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Stopping the shame game

No one can function well when they always feel like a failure

Farmer sitting in tractor wheel with wheat in hands

We sat crowded a round the kitchen table less than a stone’s throw from the main farmhouse, two young frustrated farm couples and me, the farm coach. My eyes met the eyes of a daughter in-law (DIL) whose ready tears were about to roll as I explained that sometimes in the culture of agriculture there are unrealistic expectations pitched on the folks who are trying their hardest to please.

I simply asked them to finish this sentence for me:

“The work on this farm is never done. No matter how many hours you put in or how hard you try, it is never __________.” “Enough” they all chimed in unison.

“Never enough.” This is the shame game that is toxic on family farms that needs to stop now. You cannot function well in a workplace where you are always feeling like a failure. As someone said, “Failure is an event, not a person.”

It’s time to do some serious soul-searching and ask yourself if you are acting as an unrelenting judge of those on your farm team who are trying their best to work hard and yet raise an emotionally healthy young family.

This Valentine’s month I encourage you to hit the site with your spouse and watch Brene Brown’s transparent account of listening to shame. Go online and buy her book, The Gift of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. You’re going to need a manual to refer back to as you change your thinking. The perfectionists who are never pleased are going to wish courageous conversations confronting their nasty addictive habits would stop.

The thing that is going to stop is shaming.

In Daring Greatly, Brown uses a quote from Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt’s speech in l910 to launch the key ideas of how we can dare to be different, letting go of guilt and shame. (I have a soft spot for Teddy as we share the same birthday, October 27. You can send cards to Box 957, Boissevain, Man. R0K 0E0, but I digress!)

Brown’s definition of guilt is, “I did something bad.” Her definition of shame simply is, “I am bad.” No you are not. You are a gifted, capable person who just happens to be stuck in a toxic farm. Brown sees shame as a sense of being defective.

“Our worst fear is being criticized or ridiculed, either one of these is extremely shaming,” Brown says.

What are you going to do about it?

I received an email at Christmas from a young farmer who decided to move out, get a place of his own, buy some equipment gradually, and make his own way. I was pleased for him to see action steps that were helping him to move away from being shamed. Nothing he ever did to help his folks was ever appreciated, or good enough.

Another young farmer’s voice cracks as he explains he can no longer stand the “financial guilt” that he feels. What he is asking for is gifts without strings attached, and a freedom to make his own financial decisions on the farm without being scolded with, “I told you this was a stupid thing to do!”

We don’t need to dredge up lots of nasty examples to make my case. We all need to offer concrete steps to slip off the jackets of guilt and not accept being shamed.

I am wired for positivity and empathy. I am curious if this could be the year that you spend some time in counselling, read Brown’s works, seek out God’s wisdom in the Bible, talk to clergy, and journal to reflect on what is working for you in your life, and what is not.

As an oldest child, I am aware of my birth order tendencies to be responsible and run to take care of others. But as my WestJet attendant reminds me, we need to put our own oxygen masks on first, and then look after those beside us.

Is the tension on your farm so great that you are losing your breath? Breathe. Seek out professional help. Know that every morning you wake up with a choice as to how you are going to be in order to step away from the shame game.

We are human. We make mistakes in how we act and speak. We are also forgiven. Jesus Christ gives me my model of forgiveness. I can apologize for bad behaviour, be forgiven by the person I have hurt, and then let go. I can also work to make things right, with the intention of not causing hurt again.

What is your intention during this heart month? Do you want to stay trapped and stuck in the muck of your farm scenario, or are you ready to reach out for help and a new way to feel? The economic forecasts may be causing you stress, and I don’t take financial pain lightly, yet each day we eat well, and sleep in a safe, warm bed. We can count our blessings, and decide to pull out the thorns in our lives. Brown suggests that gratitude is helpful in daring greatly to make things different.

Chuck Swindoll, a wise preacher, suggested that you should cut negative people out of your lives, unless you are married to one, then he encourages you to seek counselling. If you feel you are “married” to the farm, then you also have work to do to reframe your thoughts, and actions to be able to cope with those who choose to throw muck and shame your way.

This is not an easy column to write, but as I age, I seem more compelled to speak about the trends I see on farms that are not helpful. It is my heart’s desire that every reader would enjoy a long, happy, and meaningful life on their farm, and in their family. Tell your Valentine that you cherish them. Then do it.

About the author


Elaine Froese is a Manitoba 150 Woman Trailblazer. She is passionate to guide farm families to find harmony through understanding. Her mission is for you to have rich relationships on your farm. Visit to learn more and book her for speaking engagements at



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