Healing Shame and Forgiving My Mother
I disconnected from myself early in life prompted by feelings of shame. Researcher and author Brené Brown identifies shame as the “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and, therefore, unworthy of love and belonging.” Throughout my life, I absorbed shame messages, such as, “I’m unlovable,” “I’m not good enough,” and “I’m unworthy of love.”
Wearing this cloak of shame kept me discovering who I am. It made me feel invisible by silencing my voice, squelching my spirit, and suppressing my full self-expression. To lovingly connect, I had to reveal my truth.
The core belief that I was unworthy of love took root after my mother abandoned me. I was eight years old. For twenty years, I repressed my feelings, mistrusted my intuition, and dissociated from my body. I lived in a state of insecurity and unworthiness, believing that if I revealed my innermost self to others they would not love me. Through overachieving and trying to be perfect, I tried to prove that I was worthy.
I began to release shame by embracing my vulnerabilities and connecting with the fragmented, unloved parts of me.
Before I finally made my first therapy appointment, I spent days staring at the phone in the kitchen, willing myself to dial the number on the business card in my hand. At the time, I was in graduate school studying to be a psychologist, and it felt deeply shameful for me to admit that I was struggling with depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide—the fruits of all my years of self-repression. I agonized about what I would say: that my marriage was on the rocks, that I was scared, that I felt like a bad mother, and that all I wanted to do was escape to a place where no one could find me.
Then one day, while staring at the phone yet again, I heard what I now identify as the whisper of my spirit guiding me through my heart. It said, “Just pick up the phone.” When I dialed the number, a woman answered. I haltingly said, “I’d like to make an appointment.”
After the therapist had taken down my name and phone number, she asked, “Why do you want to see me?” Unprepared to let down my guard down, I swallowed hard, and mumbled, “It’s personal.”
With her guidance, I eventually mustered the inner strength to begin searching for my mother, which ultimately catalyzed a search for myself. The search took a full year of reviewing public records and tracing leads regarding her whereabouts over a long period of time.
Near the end of that tumultuous period of emotional and spiritual healing, I wrote this letter to her in my journal.
December 27, 1986
After all these years, I want you to know that I love you. For many years, I’ve tried to forget you, put the past behind me, and pretend that you never existed. Yet, whenever I think of you, I feel so much pain.
I’ve realized that for me to heal, love myself, and be happy I need to try to find you or say good-bye. I want to know what happened to you and if you’re still alive.
Mom, I’ve really missed you. I wish you were here to hold, comfort, and just be with me. Painful questions weigh heavy on my heart. Where have you been all these years? How could you leave me? Why didn’t you try to find me? Do you still love me?
I forgive you for not being there, for leaving me. I want to see you, to feel you, and to understand your pain and suffering. I know you once loved me, and I’ve always held that in my heart. Thank you for bringing me into the world. Please find the strength within your heart to reach out to me.
I finally felt connected.
In reaching out for help by making that phone call, I finally stopped running from my unbearable shame and embraced my vulnerabilities. I realized that I had always had the power to heal my innermost wounds. But before I could heal—before I could love and connect to myself—I needed to acknowledge that those messy, imperfect parts of myself existed in the first place.
Through this healing process, I learned that, by opening my heart, I can channel the power of love within me. But until I stepped out of the shadows of shame and stopped demeaning myself, I was not able to fully open to that power. Now I can.