How to Get Past Intergenerational Shame – It’s Not Yours

Issue 18. April 14, 2023 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

Photo credit: Julia Taubitz

Today would have been my brother Pat’s 52nd birthday if he was still alive. He died on June 20, 2006 at the age of 35 of Legionnaire’s Disease. He’d been severely debilitated by his bipolar disorder for 15 years, and also had a substance use disorder. He was extremely unhealthy and his immune system just wasn’t able to fight off the Legionnaire’s Disease.

Today feels like a fitting day to share my story of intergenerational shame and what I did to get past it because it gave me insight into my brother Pat. I’ll share why at the end.

My understanding from the work I’ve done in recovery is that family dysfunction is intergenerational. That means that when we feel profound shame, it’s likely not ours because it’s been passed down from previous generations. This is especially likely when the shame is so overwhelming that we’re crippled by it. Or when it crops up about things that most people don’t feel shame over.

The reason the shame can be so crippling and out of proportion to a situation is that the shame has been passed down by generations of dysfunctional families before us. It’s literally like their shame was poured into us. It’s not their fault though, because their shame was poured into them by previous generations.

Understanding the intergenerational nature of shame had an enormous impact on me and my relief from the burden of shame. Here’s what that looked like for me.

After I got laid off from Yale and my severance was running out, I went on unemployment because I’d been unable to a job (shockingly – to me anyway!) despite applying for many.

I knew the unemployment compensation would be less than half my salary, so I began to do the mature, adult, financially responsible thing: I called my creditors to make arrangements for my debts.

The first creditor I called was my mortgage company and they were really helpful and gracious. But when I got off the phone, I started fucking sobbing! I’m talking on the floor, agonizing.

When my crying jag was over, I thought “What the fuck was that??”

And then I realized that what I was feeling was shame. I was absolutely overwhelmed with shame!

Here I was being a mature adult, acting proactively and being financially responsible and I felt riddled with shame???

What the fuck???

And then I remembered, “Oh! This is not my shame.”

That’s why it was so profound and heavy and inappropriate for the situation!

What I eventually figured out – years later – is that the shame was about asking for help. Because that was something I was raised not to do. Don’t show weakness, be self-sufficient, cover it up, but DO NOT MAKE YOURSELF VULNERABLE BY ASKING FOR HELP!

Realizing that the feeling I was having was shame was HUGE, but even bigger than that was the realization that it was not my shame and I didn’t have to own it. I didn’t have to accept it, I didn’t have to hold onto it.

A few days later when I called my next creditor, I started to feel the shame flood coming on and I held up my hands above my head and pushed back energetically on the shame and chanted,

“Not My Shame. Not My Shame. Not My Shame…”

Rather than feeling like a waterfall of shame, it was more like a trickle. And I didn’t cry. I was amazed at the difference! All from realizing it wasn’t my shame and refusing to own it, refusing to take it on – pushing it away.

So it’s possible that you too, can get past the profound sense of shame if you suffer from it like I did. For much of my life I didn’t even realize that what I was feeling was shame. To me, that was just what life was like – that shitty feeling flooding through your body, crippling you on a regular basis.

Now, about my brother Pat. Probably a year or so before he died, we were hiking in the woods and he suddenly stopped in his tracks, turned around and looked at me and said,

“Barb, I have a level shame that is so deep, and so profound that it just can’t be from this lifetime. There’s nothing I’ve ever done that would explain this level of shame. It must have come from another lifetime.”

He said he wanted to explore past life regression as a way to get to the root of it. I’m sorry to say he never got the opportunity to do that before he died.

Years later when I learned in recovery about the intergenerational nature of family dysfunction, including shame, I realized Pat was right. That shame he had probably was from the past. But it probably wasn’t from his past lifetime, it was from our ancestors.

If you’re feeling extremely profound shame that’s way out of proportion to the situation – it’s not yours. And you don’t have to own it. You can refuse to take it on. You can reject it. You are not shame, you are a beloved creation of God.🌟❤️

Things I don’t want to live without…

Mindset Journaling

Every morning and every night I do mindset journaling. My mind tells me shit that’s just not right, and I do this so I can be the boss of my mind, not the other way around.

Sometimes I’ll write out an affirmation 10X in a row. Sometimes I’ll write a few different ones. Last summer I participated in a 21 day exercise in a coaching group I was in and we wrote out our fears and didn’t stop until we sighed. Then we wrote out the opposites of those fears. Many of those “opposites” are on the list of affirmations I write in my mindset journaling, and are affirmations I read aloud or listen to on the audio recording I made.

If your mind is anything like mine, I highly recommend some kind of mindset journaling daily. The highly evolved people I know say thought work is by far the most impactful thing you to have and maintain a  better life. 

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