For many of us, our mothers and grandmothers grew up with different values.
The Legacy of Female Shame
To get by in generations past, one was expected to hide one’s pain, put on a happy face, suppress one’s feelings, and get through life without making waves. Women were expected to stay home as mothers. Outside the home, for many, the only options were to be a nurse or secretary.
The veneer of perfection was crucial for social survival.
For mothers at home who had mental health struggles, trauma, or abuse in their own history, this led to a dangerous situation: isolation at home all day with children, a ton of work to do without help and feeling emotionally unsupported. Despair, suicide attempts, and violence took place behind many closed doors and many children had to bear the weight of that silence. (Being quarantined in our homes during a pandemic, many mothers have been facing a similar reality today.)
Female Shame: Hide Your Authentic Self—and Smile Through the Pain
Patriarchy has always pressured women to be “perfect” and hide their pain with a smile. One of the biggest struggles I hear women talk about is a sense that you can’t be your authentic self with your mother, that there’s an unspoken pressure to prioritize “image” over reality. Or, that your mother often prefers “appearances over truth.” There’s a sense that there’s a “wall of denial” that she’d prefer to live inside and if you’re not pretending well enough, you’re doing it wrong. This is one result of a legacy of female shame—and it is a painful realization.
Patriarchy, the principle of domination and “power-over,” has been the cultural atmosphere that has helped foster much trauma, despair, and pain in families that many still carry with them to this day. This mandate of silence was largely reinforced in schools, churches, workplaces as well as movies, TV, and magazines.
In this way, denial became conflated with love. Suppression of feelings and emotions was seen as tough, brave, and necessary for external approval in the world.
Many of our mothers’ identities were shaped by these values that prioritized image and roles over truth, depth, and connection. This may have caused them to have a more superficial connection with themselves