Intergenerational Aspects of Shame – The Legacy of the Greatest Generation

Shame is passed down from generation to generation.  I was the youngest sibling and if I am being honest I must admit that on some level the members of my family all took sadistic pleasure in making me feel ashamed of myself.  I am sure a lot of this was done without thinking.  In other words they probably did not make the connection that they sought to make me feel ashamed because it was pleasurable to them.  Rather, they saw me as a flawed person and probably thought they were being virtuous in pointing out my flaws.  To them I probably came off as a contemptible, weak creature undeserving of respect.  My mother criticized me so that I would see the error of my ways and reform myself into the person she wanted me to be.   She limited me to protect me from my inevitable failures and reckless behavior.  My father criticized me because I annoyed him and was undisciplined and therefore deserved punishment.  My older sisters bullied me in order to toughen me up.

I think both of my parents grew up in families where they were treated harshly by their parents.  I have no doubt if I presented this theory to either of them they would respond that I am wrong and that their parents were wonderful people who made great sacrifices to provided for them and brought them up to be honest, hard-working and responsible contributors to society (or something along those lines).  I also have no doubt that is true.  My grandparents (the “Greatest Generation“) lived during the Depression and World War II.   They struggled and persevered and probably had to adopt a severe approach to life because survival was at stake.  Enduring these experiences probably also motivated my grandparents to provide a “better life” for my parents’ generation.  I suspect along the way my grand parents’ generation became jealous or ashamed of their children who grew up in a relatively more comfortable life but did not have to make the same sacrifices to earn it.  This translated to a sense that my parents’ generation had to behave themselves and be grateful for what they had and to the extent they did not do this they were severely punished.  Some of this punishment was physical.  But all of the punishment (including the physical) included shame.  My parents’ generation then grew up and internalized a great deal of this shame.  There was a sense that they inherited the benefits of my grand parents’ struggles but did not have to struggle themselves.  My parents in turn raised my generation in an even more comfortable lifestyle which in turn touched their internalized shame.  This shame manifested itself in irritation with my generation, alcoholism and a tendency to lash out in an extremely disproportionate manner when they perceived a lack of due respect, irresponsibility or un-gratefulness on our part.

I grew up constantly feeling like I was not entitled to what I had and that I should somehow feel ashamed of it because I did not earn it.  For most of my life I thought that I felt this way because I was inherently flawed as a person.  I now see this is the result of faulty programing (perhaps even well-intentioned).  The prior generations did not have the resources to see what they were doing and the damage it caused.  For some reason I was blessed with the ability to see this and am now in a position to mitigate its effect on my children.

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5 Comments

Filed under Shame, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Intergenerational Aspects of Shame – The Legacy of the Greatest Generation

  1. Pingback: Shame Caused by Tragedy | Winston Scrooge

  2. Pingback: How My Father Passed His Shame onto Me | Winston Scrooge

  3. Thanks for linking to my post. I’m glad you did, so that I could find this blog. I’ll be reading more here, in future.

  4. Pingback: How My Mother Passed Her Shame On To Me | Winston Scrooge

  5. Pingback: Shame Begets Shame | Winston Scrooge

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