These words from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets popped into my head as I was taking in the beautiful flowers in our garden. The words are actually, “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.”
In my work as a psychotherapist, I see how early in life the rough winds of criticism, neglect, and abuse actually shake the darling buds. I see how a culture of “perfection” disrupts the natural unfolding of the personality, not only of children, but of so many adults who were wounded early on and still carry the effects of shame. At the root of much addiction, anxiety, depression, abuse, bullying, narcissism, and many other illnesses of the soul, including loneliness, is shame.
Taking responsibility and being accountable for one’s actions is not shame. Seeing one’s shortcomings and failures is not shame. Realistically accepting one’s flaws and limitations is not shame. Shame is a pervasive feeling of unworthiness, that something is intrinsically wrong with us, and that we are unlovable and undeserving of love. In short, we are not enough. What a heartbreaking realization this is for a child, whether the news comes from other children or from those whom they most trust—family.
A child’s mind is not mature enough to understand that adults are not necessarily right, and that abuse and neglect and harsh words and unrealistic expectations of perfection are about impairment in the parent and not about the unworthiness of the child. What follows is a construction of a false self to seem more acceptable, a self that appears perfect and seeks at all costs to please. At some point, this all becomes too much to bear, and the pain leads to passing on shame to others , looking for relief in all the wrong places, serial dysfunctional relationships, or beginning the journey back to the true self. This can be a long journey and is, perhaps, the highest work of therapy. It is never too late to begin the journey back to May.