Drawing heavily on her mother’s journal, her own experience of growing up in a family bound by secrets and unable to express pain, as well as her background as a clinical psychologist, Anne Gross presents on a variety of topics that include how disability and silence shape a family, how to overcome adversity and increase your capacity for intimacy, and the hidden emotion of shame.
How Polio and Silence Shaped My Family
Anne Gross was raised from birth by a paraplegic mother, yet the two never discussed her disability. It wasn’t until after her mother died, when she read her diaries, that Dr. Gross gained an understanding that growing up disabled in the first part of the twentieth century was cloaked in silence, secrecy, and shame. Interweaving information about the early treatment of polio, her mother’s journal entries, and her own childhood silently defined by her mother’s paralysis, her talk provides a unique personal glimpse into the impact of disability on family relationships.
Overcoming Adversity and Increasing Your Capacity for Intimacy
In the face of adversity – such as an illness, problems with our children, or a divorce – we often become consumed with feeling that there is something inherently wrong or bad about us. As a result, we silence our perceived imperfections for fear that others will reject us if they knew us for who we truly are. But is there a price we pay for presenting the picture of the perfect life?
In this inspiring and eye-opening talk, Dr. Gross draws on her own experience of growing up with a paraplegic mother where her family’s need to present the image of perfection led them to never talk about her mother’s paralysis. This robbed her family of an opportunity to show compassion toward each other and led to feelings of isolation that weakened the bonds of intimacy across several generations of her family. In this presentation, Dr. Gross shares her own inspirational journey to break free from the silence of her past and transform adversity into a growth opportunity to form deeper bonds with those she loved.
The Hidden Emotion of Shame
Shame touches us all to varying extents and for a variety of reasons, yet it is strikingly absent in our conversations and in our training as human service providers. Many counselors, for example, fail to recognize this emotion during therapy. Some experts cite this omission as a major contributor to premature termination.
Against the backdrop of her own personal story of growing up with a paraplegic mother, Dr. Gross looks at what happens to multiple generations of a family when the very essence of who they are is deemed shameful by society. Geared towards students and professionals in mental health, rehabilitation, and special education, participants learn what shame is and how it differs from other emotions, how shame manifests itself and why it is so destructive, and how to overcome this toxic emotion.
Anne Gross gave a moving and inspiring keynote speech at the 2011 Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition Awards Event, talking about her book The Polio Journals, Lessons from my Mother. She immediately engaged our diverse audience (people with disabilities, service providers, family members, politicians and others) sharing her story, her mother’s story, and the story of millions of people with disabilities. She talks about an issue that is rarely raised–the mere fact of acknowledgment of what it means to have a disability. She correctly equates failure to discuss routine challenges posed by disability with a sense of shame that creates barriers on par with any architectural barriers. She weaves real life with sociological facts, and is one of the few speakers who has been able to address the real life hardships of disability within a family system without resorting to pity or ignoring societal discrimination. She does not imply that the civil rights component of our movement should take a back seat to discussing feelings about disability–but points out that we can exacerbate the societal oppression when we allow silence to create a sense of shame by refusing to discuss personal elements of disability with those closest to us. As a person with a disability, her talk and her book, gave me a new insight into the perspective of non-disabled individuals who are close to those of us with disabilities, either by choice or circumstance. As someone who has dedicated her professional life to enforcement of a law that promotes integration, I realized that this insight is crucial as integration will be achieved only with the support of our non-disabled allies. These allies, usually family members, can only support us if they are granted full access to our lives.
I recommend Anne Gross as a speaker at any conference or training that seeks to help people understand more about disability, particularly in the context of family support. I recommend the book to anyone, with or without a disability.Julie Reiskin
Anne gave an educational and inspiring talk at Jewish Family Service about a rarely discussed but important topic: the emotion of shame. We all feel shame, but as Anne pointed out, that which we truly feel shame about we are too ashamed to talk about.
Anne took what could have been a dry and theoretical topic and turned it into an engaging and thought- provoking presentation. She engaged the audience of mental health professionals and others interested in the topic by using examples from her own past of growing up with a paraplegic mother, where the shame around her mother’s disability created family secrets which impacted multiple generations of her family. By talking candidly about the her own experience, Anne truly brought the subject of shame out of the closet, engaging the audience about the impact of this toxic emotion in all areas of a life, not just disability. Attendees came away armed with an understanding of how shame shuts down intimacy as well as tips to overcome it in their own lives.
I would highly recommend Anne as a speaker to both mental health professionals and lay people on this very important but rarely discussed topic.Stacey Weisberg, LPC
The picture that Dr. Anne Gross presented to my graduate students on the hidden impact of shame and silence in those living with a disability was an insightful, thoughtful, analytic and thought provoking contribution to the doctoral seminar in which it was presented. Her presentation was personal, engaging, scholarly, and eye opening. This pivotal, but too rarely discussed topic, provoked an important discussion among the students in the course, which is designed to critically challenge conventional notions of disability and the social and legal construction of inequality. Dr. Gross’ work fit well into that analysis. And while Dr. Gross drew from her book The Polio Journals, her insights on what happens to individuals and families marginalized by society do not apply solely to disability studies. It would be equally relevant to undergraduates and graduate students in education, social work, history, sociology and psychology. It would also provide reflective material for courses in rehabilitation and special education.Marcia H Rioux, PhD
Anne Gross gave a riveting presentation to our Rotary Club on her relationship with her mother, who was paralyzed by polio at the age of two. Anne spoke with compassion, understanding, and brute honesty about the lessons she learned from growing up at a time when people with disabilities were truly seen as outcasts. We learned how her mother was influenced by her special relationship with Franklin Roosevelt, how she was taught to hide all aspects of her disability, and how this silence impacted the mother-daughter relationship. And although her story was about polio, her insights as to what happens when families silence “taboo” topics has implications for all of us.
I would highly recommend her inspiring and eye-opening presentation to other Rotary clubs.Debra Fine
Our Rotary Club was very impressed by Anne’s presentation. She provided new insights into the physical and emotional isolation that both the victims and their family members have suffered from polio and similar crippling diseases. Anne has turned the personal tragedy of her mother’s struggle into a personal triumph by dedicating herself to a career that helps both the disabled and the public better understand and cope with the challenges these diseases present. I got so many comments later from members saying how moved they were by her experience and the work she is doing now.Nancy Jones
Anne has spoken to several organizations, including
Many Denver area Rotary clubs including Rotary Club Denver Southeast, Aurora Gateway Rotary Club, Cherry Creek Rotary Club, Rotary Club of Aurora, Smoky Hill Rotary Club, and Littleton Sunrise Rotary Club.
Mental Health Organizations
Counseling Center at Jewish Family Service of Colorado.
Disability and Educational Organizations
Keynote address to the annual Colorado Cross-Coalition Annual Awards Ceremony, Jewish Disability Awareness Day Conference at Jewish Family Service of Colorado, Peak Parent Conference Center on Inclusive Education, and the University of Minnesota Conference on Inclusive Education.
University Library Association at Denver University, Temple Sinai, 49s Contemporary Forum at Montview Presbyterian Church, Holy Shepard Lutheran Church, Denver Chapter of Hadassah, Women, Wine and Wellness, and Denver area book clubs.