Culture of Shame


I want to speak on a conversation I had with my mother recently.

Last week I took a much-needed trip to California to visit family. It had been a few months since I had been out there so I was excited to see them. As always I brought my partner with me on the trip. We’ve been involved with each other for over a year now and have been seriously dating for a few months. We go everywhere together so it’s nothing new to bring her along with me on my road trips.

As I was saying my goodbyes and getting ready to leave my mother decides to initiate a conversation with me where she basically expresses to me that she doesn’t approve of my lifestyle choices and the fact that I’m dating a woman. She gave a host of reasons why, mainly religious. Her approach was completely judgmental,  intended to induce guilt, and subtly manipulative. I only allowed the conversation out of fairness–as a means to provide my mother with the space to express her feelings. Though I made it clear that her words were not going to change or affect my choices. Once it got to a point where I felt she was trying coax me into doing what she wanted me to do I ended the conversation. I made it clear that I did not need her to accept my lifestyle choices, so long as she supported me as her daughter and did not mistreat my partner. I could tell my mother wasn’t too happy with my response and the conversation was kinda left hanging but I knew that such a topic was something that would never reach a resolution. My mother would have to agree to disagree on this matter.

What stood out to me was two things. First my mother made a comment, something to the effect that I was being selfish. When I asked her to elaborate on what exactly I was being selfish about she couldn’t articulate it. Another thing that struck me was the guilt trip she attempted to lay on me. I’ll admit, she managed to get under my skin a little bit which shed some light on the nature of our relationship. I see that there’s still a small part of me that would like her approval.

It caused me to reflect on the culture of shame our society lives in. How our communities tend to take the  choices of its individual members so personally–to the point where we  often collectively shame a person into following society’s standards.  My mother cannot separate herself from me and tends to see my actions as a direct reflection of her. We went through much of the same thing when I started practicing Buddhism. She internalized my change in religion as a rejection of her, rather than seeing it as me growing spiritually. It’s the same in this case, though I can’t for the life of me understand why she would think that what I do in the bedroom has anything at all to do with her. However understanding that my mother is projecting her own fears and insecurities makes me patient and compassionate. I know that the heart of her concerns is not the salvation of my soul but a more earthly reason, worry about what other’s think about her daughter dating a woman.

Another interesting point was her statement about me being selfish. That comment was more disappointing than any of the others. I sincerely told my mother that I’m the happiest and most content than I’ve ever been in any stage of my life and she still tried to make me feel guilty for it.  It saddens me when a person is labeled as selfish simply by being who they are. It takes a lot of confidence and courage to do what truly makes you happy, at the risk of disapproval from those close to you. The real selfishness is the expectation that a person mold their actions to accommodate your comfort level. The real selfishness is expecting a person to be something they aren’t in order to make you happy.

So while I was bothered by the conversation I had with my mother I appreciate it because it allowed me to see that we have a long way to go in our relationship as mother and daughter. It also helped me to see that there’s more work needed in developing emotional independence from her. In the bigger picture the talk confirmed that I’m exactly where I need to be in my life. Authenticity is the strongest form of liberation, especially from our culture of shame. When you aren’t afraid to be who you are and do the things that make you happy it gives others the courage to do the same. So rather than plant seeds of doubt our talk confirmed that I’m on the right path. Ironic that our conversation had the exact opposite effect of what my mother intended.


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