Note: Guilt is the nasty and usually appropriate feeling people have when they have DONE something bad. Shame is the nasty and usually inappropriate feeling people have when they believe that they ARE bad. In cases of slut-, fat-, victim and political shaming, the “shamer” is telling the target that he or she IS a bad or inadequate person.
Social media only adds very public fuel to the fire—in places like Twitter, 20 people with the proper hashtags can suddenly sound like they number in the millions. On Facebook, it can get far more personal.
Sex abuse victims, especially those in the Catholic Church and other religious organizations, know shame and shaming firsthand. Many victims who reported to church officials were told that their accusations were sinful and brought shame upon themselves and their families (unfortunately, this is still very true and common in the Latino community). Even now, Catholic spokespeople try to shame advocacy groups into silence through name calling, minimizing abuse, and victim-shaming. In the Protestant community, victims have been met with physical threats and even child victims of convicted sex offender Greg Kelly are being openly shamed on Twitter.
And there is a reason that people LOVE to use shame: It works. Want to know the #1 reason child sex abuse victims don’t come forward? Shame. Want to know the #1 reason many victims become self-destructive, addicts, violent, depressed and/or suicidal? Shame.
Shame is a powerful weapon. And for anyone who is not a narcissist or sociopath (or a cat), it’s a huge weight to carry. That’s why we need to stop using is as a motivator. Children who are wracked with shame (whether through parents’ words and actions or the words or actions of other important adults) are VERY vulnerable to the flattery and attention of grooming. A child who feels shameful will do anything to feel “on top of the world,” and a child predator knows exactly how to do it … right before the predator sexually abuses the child.
And more importantly: Shameful children are not happy children.
So now what? It’s time to take shame out of the equation. Here are a few ways to raise a child free(er) of shame.
- Don’t use shame to punish your children. There is a big difference between an age-appropriate punishment as a result of your child’s bad ACTION and a punishment that is shameful and tells your child that HE or SHE IS BAD.
- Don’t use guilt trips on your children.
- Never tell your child that he or she is the reason you and your partner are fighting. Never tell your child that he or she ruined your day, a vacation, etc.
- Never tell your child or allow another adult to tell your child that he or she is a bad person, has “brought shame on him/herself and others,” or is “shameful in the eyes of God.”
- Never call your child names (ugly, stupid, evil, bad, hateful) and discourage name-calling in general. Name calling is demeaning to the caller, as well as the target.
Life is hard enough. It’s time to give shame and shaming the boot.