Shame that Keeps You Small

What we learn from watching our parents often sticks with us as adults.

What we learn from watching our parents often sticks with us as adults.

Since making the decision to write my first book, I’ve been a constant observer of my thoughts and actions. I am, as the expression asserts, like a fly on the wall watching my life unfold day by day.

Over the past couple of weeks, I noticed I was stalling on my most recent blog post. In it, I put a voice to the fact I had been on state food assistance for about a year after the real estate market crash of 2008. Even saying it now makes my stomach feel queasy.

The mere reality that I had been in a financially challenging, scary, dark place—and needed a hand feeding my kids and me—had me completely drop the ball on completing my final edits. I interrupted the flow of my weekly blog posts (which was a priority goal I set for myself), silenced my voice, minimized my self-worth, and allowed my old carried shame to nearly invalidate the power behind sharing my humanness.

During this self-evaluation, I realized I was still holding onto an old fear that my life would end up resembling my parents’.

When I was six years old, my parents qualified for food stamps and I received free lunches from school for several years. Back then, it wasn’t camouflaged like it is today. I was handed a small, stapled booklet every month full of thin, pastel-colored free lunch tickets. It wasn’t a secret that I was one of the kids who was poor enough to get a free hot lunch and a small, white carton of milk.

I specifically recall one trip to the grocery store when my mom took out her large, yellow coupon book with perforated tear-off food stamps to pay the cashier. To make matters worse, as we approached the store exit, she instructed my two older brothers to grab a large bag of Kingsford barbeque briquettes and a fifty-pound sack of dog food and carry them out to our car. Those weren’t items covered by food stamps, so she directed my brothers to steal.

I didn’t know what shame was, but I could see something was wrong as I looked up at my mom’s face. I felt her emotions wash over me and rain into every pore of my six-year-old little body.

Even though I am a forty-eight-year-old, capable, single mother of four, the resurfacing fear and humiliation triggered by the blog I committed to write momentarily overpowered what I consciously know as a healthy adult.

This is what I mean by shame that keeps us small. It’s often paralyzing; stopping us dead in our tracks. Sometimes we’re aware it’s active, like a live wire used to keep animals caged, it zaps us with an electric shock when we get too close to crossing over the edge of our normal comfort zone.

Other times, we are clueless to what’s holding us back. We may understand our potential in life is greater than we’re currently living, but we’re not taking any action toward growth or improving our situation.

When you find yourself stuck or hesitant to move forward on a commitment or goal that you’ve set, take a moment for self-reflection. What obstacle or barrier is preventing you from progressing? Is there a fear stopping you? Is shrapnel embedded under your skin from old, unhealed childhood experiences?

I invite you to download the Goal Inquiry Form at It’s a worksheet for evaluating what may be getting in the way of accomplishing something that’s truly meaningful to you. It utilizes the latest brain research on reconditioning your old thought patterns and it starts with asking yourself insightful questions.

Once we know what is impeding our momentum, we can expose the ghosts. By shining a light on what may be hidden out of sight, we can begin disempowering old limiting beliefs. This is a critical first step to reclaiming access to our full potential.

Playing small is not fully living. We are meant for so more! As I like to say now, “It’s time to go big or go home!”


Dana V. Adams