Two things are almost always said within the first 5 minutes of a meeting with a mom whose child is facing criminal charges. The first is “Thank You.” We feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to sit with someone who understands what we are going through. There’s so much power in that. I believe that the most potent human connection we ever experience, aside from childbirth, is sitting next to someone in our brokenness and not having to say a single word because the person next to us gets it. It’s an incredible gift and one that I never take for granted. Whether I”m on the giving side or the receiving side.
The second thing they almost always talk about is how lonely they feel. How hard it is to open up to others about their struggles. It doesn’t matter if they are Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Atheist, black, white, hispanic, a father, a mother, married, or divorced. Across the board, almost every single parent I meet struggles with feelings of isolation during this crazy time of trying to figure out what the next right move is. So if we all struggle with feeling alone, what keeps us from sharing our struggles with others? What keeps us from joining that support group, seeing a therapist, and scheduling that one-on-one mentor session.
Here are the top 4 things that I believe keep us from getting the support we need to heal:
- We are afraid of judgment. We fear that others will judge us, our children, or our family. Brene Brown, a researcher on shame, professional speaker, and author, has this quote that has always stuck with me. She said, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” As parents with children involved in the justice system, shame keeps us silent. See, we fear that once others hear our stories, they will no longer love and accept us, and even more significant is the feeling that we will no longer belong. We’ll be cast out, and so will our children. Others will make judgments about the type of parent we are or the type of kid our child is. So we hide it. We bury it in a shallow grave and pray to God that no one will notice the mound of dirt behind us. But here’s what I’ve learned…Shame needs three things to survive. It needs secrecy, silence, and judgment. See, the very thing we are trying to avoid feeling, shame, breeds in the environments we are creating.
- The second barrier to sharing with others comes from having a lack of emotional space to hear the opinions of others. There’s no quicker way to find an expert on a situation than to mention a problem in public. Just take a look at any social media feed. People come out of the woodwork with “solutions” or how things should be. Opinions are rarely censored or seriously thought about before being typed out and sent into that vast and expansive metaverse. If those comments or suggestions are helpful, then great, but they rarely are. Although our friends and family may be well-meaning, you may not be ready to hear advice from someone, especially if they’ve never experienced what you are going through, and that’s ok.
- The third kind of barrier goes along with the last one, but this one involves explicitly carrying another’s emotions on the matter. Sometimes, I talk to moms or dads who have very supportive family members. These family members rally around them, and it’s so beautiful to see how they all stand firm together. The entire family shows up to court, taking up an entire row just to themselves. But there are also times when I notice those same families after the hearing. I’ll see an aunt or grandmother upset and crying, and the mama whose child is being charged is the one to comfort them. Or an uncle or grandfather is outraged at “the injustice of the situation,” and the father of the child being charged is walking them through their emotions and keeping them calm. In these scenarios, having family around stops being helpful. It’s also why some parents choose to attend hearings alone. They have family or friends who offer to come; they may even desire the support, but caring for another’s emotional well-being or opinion while navigating their grief is too much. These types of situations dont just play out in the courtroom. They also happen over coffee with a friend, during a relative’s visit, or when a loved one calls to check in. And sometimes, this one thing, all by itself, is enough to deter parents from reaching out.
- The fourth barrier involves feelings of raw vulnerability. Think of a wound. A big, raw, fleshy, angry wound that hasn’t yet begun to heal. You need to be gentle first when you have a wound like that. You take care of it. You’re looking at it regularly. You examine it, watch to see if it’s healing, and be mindful of not bumping it up against something or causing further injury to it. Sometimes the feelings we experience are just like that wound. They can be so intense that it feels like we can do nothing but sit in it, acknowledges it’s there, and begin trying to figure out what we can do to help the healing process. There are days in this process when it’s all you can do to keep your head above water, keep breathing, keep waking up, going through the motions, and just getting through the day. During this time, receiving feedback from anyone else feels overwhelming. That pain and heartache are real, and when you find yourself in that space, the last thing you want is feedback from someone else on what you should do or how you should feel, or worse yet, what you could’ve/should’ve done. So, we isolate.
Finding a safe space to share what you’re going through is essential for the healing process. When we speak our truths out loud, we validate that what we are going through is real. In brain imaging studies, the researchers found that the mere act of putting feelings into words reduced brain activity in the amygdala, one of the primary areas of the brain associated with processing emotional responses, meaning that the intensity of an emotion decreases.¹ All the things mentioned above that create barriers are part of a script. A script our minds have written to keep us safe. But it often comes with a hefty price tag of loneliness, isolation, and shame. The good thing about scripts is that we can rewrite them. We can choose differently. We don’t have to suffer through this in isolation. We were never meant to go through this alone.
Only by grace,
P.S. For more on talking to others, listen to our podcast Unyielding, Episode 8:Keeping it Real, found on the podcast tab of our website or your favorite podcast platform.
1. 10 Reasons Why Talking about your feelings is important. https://www.feelmo.com/post/10-reasons-why-talking-about-your-feelings-is-important