I’m coming to the end of my 10 posts about self-soothing and I can think of about 5 more ways to look at the issue, so keep an eye out since I’m keeping this topic open to add more.
Let’s assume we’re still thinking of self-soothing as the ability to work with yourself until you can find a place of calm to make a decision, aka the use of multiple strategies to take care of the self so the self isn’t left hanging out to dry on the line, helplessly wafting in the wind when the rain and storm approach.
I’ve been studying lately but I’m always studying. I study human behavior for a living and I help people to shift out of old habits. I study my own behavior and work toward letting go of the legacy left to me by my family. This time, I’m studying Dr. Brené Brown’s work on power and vulnerability, connection and resilience, and shame. It’s amazing work that has so many parallels to what we stepmothers need in order to come into our new lives and find our place.
I’m still processing what I’ve learned from Dr. Brown’s work, I Thought I Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame and The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, but I’ll do my best to describe what it is that is so valuable.
All that angst, panic, or anxiety that you feel in your stepfamily home, it’s likely brought on by your gut level reactions to the fear of the disconnection. I’ve often thought that our ability to navigate the first few years of a re-marriage is all about how comfortable we are with not knowing where we stand in the family constellation. It’s all about our ability to handle the disconnections.
The fear of disconnection and the shame that comes when feeling the disconnection can explain our drive toward perfectionism and wanting to make everything okay, at least according to Dr. Brown. She does not speak directly about stepmothers, but that is the anatomy of the process. In fact, she says perfectionism is “the birthplace of shame.”
Think of it . . . why does it cut so deep when his child tells you you’re not his mother? I finally get it, it’s the shame of not being chosen first, the shame of not being connected. The shame of being rejected. There’s more, so much more, but if you’re a stepmother reading this, you know what I’m referring to. There’s a very long list of what cuts deep.
If we’re all looking for a sense of connection and our indignation is about not finding a way in, that might explain our frustration and distress when the counselor says, “you knew what you were getting into.” It’s okay to go ballistic. That counselor is not even close to considering what is going on for you. You are sitting there in the shame of not doing it right, even if your outward behavior is toward anger and blaming. Dr. Brown cites anger and blame as two of the most common reactions when someone feels shame. We immediately begin to offload onto whoever is the closest to us.
I used to think that a stepfamily was born out of grief, the grief of the dissolved marriage that the children came from. Now, I think there is a ton of grief and also a ton of shame. The shame that things didn’t work out. The shame that the children have to go through this. A shame so intense it needs to be put off onto others because we don’t live in a culture that talks about this shame. We don’t live in a place that acknowledges that everyone is trying and everyone needs reassurance and comfort.
This post isn’t going to wrap up with a catchy moral for you to consider. It will just leave you with the processing of the issues, that shame is universal and every has it, that if we work with ourselves and bring things out into the open, shame has a chance to calm down and lessen. There are so many reasons for a stepmother to feel alienated and alone and there is plenty of shame wrapped up inside it, whether or not we are comfortable labeling it as such.
Just knowing that our reactions are normal goes a long way toward helping loosen the shame bonds (and move toward self-soothing). What if you could loosen these bonds by even three-quarters of an inch? How would your life feel if you had that much room to move around?
Note: I strongly urge you to check out the work of Dr. Brené Brown. She can be found in countless YouTube videos. All worth watching.