The corrosiveness of shame

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default The corrosiveness of shame

Post by melodiccolor on Wed Mar 20, 2013 8:09 pm

From Brene Brown's blog: http://www.brenebrown.com/my-blog

This arrived in my email and I felt it was so insightful that I am posting it in it's entirety. It also points out the difference between shame, guilt and empathy/compassion.

Richard Reeves’ New York Times Op/Ed arguing that shame is an essential ingredient of a healthy society is not only wrong, but also potentially more dangerous to parents, children, and society than teen pregnancy – the example he uses in his argument.

Last week New York City unveiled its public education campaign targeting teenage pregnancy. Taking a page from the Georgia obesity campaign and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the campaign features pictures of tear-stained toddlers admonishing their teen mothers for ruining their lives.

The ads are painful, and in a moment of sheer frustration and anger, I thought about ditching this article and just sending both Reeves and Mayor Bloomberg pictures of tear-stained pregnant teenagers staring out and declaring: “Please don’t attack my self-worth. I’m already struggling and desperate for love and belonging.”

Having spent the past decade studying shame, courage, and vulnerability, I know that ploy is cheap, easy, and ineffective. I’m going old school – with facts.

To be effective, all shame- and stigma-based campaigns rely on the intended audience’s feeling empathy and guilt when they see the images. In New York the goal is for teenagers to see the forlorn toddlers and think, “I don’t want to do that to a child.” In anti-obesity ads, the goal is for parents to see a desperate child saying, “Please help me. I don’t want to be fat,” and think, “I’ve got to start making better choices for my family.”

Here’s the rub:

Shame diminishes our capacity for empathy.

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.

You can’t depend on empathetic connection to make a campaign effective, then crush the needed empathy with shame.

Researchers June Tangney and Ronda Dearing, authors of Shame and Guilt, explain that feelings of shame are so painful that it pulls the focus to our own survival, not the experiences of others.

Example: A man shakes a bottle of pills in his wife’s face, “Look around you! Your pill-popping is destroying our family. Our son is failing out of school and our daughter is literally starving herself for attention. What's wrong with you?”

Does the shame of what she’s doing to her family lead her to get help, or does it lead her to slink away and get high? After-school specials tell us she gets help. Data say she gets high. In fact, new research shows that some addiction may be born of shame and that shame leads to relapse rather than relapse prevention.

A man is convicted of domestic abuse and the judge sentences him to stand downtown during rush hour ho

lding a sign that says, “I am a wife beater.” Would you like to be the woman he comes home to that night? Are you safer when he’s in shame or repairing shame?

Reeves basically makes the good shame/bad shame argument, explaining that shame should be used in some ways but not others.

I don’t see any evidence of “good shame.” Not in my research and not in the research being done by other affect researchers.

I define shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Along with many other shame researchers, I’ve come to the conclusion that shame is much more likely to be the source of dangerous, destructive, and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution.

It is human nature, not just the nature of liberals (as Reeves argues), to want to feel affirmed and valued. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for belonging and recognition. It’s when we feel shame or the fear of shame that we are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors, to attack or humiliate others, or to stay quiet when we see someone who needs our help.

Making the distinction between good and bad shame, and promoting so-called good shame is like saying there’s “good starvation” and “bad starvation” and that we need to address the obesity epidemic with “good starvation.” Just like there’s no such thing as “good starvation,” there’s no such thing as “good shame.”

The “good shame” that Reeves describes is actually a combination of guilt and empathy. And, interestingly, there is actually significant research on the important roles both guilt and empathy play in pro-social, positive behavior.

Is this just a case of semantics? No. We don’t refer to balanced, healthy eating as “good starvation” because it’s confusing, inaccurate, and misleading. It also obscures and confuses what we really need to do to move toward positive social outcomes.

The majority of shame researchers agree that the difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the difference between “I am bad” and “I did something bad.” Shame is about who we are, and guilt is about our behaviors.

When we apologize for something we’ve done, make amends to others, or change a behavior that we don’t feel good about, guilt is most often the motivator. Of course, you can shame someone into saying, “I’m sorry,” but it’s rarely authentic. Guilt is as powerful as shame; it just doesn’t have the paralyzing and debilitating impact that prevents shame from being an effective agent of meaningful change.

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s place in order to understand what they are feeling. When we are empathetic, we can listen and respond authentically to others, and we have the skills to consider how our actions will impact others.

Again, why don’t we just refer to guilt and empathy as “good shame”? Because it’s inaccurate. It clouds the fact that being empathetic and communicating with others (colleagues, children, partners, friends) without using shame requires most of us to develop new skills. Labeling these skills “good shame” moves us away from the hard work of understanding, identifying, and acquiring the knowledge we need to change.

Based on my own experiences with shame (we all have it) and what I’ve learned about it as a researcher, I know the intense pain, isolation, and fear it causes. I’m not proud to say this, but even with this knowledge, if I thought shaming people would, in the long run, keep them safer and make the world a better place, I might do it. As a parent and an observer of human behavior, I can get extremely fearful, and that fear might allow me to overlook the pain caused by shame if I thought it would ensure a better outcome.

Fortunately, I don’t have to wrestle with that moral dilemma because we know that shame never works as a catalyst for healthy, lasting change.

Shame is at the core of violence, addiction, disengagement, and fear. Shame is about anger and blame, not accountability and change. Meaningful change means understanding the realities of these girls’ lives (and the boys who get them pregnant) and working with them to cultivate educational opportunities, hope, and support.

Reeves writes, “We need a sense of shame to live well together. For those with liberal instincts, this is necessarily hard. But it is also necessary.” I’m not sure what he means by “liberal instincts,” but what I do know is that using shame as a tool when we are frustrated, angry, or desperate to see behavior change in people is a much better example of the “it feels good – do it” ethos than the teen pregnancy problem. We might feel justified in belittling and humiliating people, but it makes the world a more dangerous place.

I'd love to know what you think. Respectful debate and discussion is always welcome! ​

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default Re: The corrosiveness of shame

Post by Bluedream on Thu Mar 21, 2013 8:41 am

I see nothing positive at all in using shame or guilt as a means of usefully changing behaviour problems...nor using it as a form of manipulation to 'bend' someone toward a 'personal will'.
We've all heard; 'What's wrong with you?' far too many times to benefit positively from what is thought of as constructive criticism.
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default Re: The corrosiveness of shame

Post by tezorian on Thu Mar 21, 2013 11:22 am

Pascal Woudenberg wrote:I talked about this subject with a friend a month or something ago. It's that often when we want to help others, we judge them first. Everyone has done some thing in their life of which they later on think, "I shouldn't have done that.". Occasionally it gets you into a problem. On hindsight it is so obvious, but at the time, you did not see it. People will first throw the obvious comments in your face, then start with "I just don't understand how you could be so stupid". As such, an unpleasant experience, became even more unpleasant. What was supposed to be a normal lesson, turns into a wall of shame, whether those who want to help you, know it or not.

Now if you see or meet a friend/person who has made a similar decission/choice/action. Obvious, but blind to the consequences. You want to be there for them, but you TOO, exhibit the SAME behaviour. Even if you don't say it, you might think it. In order to stop this cycle from repeating, you should look back at what you did. And instead of JUDGE, you understand. Yes, it is plainly obvious... NOW... not THEN. If you can understand, then you can truly help that person. Not by keeping the experience the same or worse. You help the person, by making an already unpleasant experience (a little) more pleasant.

What a lot of people don't (fully) realize, me included, is how many ways of control are being used. Shame is also a control mechanism. It's not a solution, it's a means to restrict.

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default Re: The corrosiveness of shame

Post by Zen on Mon Mar 25, 2013 1:16 am

I've read other stuff in the past that theorized we use guilt and shame as a discipline tool to make kids fall in line. Depending on society you may use one more the than the other.
ugh example a teacher used was "stop doing that you'll embarass the family."

So I think that has a good point, it's a trained kind of reaction that's sort of taught to you to get you to conform in some way.


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default Re: The corrosiveness of shame

Post by anarkandi on Thu Mar 28, 2013 2:26 pm

I'd say the particular form of shame she is adressing is the one in which there is a defandant, who is ashamed, and an offender, who is causing the shame. When the defendant however is facing internalized shame, in the form of "Oh, this is not how I want to behave towards X because I value their feelings and I don't want to hurt them." I think it's a more progressive form of shame, but it can easily be harmful too. It depends on how we've learnt to relate to shame. Shame can either lead to fear/anger or to empathizing.
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default Re: The corrosiveness of shame

Post by melodiccolor on Thu Mar 28, 2013 4:32 pm

I think the idea is shame internalized is the message that the person feeling shame feels like they are a bad person, inadequate, not worthy. Guilt on the other hand focuses on an action, feeling guilty for doing something or thinking something, and vowing to do better, but not devaluing themselves in the process.

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default Re: The corrosiveness of shame

Post by Riana on Mon Apr 08, 2013 7:31 am

Yes, I've always felt shame is about feeling bad about who you are while guilt is about feeling bad about something you've done.

Shame holds people back, makes them withdraw, makes it painful for them to stand in their own space, and I don't see anything good coming from it. The focus should be on someone's actions, not on their persona or their very core. There can only be change when we feel we have it in us to change. Shame makes us despair at our own worthiness.

So all in all, a feeling that shouldn't be encouraged, but rather healed and transcended.
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