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Sandra Wilson - Released from Shame - Reading Notes

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Sandra Wilson – Released from Shame 

Rules in Unhealthy Families 

  1. Be Blind 

    1. To your own perception of reality 

Even children old enough to care for themselves fear the painful emotional abandonment they experience when they fail to live by their family rules, including “be blind”. So, children learn to surrender their own perceptions.  

Parental distortion of reality is actually a form of intellectual child abuse. As adults, these intellectually abused children might seek endless validation of every decision.  

2. To role reversals 

Unhealthy families are populated by “adultified” children and “childified” adults. In these homes, parents often use their children to meet distorted needs for power, nurturing even sexual gratification, while the children’s needs are ignored. 

  1. Be Quiet 

  1. In public 

When interacting with the outside world, impaired parents model the family’s top priority: looking perfect.  

  1. Be Numb 

  1. To feelings 

Dysfunctional families both stimulate strong emotions and block their expression. Children in these families seem to develop a kind of “emotional leprosy” or numbness that allows them to block out their confusing, often overwhelming feelings. 

Very early, children realize that their parents cannot tolerate displays of anger, sadness, fear or pain. Expressions of those emotions betray the family secret that all is not perfect. Therefore, disturbing emotions become enemies to be feared and eventually numbed and repressed. 

Adults who repress emotions often are unable to answer the question “How do you feel about that?” with anything more specific than “I don’t know”.  

  1. To personal boundaries 

Without healthy boundaries, we will not know when we are being invaded or abused. 

  1. Be Careful 

Depending on their degrees of personal impairment, parents create families that their children experience as unpredictable, chaotic or unsafe. 

  1. Be Good 

In unhealthy families, the word good, when applied to children, is actually a code word for “perfect”. 

A “good child”: 

  • Never inconveniences parents 

  • Never embarrasses or disappoints parents 

  • Never has personal needs 

  • Knows how to do everything correctly without being taught 

  • Never has a critical thought 

  • Never loses (except when competing with a parent) 

  • Does everything parents ask (instantly, perfectly and joyfully, of course) 


The more troubled the family in which you were raised, the more difficult it will be for you to remember the whole picture, because you might have been taught that “good” children only remember happy times. And you have always wanted to be good. 

Abuse and Shaming in Unhealthy Families 

Overtly abusive parents thrust their children into adulthood with gaping wounds that leave the children vulnerable to further abuses. 

Father Hunger 

If you are a woman with father hunger, you might be starved for attention from men, especially older men in positions of authority. 

Hooking the Shame 

In overtly and subtly abusive families, parents use “shame loops” by using emotional or verbal pressure on their children. For example: 

  1. Negative comparisons that make the child feel different and less than others 

  1. Redefining respect 

Respect your elders is actually a code word for “Do everything older relatives tell you to do and ask no questions”. It’s an extremely effective way to control older children in unhealthy families. It requires any attempts from the children to separate appropriately from their parents and develop their own individuality to be redefined as “disrespecting your elders”. 

“Growing down” is the phenomenon when you are 20, 35 or 50 when you return to your parents’ home and emerge 3 days later feeling like you are 8 again. This feeling can be triggered by “loyalty tests” parents put on you. Eg. “How can you do X when you know we always do Y?” 

“always” is the verbal hook to test your sense of family loyalty and pressure you into mindless obedience to any spoken or unspoken parental pattern. 

In such families, children still feel like walking on eggshells around their parents. They may remember there is only one way to do anything and it’s your father’s way, of course. 

In some families, “respect” actually means” do not express any opinion or preference that differs from your father’s or he will explode and it will be all your fault that the day is ruined.” And since it is simply expected of you that you respect your elders, you probably don’t even get any praise for god performance tapdancing through a mine field. 

Understanding Consequences and Change 

The consequences of binding shame are numerous: 

Existence Guilt, Abandonment and Perfectionism 

Children fear abandonment. They believe that is all they deserve for being so fatally flawed by imperfection. Is there any hope of maintaining a relationship with other people? Of course – we have to pretend to be perfect too! 


It is expressed by inner commentaries on our consistent failures. 

Hopelessness and Self-Protection 

Perfectionism is often the chosen means of self-protection and the cycle of shame continues. 

Released from Shaming Our Flaws 

Ways out: committing to the truth. Realizing that your past influences you but it doesn’t have to control you. 

Without realizing it, many abused children love most of their life making choices based on shame and self-protection. They shame themselves and administer punishment for the crime of imperfection. We imprison ourselves in the dungeons of self-hatred and hopelessness. 

Something Missing 

Victims of abuse have lots of memory gaps referring to experiences they had as a child but conveniently forgot in order to benefit the family system. 

Skill gaps also exist: in poorly functioning homes, parents were too distressed and distracted to provide basic knowledge and experiences regarding problem solving, basic nutrition or appropriate social behavior. Children were supposed to know these things without being taught. As small adults they were expected to organize a term paper, cook or resolve conflict correctly the first time around. 

You might be shaming yourself for being stupid when in reality you are very bright and creative. What you are labeling as stupidity is actually the sense of confusion commonly experienced by adults who never had the opportunity as children to try and learn lots of basic things.  

The Mask of Perfectionism 

Most adults from troubled families conclude early in life that it is dangerous to let the real mistake-making me show. So we fashion disguises, masks of perfection. These masks are extremely cumbersome and ill-fitting. Everything is a life-or-death, must-win situation. As perfectionists, we can’t tolerate criticism from others in any form, so we react defensively and alienate those close to us. This only reinforces our belief that we must be perfect to be accepted and loved. 

Perfectionists are often rewarded for their life-crushing compulsion. We might look like butterflies to others but we know we are really just caterpillars. Fortunately, no one has noticed yet. Many experienced the Imposter phenomenon. Every time they get an official-looking letter from Ministry headquarters, they are afraid they are going to be fired for incompetence. 

Released from Shaming Our Feelings 

When Feelings Seem Disobedient, Disloyal and Dangerous 

If you grew up in families where feelings were a luxury we couldn't afford, we still may be living emotionally impoverished lives in an attempt to be loyal. but even be on the discomfort of experiencing ourselves as disobedient and disloyal, we might experience feeling strong emotions as dangerous. In extremely troubled families, children learn that strong feelings usually directly and immediately cause harmful behavior. If our only adult models express emotions violently, we will think the only outcome of experiencing a strong feeling is destructively expressing that feeling. 

Fear of Abandonment 

 most of us never see how fear of Abandonment rather lives. Sometimes you want to say no but you are afraid. Why is saying no so bad? Your friend might not like the fact that you're not going to her party. Why is that so bad? You would be alone. Loneliness is one of the trigger events for fear of abandonment.   

If children experience abandonment with enough frequency and intensity in childhood, it becomes a significant trauma which will mark the adult child's life with a strong fear of re-experiencing any reminder of abandonment. 


 Fear of feelings and needs   

Adults raised in poorly functioning families are often described as compulsive controllers. They often try to supervise and regulate every detail of their own and others’ behaviors. Since we went through childhood with little or no control, it is as if they have silently vowed “Never again.” If this is your style, you are what has been called an external controller. 

 if you do not appear to be controlling, you might be an internal controller, dedicated to extinguishing any awareness of your personal needs by withholding your feelings. Impaired parents are so absorbed with their own needs that they do not have any emotional energy to meet their children's needs. It is too painful and scary for these children to consistently have their legitimate needs unmet, so they try to be need-free.  

If your early years included parent abuse and consistent emotional abandonment, you experience the betrayal of trust that deeply lacerated your life. When parents betray and reject you, grief might threaten to overwhelm. As a child, you had to repress the sorrow to survive. As an adult, you might still useful and shame this sadness to protect yourself from emotional pain and to project an image of being strong, in control and mature. 

“I'm angry all the time”, said the son of rigid and perfectionist parents. 

“I don't think I have ever been angry”, said the incest survivor, softly. 

Anger seems to be the only emotion some adults ever feel, while for others it is the only dangerous emotion that they never allow themselves to experience. 

 anger can be used to Shield us against anticipated pain in a defensive response to previous pain.  for some children anger is the only moment when they feel safe and strong because they can say no. this self-protective use of anger might be an attempt to avoid that person's disapproval or rejection. These responses can trigger our painful feelings of abandonment.  

New choices to express feelings 

 learn some respectful assertiveness techniques so you don't need anger to Shield you from personal boundary violations. Try the broken record. You continue to matter of fact please State your desire or presence until the other realizes you are not backing down  

increase your feeling vocabulary by preparing a list of pleasant and unpleasant emotions. This will help you talk and write about the wider range of emotions you will be experiencing. Euphoria, vibrancy, contentment, alertness, regarded, lethargy, dejection, discontentment, aversion. 

Released from Shame-based Overdependency 

Craig spends a lot of time monitoring Sarah’s eating disorder.  he is convinced that he can change her if he loves her enough and tries hard enough. 

 Over dependency, often called codependency, is a shame-based painful pattern of excessive dependence on others to provide a sense of personal safety, identity and worth. over dependency binds us to relationships where we are being disrespected and controlled by people that we in turn, disrespect and attempt to control.  


Are you an over dependent person who gets compulsively over involved with others? Use this quiz : 

  •  I feel uneasy and empty if I am not in a close relationship 

  •  I sacrificed my values and standards to stay connected with others 

  •  I give money on gifts as a way to feel more secure in relationships 

  • I cannot feel good if someone else feels bad 

  •  I spend so much time helping others that my job, family and health suffer 

  •  my needs to not feel is important and urgent as the needs of others 

  •  I believe many people would be lost without me as I protect them from the effects of their stupid or silly choices  


Healthy Relationships 

Respecting ourselves and others also requires that we allow other adults to be as responsible for the consequences of their choices as we are for ours. stop and ask yourself if you are trying to rescue some adults from experiencing the consequences of their irresponsible choices. 

You might care deeply about this person and believe you are expressing true compassion. But can you see that you are actually expressing disrespect? When you rescue someone, you were saying “ I believe you were less capable of living responsibly than I am. You are like a child, or a mentally retarded adult.” 


Shame-Based relationships 

When asked why she stayed, Jessica shrugged and said” I take what I can get. Besides, it could be a lot worse.”  What she meant was that she feared being alone. 

The greater the perceived abandonment in childhood, the more urgent and desperate is the adult search for safety and connectedness, regardless of how much physical, emotional and relational pain is involved.  


Mutually disrespectful shame-based relationships 

In many over-dependent relationships, both people shame and deeply disrespect each other, the one person may be less obvious about it. 

Shamers know where others are most easily hurt and use that information. the attack the independence of their partners by casting doubt on their intelligence, common sense and sanity. They diminish the people around them so that they can feel better about themselves. Subtle shamers favor rescuing to look stronger and more competent than the victim, while also maintaining the appearance of respectful kindness.  


Marriage and our hidden agendas  

 many over-dependent adults approach marriage with hidden agendas. Usually, we hide these agendas even from ourselves. all we know is that we have deep, name of those long things in their lives, and we expect our unsuspecting spouses to satisfy them. But of course, they have their own longings and agendas. Our vague feelings that there is something missing in us propels our compulsive drive for personal completion. In marriage, this compulsion is identified into unspoken demands that our spouses spend their entire lives taking away our childhood pain and filling us with good feelings about ourselves 


Over-dependence and boundaries  

We cannot set personal boundaries and at the same time take responsibility for controlling another person's feelings. These acts are mutually exclusive. We set personal boundaries to take care of ourselves, not to control others. 



Too Permeable 


I talk at an intimate level at the first meeting 

I don’t overwhelm people with personal information. I allow time for trust to develop. 

I am overwhelmed with a person and his or her needs 

I am able to keep relationships in perspective and function effectively in other areas of my life. 

I don’t ever notice when others invade my personal boundaries 

I notice when others try to make decisions for me, are overly helpful or don’t consult me about planning my time. 

I sacrifice my values if I have to in order to be close to people. 

I am not willing to “do anything” to maintain a relationship. I have values that are non-negotiable 


Overdependency and Controlling Others 

Overdependents are the fairy godmothers of the world. They wave a magic wand, hoping to control other people. They end up being controlled by the very people they attempt to control.  

We complain about our loss of control in unhealthy relationships while being sincerely committed to improving, rescuing and helping others- which are all attempts to control someone. But in reality, unless you are in a prison, if you are being controlled and disrespected, you are a volunteer, not a victim. 

Many children raised in alcoholic families have voluntarily relinquished their self-respect, personal boundaries and control, all because of the belief that they could (or should) control another adult. They grow up to endure the same degrading situations by getting in a relationship with an alcoholic whose drinking they try to control. 

You might have this compulsive need to control others because you learned in childhood that you could and should. Your sense of identity and worth might center on the helping, rescuing relational styles that mark dedicated controllers. Or you might be controlling primarily to reduce the threat of experiencing events that trigger abandonment feelings. 

Perhaps the position of the victim might seem more effective for controlling. Those who play this role seem to have given up trying to earn anything. They have settled for taking as a way to be connected to all the rescuers who live to give. 

Children in dysfunctional families are often forced to play both the victim and the rescuer. Incest victims need to rescue their abusers by keeping their incest a secret. 

Victims need rescuers and rescuers need victims. But genuinely trusting and intimate relationships re based on the willingness to give up role-playing. 

Trust and Intimacy 

Overdependents tend to live one of two extreme positions: they trust too fast- they use their “blind trust” in a childlike attempt to make the other person trustworthy. And they get surprised when the partner doesn’t want to marry them straightaway.  


Responsible for Self 

Overresponsible, Strong Rescuer 

I am responsible for myself and to others 

I am responsible for everything or everyone 

I can change only myself 

I can change everybody 

I can take care of myself 

I will take care of you all of the time 

Some things are “too much” for me 

Nothing is too much for me 

I long for a relationship 

I desperately need to be needed 

Overdependents usually either overtrust or undertrust as a defense mechanism. In both cases they end up shame-bound and alone, incapable of making intimacy possible since intimatcy is based on appropriate trust. 


Intimacy is an experience of shared openness. I tis the willingness of being who and what we are with another person. It requires trust that both people will be safe.  

Trusting is a choice. If we believe our imperfection disqualifies us from loving relationships, we won’t risk true intimacy. 

Mentally competent adults are responsible for themselves and the consequences of their choices. 

  • Exercise your freedom to choose by learning to say no 

  • Allow for the Law of the Pendulum as you make new choices 

People recovering from overdependency are often horrified at how mean they seem to be. Like most adults from troubled families who think in extremes all-or-nothing, we substitute an automatic no for a compulsive yes. With all-or-nothing thinking, we tend to swing to the opposite extreme before gradually finding an appropriate middle position. 

  • Practice alternative responses 

Tell people who need help that it is important for them to come up with their own solutions since it is their problem and their life. 

Forgiving the Shamers 

Is it a reasonable choice to be angry at them? There they are, standing in front of you with empty hands and pockets, unable to repay you for the past.  

You can continue trying to collect the debts they rightfully owe you by exacting verbal and nonverbal tolls. But this means you must constantly replay the past to keep their deficit balance fresh in your mind. 

Or you can cancel the debt. I didn’t say dent it but cancel it. 

Refusing to forgive has ironic consequences. While we keep our hurters imprisoned in hatred, we remain in bondage to bitterness and unforgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift to yourself. It allows your body to turn down the manufacture of the chemicals that are tearing you apart. 

Justice is getting what we deserve and mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. 

Do not rush into a counter of cheap forgiveness 

You may be inclined to toss out a quick, thick blanket forgiveness to cover all the pain of your past. But true forgiveness is costly. You may want to commit to forgive at the start of your healing process even though you will first be looking closely at what needs to be forgiven. This way you will not cover up painful memories by saying they are forgiven without having examined them. 

  • Write a Forgiveness List 

Be specific about the hurts and about forgiving them. Begin lsiting specific times your parents hurt you. Include the act, your feelings and thoughts at the time. Write the date you choose to forgive. 


My mom called me stupid in front of 2 friends when I was nine. 
I felt so ashamed 
Date forgiven: 8/21/99 

Releasing our Children 

Many of us will feel as total failures as a parents because we grew up believing that children’s needs and desires are simply too overwhelming for any parent to handle. 

Some unrealistic expectations we may have: 

  • My children need to be as upset about their mistakes as I am 

This belief comes when you grew up in a house where making a mistake was the same as being a mistake and failing at something made you a failure. This is the performance-equals-personhood lie. By constantly scrutinizing and emphasizing performance, we may convey in our children that their successful performances are all we truly value about them. 

  • My children must be perfect so they can rescue me from the shame of imperfection 

Shame-bound parents see their children’s performance primarily as a reflection of their own worth. These parents feel compelled to make their children take seriously the mission of making their parents look good, even if it kills them. Wanda Holloway went as far as killing the mom of her daughter’s cheerleading rival so give her daughter a better chance of winning. There is a part of Wanda in all of us and we were taught to call this motivation. Its real name is emotional abuse: praise of child-produced performance without affirmation of God-given worth. 



Child as Human Being 

Child as Human Doing 

My task is to live for myself. 

My task is to perform as perfectly a possible so they will love me/approve of me so I can feel good about myself. 

I let my child learn the consequences of procrastination by letting him get a poor grade. 

I take a short view for the appearance of perfect performance, doing my child’s project so he maintains high grades. 

I talk primarily of my child as a tenderhearted boy, an honest employee or a wise parent. 

I talk primarily about my child as the ballet star, soccer hero or doctor. 

I ask “did you enjoy it? Did you learn anything?” 

I ask “Did you win?” 

I reward brave attempts at success. 

I reward winning only. 


Remember to affirm and compliment your children warmly, frequently and directly. Lots of adults from dysfunctional families have no memories of a parent complimenting them, but discover after their parents’ death that their parents praised them to adult friends or relatives. 

It is also important to say “I am glad I have you as a daughter” 

Redefine Failure 

Failures is the pillar of success. Sometimes we worry that our children will become discouraged by mistakes and stop trying to achieve worthwhile goals. Actually, children tend to accept mistakes and move on without negative impact on their next attempts when they know they are loved and they don’t have to be perfect. 

"Mommy makes mistakes too, and pencils have erasers because everyone does too” 

Released for Potential and Purpose 

One day a pot of tea splashed against the wall of an inn. Sir Edwin Landseer began drawing on the wall around it, transforming it into a beautiful picture, 

It doesn’t matter how dark the stains are in your life. Gods creative potential is unlimited. He can take the very thing you view as hideous and transform it into something that will make you most useable to him. 

The Purpose of Brokenness 

  • Living though pain can help us develop character 

Pearls are the product of pain. One grain of sand slips inside an oyster. All resources rush to heal this foreign irritant. Lots of resources get activated, whereas they would have stayed dormant otherwise. One day the irritant is covered by a pearl. It is the symbol of stressed, a healed wound, a precious tiny jewel, conceived through irritation, born of adversity, nursed by adjustments. 

Had there been no wounding, no irritating interruption, there could have been no pearl. 

  • You must commit yourself to consistently practicing the truth 

If you just put this book down and begin reading another one containing more truth, your life and relationships still won’t change. Truth-based change come from living new, truth-shaped choices. 

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