Shame vs Guilt
You’re stupid vs What you did was stupid.
Which one is shaming?
When I was in school, I was really weak in Maths. One day I was called by the teacher to solve a maths sum on the blackboard. She said, “Puja Kanth, you CAN or CAN’T solve this sum?” in a mocking manner. She knew very well that I wasn’t good in maths. She also mocked my surname which is KANTH pronounced as Can’t.
Of course, it was shaming. And I was embarrassed as hell!
I often wonder that had she said, Puja would you like to try out this sum on the board?, how different my emotional response would have been. Her shaming tactics didn’t help me at all in learning maths. It was unproductive and even cruel to me as a child. No wonder I wasn’t good in Maths. I dreaded those classes. It’s only much later that with the help of a good Maths teacher I was able to do well in Maths.
What we tell our kids is important. Do you shame your kids by saying they are a problem or do you point out that their behaviour is a problem? There is a huge difference.
And, what do you tell yourself when you make a mistake? Do you say, I’m stupid, or my behaviour was stupid?
For example. When you forgot to prepare for that meeting, what did you tell yourself? “I’m stupid or what I did was stupid?” It’s important to understand the distinction between shame and guilt. When you feel you’re stupid, you’re experiencing shame. When you feel what you did was stupid, it’s guilt.
True and authentic guilt although a painful feeling, can help us in taking lessons from our mistakes and correcting our behaviour. Shame on the other hand often tells us, we’re wrong/damaged etc, which doesn’t help.
Shaming yourself, kids and others doesn’t work. It does not lead to change.
Shaming kids only leads to toxic patterns in kids where they grow up feeling there is something wrong with them , leading to self isolation and even self destructive behaviours. They might end up thinking, since I’m damaged/wrong/dumb what’s the point in even trying to change anything. Since they’ve already been told they’re are wrong, why would they even try to change?
Similarly, shaming oneself leads to people pleasing, hostilty or disconnection and isolation to cope with the shame feeling.
Bottom line: Change your self-talk. Change the way you talk to your kids and others. Holding someone accountable for their behavior is different than shaming them.
For more information on this: Listen to this podcast by Brene Brown.