The Shame Curse - One Woman's Experience of Childhhood

Content © George Hartwell M.Sc. 2011,, Mississauga, Ontario, All rights reserved.

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George Hartwell M.Sc. is a Christian counselor with a masters degree from the University of Calgary, 40 years experience and who integrates prayer therapy into his professional counseling practice.
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The Shame Curse - One Woman's Experience of Childhood

Hallo George,

I have to say that I found this assignment very difficult to do as I was hitting down into a great deal of pain. To have listed a series of points was actually too hard and I found I could tackle it by intellectualising it.

Like so many before me I could have written a book, but salient points are hopefully made clear through the narrative.

The blessing of the father, so important in the early Old Testament, should not be underestimated. It was fought for by deceptive means and it worked. Jacob was blessed. Esau lost his father’s blessing and regretted it for the rest of his life.

In modern terms we would think of a father’s blessing in terms of affirmation. There is a definite role set down within the parameters of the blessing. Within these parameters lies not only obligation but also hope. It is a definition of identity.

Therefore the lack of blessing produces the opposite. Despair can enter into the mindset of the unaffirmed child, and with it a sense of lost or missing identity. The role in life becomes confused, and at worst, vanished.

There is a sense too of wandering. Motivation and empowerment die on the vine.

If there has been threat or anger from the father, there may even occur a sense of lying down and dying, paralysis, a deathly stillness.

The brilliant contemporary Norwegian artist, Odd Nerdrum, who was abandonned by his natural father and deceived into thinking his wife’s husband was his true father, expresses this sense of lostness in his paintings.

Father Finding His Son. Oil on canvas.

There is, too, the feeling, both in the Jacob/Esau scenario and in the story of Cain and Abel, of just deserts; a particularly Judaic idea, finally worked out in the Last Judgement and only atoned for in the blood of Jesus Christ. The inherent sense of unworthiness is what is actually affirmed by the father’s lack of blessing. This can result in the never ending questionning of the son’s worthiness, and a compensatory behaviour, striving to become acceptable and therefore receive the blessing. Michelangelo and Sir Winston Churchill are two examples which come to mind.

There can even be a compensatory warmth toward the unloving parent to make up the deficit as the child senses an imblance and wishes to make the relationship whole. A fairytale Beauty and the Beast narrative is entered into - if the Beast receives enough love he will change into a handsome prince. This type of transaction can be seen at all levels from the individual parent child to international relations.

Making a virtue of necessity is a strategy that evolves as the unaffirmed child moves into adulthood, shown admirably in the definitve art of Nerdrum.

The imposition of the father’s will on the child was overthrown in the lives of such people as Robert Schumann and Robert Loiuis Stevenson who both turned from practicing Law to artisitic lives. But one wonders how many others who had gifts and abilities of similar greatness and did not overcome their paternal strictures would now have similar names of greatness. Vincent van Gogh is a further example that comes to mind. It is interesting that two of these became mad and the other wandered into a far off wilderness in Samoa, dying comparatively young. Were they all, despite breaking free, in some sense still subconsciously under the curse of lack of fatherly blessing?

* * *


The Judaic culture is paternalistic, and Jesus Christ in His teaching was to a certain extent working to rectify the wrong thinking in this system of belief.

This could be a reason why, when we turn to God’s Word, there is very little to draw on when we compare the mother/daughter roles. We have Ruth and Naomi. And Mary and Elizabeth. Roman Catholicism has sought to redress the balance by putting a tremendous (unbiblical) weight of motherhood on Mary, thus following the pagan beliefs of Egypt. We do not hear anything about Jesus’ sisters.

The impression we are left with, having met with Deborah, Esther, the young lady with the red thread, and the women in the early morning at the tomb, is that women just get on with it. Feminine inferiority is riddled throughout the Bible and the result is a picture of womanhood as strong, victimized, independent, and often the most reliable. Submission is the watchword.

Keepers at home doing the knitting of garments is the model. Yet where passivity is resented, there must have been a silent underground movement among the women as a force for good. How else the agreement to meet at the tomb? And without any men.

* * *


I never had any sense that I was a twin. We, my sister and I, were referred to as ‘the twinnies.’ It was a word. A sound with a ring to it. It emanated from my mother who stood so much taller than I. It was not explained. It was a familiarity. It could have been ‘the octopusses, or ‘the little weeds.’

Triplets lived round the corner. I understood there was something a bit different about them - because they all looked the same. We did not meet them but we knew they were there. And a bit different.

I was me. My sister was my sister. Sometimes she was vanished. No explanation. Just an empty bed alongside mine. No explanation. Just emptiness.

A void.

Then she was home. Ill. Parental fuss round a daybed. Her thin pale face looking over the blankets, flopping like a rag doll. An iron on her leg.

She spoiled my games. Messed up my little garden in the sandpit. I got mad. I was blamed for getting mad.

We played at horses. I took her reins. We trotted. We had special names for one another. I was always the stronger. I called the shots. Round and round on the hillside in the heather and the wind. Sometimes I rode alone. I had a dam and a yellow truck. I made roads and drove my truck. She was with my mother, on a daybed. Away from me.

We walked from school round the safe back streets. Along quiet garden railings. She grabbed her head and there was wet coming down her legs. Water on the pavement. I was so angry. Outraged. Outrageous. At home my mother was angry. Outraged. Outraged with me.

Nothing was explained.

My sister’s friend was Jenny. She went for tea. I don’t know what they did.  She never talked about it. My mother would say she had been to Jenny’s house, and then they would look at me and smile.

Nothing was explained.

My friend was Janey. She lived in an enormous house on the hill. She was what my mother called an only child. There was something odd about her parents. Her mother was American, a dancer, and wrote books in her study behind a closed door. Janey was angry her mother did that. We always had burned sausages and a bottle of coke. Her father was very old. Her father took us to see the Houses of Parliament. That was where he worked. He was called a sir. Janey thought that was important. I came home and told my parents Janey’s father was a communist. How they laughed.

Janey and I lived in Narnia.

I moved school. Anthea went away one afternoon a week. It was to see a counsellor because her twin had died. My twin went to see a counsellor. His name was Dr Abramovitch.

I suspected I didn’t have a cousellor because I wasn’t important enough.

I just had to get on with it.

My mother told me my sister was stronger than I was.

* * *

This woman's description of the Shame Curse - where one's existence and opinion is denied recognition - is presented in the Biblical frame of reference of the Father's blessing or affirmation.

Think of yourself and your syblings.  Are those that were most affirmed and recognized doing the best?  Are those who were denied father's attention or mother's recognition having the most struggle?  Have you seen "becoming mad" happening to those who struggled for any recognition, affirmation or the Father's blessing?

Would you like to share your experience with shame, lack of affirmation, missing the Father's blessing?  Please do.  To e-mail me click on:

More about George Hartwell on:  I offer phone counseling as well as regular individual and couple counslling sessions.

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