe no one at all, but if you don’t write or use your voice, then you will never know how it feels.” Years later, I am still writing, and if I reach one person, that is a good thing, and at the same time, it does not really matter because I still own my story, and I am doing exactly what I want to do, and that is finding my own voice.
During a year that has already been filled with so much pain, suffering, and confusion for anyone to absorb, comprehend or digest, someone shared their personal story of pain with me. It was about how they feel as though they are constantly verbally shamed with extremely hurtful and scaring words. I listened very carefully, and some parts of their story caused me great pain, as it did them. I was not sure how to respond or if they were even asking for my advice because more often than not, people just want to be heard. In that moment, I could hear how deep their pain was and how they were searching for the answers to the “why”. While I hung onto every word of their story, I felt a maternal responsibility to encourage them to try and find the courage, and strength to rise above the hurtful words, to always stand true to themselves, and to always know that I am here for them. I felt a deep disappointment that someone that close to them thought it was completely within their right to hurt someone that badly, so unnecessarily, and over something that had no real importance.
Their story reminded me of an interview I had once heard with Dr. Robin Smith. She said that shaming never changes anyone, but we certainly live in a shaming culture. We are raising our children to be shamed, and that it is totally acceptable for them to shame others. Many of us, were often raised by shaming. Generation after generation, believe shaming a child in front of friends or family will teach them next time not to do whatever wrong you believe they may have done. It might but trust this, it will not change the inside of a child. It actually will start to shave away at their spirit and confidence. Shame is most certainly a spirit killer, and we all do it, we all use it, and it was probably used against many of us, including myself. Shaming is not exclusive to children. Bearing witness to an adult, who is being shamed and ridiculed, openly and publicly, is just as hard to watch. As with a child, it also kills their spirit and confidence. It diminishes who they are as a person, spouse, parent, grandparent or sibling.
The shaming story is one that I am only too familiar with, and it dredged up old ghosts from my past. I grew up with a father, who thought shaming and ruling with an iron hand was the only way to discipline. His disciplinary ways, and his inability to handle, calmly and rationally, unplanned and unexpected life events, forced me to leave my home, to find comfort, compassion, and shelter with family, and eventually, married at a young age. It took me many years to completely forgive my father, but it was after his death that I gained a better understanding of who he was, and why he disciplined the way he did. It was a different time growing up during the 60’s and 70’s, and he was not equipped with the knowledge or resources to guide him with understanding and adjusting to the changing world. I like to believe, I was the rebel, who eventually changed him, and it gave my sisters a better life during the remainder of time that they lived at home. The real turning point in our relationship were the times, over the course of many years, where he verbally, acknowledged and recognized his faults, his mistakes and apologized for all the hurt and pain he had caused. This I know for sure, he loved me, unconditionally, and his ultimate goal was to always protect me, and he only wanted the best for me that life had to offer.
I went from a shaming father to marrying a man, who shamed me nearly every day that we were together. His words cut like a knife and hurt more than the physical abuse. His harshest words imaginable, left internal scars that took years to heal, and overcome. With every opportunity where he felt his power and control over me were being threatened, he used the most degrading words to diminish me as a person, a woman, a wife, and a mother. He too was ill equipped with the knowledge, and the resources for change, and he did not have the ability, the courage nor the will to recognize, and change, who he really was as a man and as a husband. With being a mother, the territory sometimes comes with making difficult choices, for yourself and your children. Nearly 36 years ago, I walked away from that life, and while I forgave him, internally, the scars, deeply remain. Forgiveness is a process, and it is one that may have to be repeated several times. But each time you do, you become more and more free. Letting go and moving on from your first true love is never easy, and it was a difficult and a painful decision, I was making for my children to be without a father in their home. But my choice with ending the marriage came with knowing, I needed to end the cycle of verbal and physical abuse against myself. It was destroying me as a person, and I knew it was affecting my children on many levels, and I walked away, confidently knowing, the cycle of witnessing, learning, and believing this was the way people were supposed to be treated had ended. It was not easy, it took a lot of courage, and it took years for me to find peace with walking away from that marriage, with never having one ounce of regret. I eventually found comfort in knowing that I never had to go home to him or that pain ever again.
The hardest shaming words to forget or get past are from the people we think would never utter such hurtful words. The words said out of anger, and in the heat of the moment. The words you try to move past but remain deep rooted in your soul. How do you heal that? I believe we all are dealing with some type of internal struggle and maybe we should stop trying to skip the struggle because that is where character is built. Maybe we should embrace it, learn from it and grow because of it. Each day I strive to become a better version of myself and becoming that version is all about character. It is said that the building block of character is virtue. Becoming a better version of yourself is about being more patient, more generous, more compassionate and having more empathy for people who may be suffering. If sharing my story, helps one-person move past the hurt and heal the forever scars, then I have used my voice for a good cause and maybe it is helping me get closer to a better version of myself.
Shaming is huge, particularly in this country’s current state of mind. Maybe we all need to get a better sense of our shame self-awareness and check our own shame barometer that we live with. I live with it. You live with it. We all live with it. We all need to become more aware of how often we use shame to manipulate people, to control people, and to silence them.
As a parent, we all slip from time to time, but it is our responsibility to keep ourselves, and the people around us in check, and to address all shameful attacks on our children and ourselves, no matter who they are coming from. We would not tolerate it from a teacher or school principal. We would not tolerate it from a coach or co-worker. Why would we tolerate it in our own homes, under our own roof, with the people we call family. When we do not address them, they embolden our children, and others to continue to be cruel, and disrespectful to each other.
So, here is my thought, I wonder what kind of content we are feeding our heart, mind and soul, that allows us to believe it is perfectly acceptable to harshly shame others, openly and publicly. I wonder if we realize that our own cruel voices can cut like a knife, and they can leave scars that last a lifetime. How you conduct yourself matters. Your behavior matters. Your character matters. Your words matter. How you treat your friends, your family and your lover matters.
Maybe it is time that we all improve our own self-awareness on how various things impact our character, our emotions, our joy, our anxiety, and the people around us. Maybe it is time to reevaluate how we use our own voice. Maybe it is time for all of us to find our kind, respectful, and compassionate voice. Maybe it is time to stop using our own voice to shame, demean, judge or ridicule others. Better yet, maybe it is time to use our own voice to encourage, to be compassionate, to support truth, to help those in need, to inspire the people around us and to promote a real need for change, in and outside our homes, with respect, and with an open mind and heart.
This piece took a long time for me to write. It is personal and it took me to places that are deep rooted in the core of my being. So much of what has happened this past year has shown us the cracks in our lives. We got to know ourselves in new and different ways, and that was scary for many of us. As I sit here, fully exposed, I genuinely believe in Matthew Kelly’s words, “Our lives change when our habits change, and who we become is infinitely more important than what we do, or what we have, and the measure of your life will be the measure of your courage.” And this I know for sure; it took a lot of courage, strength, and character to move past a life that was hurting me, and one that was killing my spirit but more importantly, it took more courage to write about it. I hope that by sharing my story, you too, can find the courage, strength, and character to rise above, any and all, hurtful attempts of shame, and to use your voice to express your unwillingness to accept and tolerate a behavior that may be killing your spirit.
As we say goodbye or maybe even good riddance to 2020, I hope we all take a moment to find our own voice and to be thankful for those we recognize as having a significant presence in our life, or for their tremendous support, encouragement, and guidance in our life, or just thankful for their generous, and unconditional love.
As Matthew says, “sometimes life requires us to sort through our hearts, minds, and souls to recognize what truly is part of who we are and what baggage and burdens have been heaped upon us by others along the way. Spring cleaning our hearts, minds, and souls is a process that takes time, it needs to be revisited regularly, and it’s always worth it.” I hope we all take time during 2021 to check our connections with ourselves, with God and with the people that truly matter to our lives, and sort through our hearts, minds, and souls, and rid our souls of the baggage and burdens. I hope the many blessings of the New Year and life fill our hearts and homes with love, kindness, compassion, unity, peace and renewed hope.
Happy New Year and may we all choose to flourish, and grow in unimaginable ways.
Simply Deborah ❤️