Tony Rossi, Director of Communications
Shame. It’s not a problem you hear discussed often, but it can have an insidious effect on your mind, heart, and soul. Kristin Maher knows this first-hand because she is in therapy to deal with feelings of shame and notes that people aren’t always clear on what exactly it means. During a recent interview on “Christopher Closeup,” Kristin explained, “There’s a difference between shame and guilt. If you feel guilty about doing something, that means you feel guilty about the action. Whereas, shame is more personal. It’s not that you made a mistake; it’s that [you think], ‘I am a mistake.’”
When Kristin noticed her son using shame language about himself, she hoped to address it quickly, so she met with a school counselor to ask about resources. That’s when they both discovered there was next to nothing that dealt with shame and kids. So Kristin set out to create something herself. In a group therapy role playing exercise once, Kristin was asked to play the doomsayer, the person who could only see negative aspects about herself. Jokingly, she referred to herself as “The Awfulizer.” Then, she thought that would make a great children’s book someday. Well, “someday” has arrived. Kristin recently released the illustrated story “The Awfulizer: Learning to Overcome the Shame Game,” about an eight-year-old boy who struggles with this problem.
Kristin notes that mental health disorders are on the rise in children, and shame likely contributes to that statistic. She also believes that a family’s faith life can play a positive role in overcoming the shame game. Kristin said, “We’re created in God’s image, so at our core, we are good and beautiful. Shame is a lie that wants to tell you that you’re broken and beyond reach. I explained once to my husband that I always believed that Jesus forgave me, but I could never forgive myself because I felt broken. I know God loves me, but sometimes I have a hard time loving myself. That’s what shame did to me…I can’t explain how much purer or brighter my relationship is with God once I can see myself the way He sees me. Once I could break the glasses of shame and [realize], ‘I am created in His image, and I am worthy” – that has been a real blessing for me.”
One way in which Kristin and her husband, Catholic singer-songwriter Matt Maher, promote this idea with their kids is by playing “The Table Game” on a regular basis. While everyone is together eating dinner, each person has to say something positive about all the other people at the table, then end by saying something positive about themselves. “I think it’s great,” said Kristin, “because it teaches you to see beautiful things in those around you, but also remember what you like about yourself.”
, Kristin has one goal for kids who read “The Awfulizer”: “My biggest hope is for [children] to realize that everyone struggles with this. Shame grows in isolation and in the dark. The more we can bring it to light, the more we’ll be able to [fight it]…I’ve actually had a lot of adult friends who have read it say, ‘I’ve learned just as much as my kid.’ The idea that just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you are a mistake – that’s something that we need to have spoken over us a couple of times in our lives to remind ourselves that we are not defined by what we have done.”
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