Mother Father Children on bed smiling

Community Psychiatry’s Moe Gelbart, Ph.D., was featured in Fatherly discussing parental shame. 

Parent Guilt Is Natural. Parent Shame Is Toxic.

Understanding the difference — and cutting yourself some slack — is crucial to being there for yourself and your family.

Despite your best intentions as a parent, your toddler is going to have half a doughnut for dinner one night because their screeching is unbearable when you try to get them to eat anything else. At some point, you’re going to pinch their finger by mistake fastening them into their car seat. You’re going to tune out their rambling story because you’re too exhausted to decipher it, or you’ll yell at them and threaten punishment when they’re being impossible. You’re going to think, “I can’t f–ing stand this kid,” one day, because all parents do. Then, you’re probably going to feel guilty.

Over time, shame has a destructive effect on self-esteem and self-worth, says Moe Gelbart, Ph.D., a psychologist in Torrance, California. Shame typically is left alone to fester because, by virtue, it’s something people want to hide from others.

“People who feel shame are unlikely to talk to someone about it; you feel you’re a bad person, so you keep it to yourself,” Gelbart says. “That leads to depression and anxiety if it’s turned inwards, or anger if it’s turned outward.”

For many men, their sense of wellbeing comes from achievements, money, and “report cards telling them they’re good,” Gelbart says. This idea is fading as gender stereotypes are dismantled, he says. But still, in group therapy sessions he has held, Gelbart says, many men have no idea what to talk about if they’re told they can talk about anything but their jobs or careers.

How Shame Affects How You Parent

If parents don’t address the shame they’re harboring, it could become a vicious cycle that continues for generations, Gelbart says. If a child triggers a feeling of shame in a parent, it can be easier, on an emotional level, to get angry at the child and get him or her to do something different rather than dealing with the feeling of shame.

“That’s externalizing shame and putting the blame on the child,” he says. “Men often take shame and externalize it into blame, and that perpetuates the problem as well as involves the children.”

Typically, men are more likely than women to talk about their feelings in relation to someone else, saying for example, “This person makes me feel a certain way,” rather than owning the feeling, Gelbart says.

“But you need to take responsibility for how you feel, and begin to unravel it so you can talk about it,” Gelbart says. “We teach people to say, ‘I feel…’ in therapy sessions, and the next words have to be something about themselves. You can’t follow with ‘I feel that you…’ That’s not a feeling, that’s an attack or a judgment.”

“I feel you are not a nice person” isn’t actually a “feeling,” he explains. Many men need to do some digging to uncover the feeling beneath that judgement, which could be sadness or hurt.

“Once they start understanding that, it’s a release, and they start to feel better,” Gelbart says.

A lot of the work involves changing how you perceive things, because the way you see things will determine how you feel more than what your family is doing or saying, Gelbart says.

“You can see the glass half-full or half-empty; the glass doesn’t have to change,” he says. “If people can take a deeper look and change how they perceive something, they can begin to feel different.”

Click here to read the entire article on Fatherly.

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