Shame and Guilt by Brandy Lidbeck

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On July 12, 1991, as a ten-year-old little girl, I walked into my home to find my mom’s lifeless body lay on the floor. The note she wrote me before taking her own life read, ‘goodbye and good luck.’ On that hot summer day in Phoenix, I lost much more than my mom. I lost my sense of value and worth. It wasn’t until recently I regained what was taken from me twenty-five years ago!

Most people impacted by a suicide express intense feelings of guilt for not preventing their loved one’s death. ‘I should have known’ and ‘I should have saved them’ haunt survivors of suicide loss for years, even decades. I never experienced any feelings of guilt over my mom’s suicide. It was quite clear that day she was determined to end her life and I recognized I could have done nothing to prevent it as I was only a child. Instead, the pendulum swung to the other side of the guilt continuum and grabbed hold of me from day one. Shame snatched me with its tentacles vowing to never let go. If guilt says I didn’t do enough to save her, shame says I wasn’t enough for her to stay. And there I was, at ten years old, fully believing I wasn’t enough for my own mom to choose life.

There were these tapes that continued to play in my head, on repeat, with messages I could not refute. ‘I have no value or my mom would not have chosen death’ and ‘I am not worthy of being protected if my own mom intentionally planned for me to find her dead body.’ These were just a couple of the messages I believed as truth. I also owned I am worthless, I am not loveable, and I am a freak. Edwin Schneidman said, “I believe the person who commits suicide puts his psychological skeleton in the survivor’s emotional closet.’ For all that my mother was trying to escape mentally and physically, it was like she wrapped it all up in a dirty little box and handed it to me to open and sort through for decades to come.

black-and-white-woman-girl-sitting

 

These messages I heard were not just audio clips played here and there in my mind. They were much bigger than that! They were my truth. I believed them, I accepted them, I repeated them, and I lived them. I responded to relationships from a place of self-hate and doubt. I went through life feeling less than, insecure, and second-class. They became my mirror for which I saw myself. I was shame!

Last summer, twenty-four years after my mom’s suicide, I had a conversation with a woman that changed the trajectory of my life. Her husband had taken his life several years earlier and her adult son had articulated, “I must have no value if my own dad killed himself and didn’t want to stick around for me.” Something clicked in my head right then and there when I heard his familiar message of shame and self-hate. I knew the lie he was believing was not true and in that instant I said to myself, my mother’s suicide speaks nothing to my value or worth, it only speaks to her own mental state. Like a gift dropped down from heaven, my mirror was shattered and I saw her suicide for what it was: her decision to end her own life, not a litmus test to determine the value of mine.

I walked a little lighter in the days that followed that life-changing epiphany. I believed I could take on the world with my new found courage and strength! But then, two weeks later, I found shame sneaking into my being once again. This time the tape was a bit different but the message was the same. I am not enough. I then began to notice I was shaming myself for shaming myself. It was this pattern I had set up for decades and I had been unaware of it until that fateful conversation with a fellow suicide loss survivor.

Shame, I have learned, is cunning and deceitful. We experience shame from the depths of our being and we accept it as truth. The problem is that those lies are neither true nor healthy. Instead, they are destructive and have the ability to wreck lives. I have to wonder if my mom carried some shame as well, telling her she had no value or worth and we would all be better off without her.

I have vowed to catch myself when I notice shame trying to enter into my head and heart. I want to kick those messages to the curb with the other worthless garbage I don’t need. I learned something valuable last summer: my mom took her own life but she didn’t take mine. I have to daily choose to dismiss those lies of shame and replace them with truth. I am loveable. I know this because I am a wife and a mother and a good friend to others. I am valuable because I now walk beside others impacted by suicide and help dismiss those lies of guilt and shame they also carry.

Today, I am not always shame-free, but I am determined to work toward it for myself and vow to speak truth into my kid’s hearts and minds. They will not grow up hating themselves if I have anything to say about it! They will know they are valuable and worthy and loved! A message I wish I believed twenty-five years ago!

8 Responses

  1. Mary Jane Williamson
    | Reply

    I don’t know why we feel guilt or shame. It’s just that we ,who are not sick in our minds, don’t understand. We want to save our loved ones but we can’t. We feel powerless.

  2. Julie
    | Reply

    Beautiful writing Brandy. It hurts to see how long you’ve been burdened by shame. I’m so glad you’ve finally broken free and see that her death had NOTHING to do with you. I think you may have hit it on the nail when you brought up the notion that maybe she was under the cloud of shame. I do feel that those that kill themselves believe they are of no value and that everyone would be better off without them. Such a false belief yet so real and controlling to them.

  3. Margaret
    | Reply

    There is an analogue in those who survive parents who struggle with addiction. Their addiction is theirs – we are not the cause, source or reason for it, nor are we any less worthy or lovely if our parent/s cannot overcome their addiction in spite of how much we love them and want them to prevail.

    • brandylidbeck
      | Reply

      Yes, Margaret! I am well aware of the 3 C’s that I use w my clients. We didn’t cause it, we can’t cure it, and we can’t control it.

  4. Robin Lee
    | Reply

    “her decision to end her own life, not a litmus test to determine the value of mine…” So well put.

  5. Kate
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    Rejection and abandonment cause so much shame. You are valuable. I am valuable. Not because of who we are to whomever, but because we breathe. Thank you for choosing to breathe and breathe life, light and joy into this world!

  6. Abbie
    | Reply

    Wow. This is so powerful and I can relate to a lot of it losing my mum to suicide and currently working through it in therapy and my therapist is really trying to help me see it the way you have learned as I’m still struggling with this. Great piece, Brandy. Thanks for sharing. My friend and I are setting up a series of vlogs to raise awareness of the impact of suicide starting with our personal stories. https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCRaU6_Bs7G8MCx4WWlLlfpAN #suicidetabooandlifewithoutyou if anyone’s interested

  7. Juliep
    | Reply

    I needed this today as my two teen boys struggle in the same ways. It has been 6 years since their father ended his life. I have been often wondered exactly what they have and are feeling, and your words seem to connect completely. I understood my husband’s death and his struggles with mental illness so I was not plagued with these feeling of shame,and I assumed that his boys could accept it as well since they lived it and I talked openly about it. I have come to find out, that they do not accept what they believe is their father’s lack of love for them and his unwillingness to live for them. I hope to share your words with them so they might take some comfort.

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