I was holding my six month old granddaughter recently when she, uncharacteristically, spit up all over me. In my surprise, I exclaimed, "Gracie!" Her response broke my heart. Her sweet little face began crumpling up and tears welled in her eyes. I hugged her tight, reassuring her of my love and that all was well in our world but the experience haunts me still and I wonder if what she was experiencing was an early expression of shame.
The research on when shame begins can be confusing. Some developmental psychologists posit that an infant is born with the capacity to feel shame and that its roots lie in the human condition. While others believe that shame begins in a child's second year of life during what is commonly known as the "terrible twos."
Another psychologist/philosopher/deep thinker suggests that "original sin" is really "original shame." Rather than coming into the world with a debased "sin nature," we come into the world with the seeds of shame in our core, just waiting for the right conditions in which to germinate. He writes, "Shame is the lie that our worthiness has gone missing. Shame is the belief that what is inside of us--the substance of who we are-- is rotten and makes us unworthy of love and belonging." (Flannagan, see link above). Sin, according to Dr. Flannagan, is in the search for worthiness, significance, belonging and connection outside of ourselves. And the cure for this human condition is grace--realizing that our worthiness was never missing and that we are loved just the way we are.
So my sweet little Grace--this child who has been adored and loved every single second of her life, who has been doted on by every adult within her circle and has received hours and hours of undivided attention--still felt the sting of shame. As I write these words, she is sitting in her Bumbo seat, staring at me with those deep blue eyes. Her smiles and coos absolutely delight me and there is absolutely nothing in this world I would not do for her. I want her to know in her core how much she is loved, no matter what. I want her to know how beautiful and smart and kind she is. I want her to believe this and to know that she is worthy of love simply because she is. I know that as she grows she will be confronted with other messages that hook that "inbred shame" and that the battle to not believe the lies that shame whispers will be hers to fight long after this Nana is gone.