Shame About Identity

Exacerbating the shame felt by many parents and caregivers when their children are involved in bullying, those who are marginalized may internalize hatred and prejudice. This leads to blaming their own or their children’s identity as the source of the problem.

Parents and caregivers whose children are transgendered, lesbian, gay or bisexual often struggle internally with doubts about the acceptability of their children’s identity. Same sex and transgendered parents and caregivers face additional challenges. They know that those who bully will hone in on the weak point of those they target. If they remain “in the closet”, they may transmit a sense of shame and secrecy to their children, thereby creating a weak point. If they step “out of the closet”, they expose their children’s difference and consequent weak point. LGBT parents and caregivers may feel trapped in a classic bind.

The increased vulnerability to bullying experienced by children of LGBT parents and caregivers can be a source of stress and fear for their parents and caregivers (and of course for the students who are targeted). These students may be considered “gay by extension” or by association. They are often targeted by homophobic or transphobic harassment even when they themselves are not LGBT.

Parents and caregivers from racialized groups may also internalize racism. Even as they struggle to communicate pride in their identity and skin colour to their children, they may feel shame or self-hatred, knowing their children are being hurt because of their identity. This may result in lateral aggression and violence - infighting within ethnocultural population groups, as its members struggle with competition, jealousy, suspicion and resentment faced with each other’s success. This amounts to a collective absorption and intergenerational transmission of hatred.

Single mothers, guardians and anyone whose family does not reflect our society’s idea of a “normal” family – comprised of a biological mother, father and children who are all genetically related – can also experience self-blame and guilt. They may feel they are a “bad parent” by definition, that they have somehow damaged their children simply because they do not conform to this idea of “normalcy”.

Parents and guardians from marginalized populations may feel constantly challenged by this tension: the reality of prejudice and discrimination and their immediate, daily consequences versus the need to transmit a sense of pride in their identity to their children. For all parents and guardians from marginalized groups, every day living can entail a heartbreaking struggle to instil in their children pride and confidence in their identity.