Debunking the myth that a little shame is good

Some people may argue that a little shame is good for modifying behaviour. I’ve certainly run into that attitude before. And I felt plenty of it growing up. “How could you be so stupid?!” “Don’t be such an idiot!” Here’s the thing: shame did modify my behaviour. Or more like fear modified my behaviour – the fear of being berated (i.e., the fear of feeling shame). From the outside it looked like using shame worked. But what it did to me on the inside produced self-hatred and anxiety. It wasn’t a good thing.

I think this is why significant portions of our society still believe that using shame is perfectly acceptable. On the outside, it looks like we’re getting the results we desire, but at what cost? The research is abundantly clear: “there are no data [emphasis mine] to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior.” (Daring Greatly, p. 73). As I mentioned yesterday, “shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.” (Daring Greatly, p. 73).

Remember that there is a difference between shame and guilt according to the research. I am not advocating to not hold people accountable to their actions. But it is just that: holding them to their actions. I know that for my own children, if I address the behaviour and affirm my child’s worth as being intact and not linked to their behaviour, I have much greater success in motivating positive lasting change.

Tomorrow: I’ll be talking about shame and pride – two sides of the same coin.

Source: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.

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