We Are All Set up to Feel Shame at Some Point…
You know, that feeling that who you are isn’t good enough to be accepted (a little Brené Brown plug here). We adults can feel this emotion at any point in time, in any setting: in relationships, at work, in the home.
Consider for a moment what it’s like to experience shame while in your adolescent years…a time when very few individuals have a steady landing on his or her identity. To get a bit more specific, think about how an adolescent girl might wrestle with shame, what might trigger the emotion, and how she might cope with it.
Shame Is Often a Driving Force
As a therapist who works with adolescent girls, I would risk stating that I see shame in all of my sessions. Though it may present itself differently from client to client, shame is often a driving force behind whatever brings an individual into my office.
Maybe a 17-year-old is struggling academically, but her attention in class is often scattered by thoughts of social inadequacy: “I’m such an idiot for trying to talk to those girls in the cafeteria. I can’t believe I said something so stupid! They must think I’m such a loser!” Or a high school freshman is caught up in sexual activity and struggles to believe that someone would like her for who she is, rather than who her choices portray her to be.
Sometimes I get the opportunity to sit down with parents to help them better understand what is really going on with their daughter. I empathize with Mom and Dad; teenage girls don’t easily offer words of vulnerability, not to mention insight into their shame.
“Think about how an adolescent girl might wrestle with shame, what might trigger the emotion, and how she might cope with it.”
As a part of the emotion’s very nature, shame is difficult to speak out loud for fear of what others might think. And to be fair, sometimes teens (…and adults) are not fully aware of what they are experiencing. But all too often, all parents can see is the surface issue: the grades, the inappropriate texts, the drug use.
So when I begin speaking with parents about their daughter’s shame, and they are frequently shocked and confused to hear this underpinning of the “issues.”
While it is saddening to hear of your daughter’s doubts regarding her worth, the good news is that moms and dads can play a vital role in challenging the lies of shame. Here are a few insights to recognize as you help your daughter see her value:
3 Ways to Combat Your Daughter’s Shame:
1. Your Daughter Cares What You Think of Her
I know sometimes this doesn’t feel true. Sometimes it seems as though your daughter’s friends are the most important people in her life. Although this may be developmentally appropriate and accurate for now, she does want your acceptance and validation.
As I said before, it can become easy to solely focus on your daughter’s behaviors. And while serious discussions of choices have their time and place, she needs to see and hear that ultimately you value her for who she is, rather than what she does or doesn’t do.
Ask your daughter to lunch, a movie, coffee; spend time just being together without discussions of productivity or poor behavioral choices. Show her that she is a person simply worth being with.
2. Your Daughter Wants to Be Able to Share Personal Things with You
Again, you may be debating the validity of this statement based on the number of times she provides a one-word response. But it’s true; I can’t tell you how many times I have heard girls say that it would be nice or even relieving to be able to open up to Mom and Dad.
There are a few things you can do to encourage this kind of dialogue: Truly work to understand how she is feeling and thinking before offering advice or your own thoughts. Validate her emotional experiences (read Heidi’s article for more!).
And ask her questions. Showing genuine interest in and empathy for what she is experiencing is a significant way to communicate to your daughter that she matters.
3. Your Daughter May Need Help Finding a Place Where She Belongs
Belonging means experiencing acceptance for who you are, believing that you don’t have to be anyone other than yourself. Encourage her to explore her different interests, to try new things.
Participating in a passion or volunteering can be helpful in connecting her with other like-minded peers. It may also be beneficial for her to form relationships with other healthy adults who can offer support and encouragement.
Sometimes it’s just hard to share certain things with your parents, no matter how much Mom and Dad listen or empathize. A positive third-party adult voice can be a really powerful tool.
I wish that we could make the shame just go away, never to return. But unfortunately, experiencing shame is a part of being human. The more you demonstrate worth to your maturing daughter, the more positive voices she will have in her mind as she grows into an adult, and the better equipped she will be to deny shame when it pops up in the future.