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The Toxicity of SHAME

"Shame is an unpleasant self-conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self; withdrawal motivations; and feelings of distress, exposure, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness."

I have such an issue with shame and the power it carries. I’m pretty certain everyone has felt shame at some point or another. That unsettling sickly feeling it gives you, I shudder just thinking about it. It really sits uneasy with me when I hear and see shaming directed at little people. I’m no super parent, god knows I’ve slipped into it with the odd critical remark that I’ve later regretted. Sometimes we speak without thinking, but I guess it’s the severity of ‘what’ is being shamed that really carries the weight.

Shame can be delivered both direct and indirectly, talking derogatory about your child when they are overhearing or saying things like “you are useless”, “why can’t you be more like…” and “stop crying you big baby”. More examples include laughing at your child for something that they can’t help or emphasising their mistakes.

Nothing positive can come from shame. If a child is being shamed consider your reasons for it. Can the child really change what they are being shamed for? If the answer is no then who is benefitting? If the behaviour you’re highlighting has been chosen then of course it needs addressing but it’s best not to do this publicly or when a child is already upset as you will not get the outcome you need or want. If it can’t be helped and you are deliberately disparaging your child then what is your reason? Pause for a minute here… because all it’s going to do is make them feel bad about themselves from someone that they love and trust. Maybe you as the shamer feel better for venting your frustration but this is only momentarily, quite the opposite for the shamed.

Often there are things that don’t come easy to some children, this can relate to many things from tying shoelaces to wetting the bed, all children are different. Criticising your child’s efforts won’t necessarily motivate them to change, but instead, carry that sickly feeling I mentioned earlier, clouded with not feeling good enough and wrapped up with failure. Moreover, if shame is a regular experience for a child then they are likely to encounter bigger problems when the become a bigger person. What does this look like? Never feeling good enough, low self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, poor confidence and that’s to name but few!

So rather than shaming, put your energy into providing your child with the tools that can help them adapt or improve behaviours that are possible to change. As a parent try to understand reasons for behaviours, support and motivate your child to make achievable changes. Achievable needs to be considered as age related too, maybe your expectations are too high. It’s so important to remember that no good can come from emphasising your child’s unintentional failings and flaws.

Shame is dissimilar to other feelings and emotions, like being sad for example, a natural reaction is to cry or if we are angry we shout, shame carries no active expression. So what does this mean? It is not dispelled or released, meaning it can manifest and grow and even stay with you…it really is toxic!

Try to be more aware of shameful comments, they come in all shapes and sizes. If shame is present in your house, intentional or not, try to make a pact to banish it. Without it your child will grow into adulthood with a healthier self-image and stronger inner voice.

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