We often use shame others to get our own way, and yet the success rate is low, because it usually doesn’t produce lasting results. So why do we do it? And what does it say about us? Learn 6 eye opening reasons we shame others. This is post 9 in a series on shame.
“Can’t you put anything away?” I snap at my teen.
“You know it’s not my job to clean up after you and be your maid.”
They look up from their bed where they are sitting and reading.
“And this bedroom? Didn’t I ask you to clean it earlier this week?”
I pause and look around the room. “I hope you are not going to claim this room is clean, because it is far from clean. In fact, just for your information, it hasn’t even left the starting line.”
I pause. Ready to rush forward with more words, and then I see their face. They look ambushed. And I realize I have reverted to the use-shame-to-motivate trap.
I am trying to shame them into cleaning their room.
I am not being honest and direct in my conversation or owning my feelings and irritations, I am thrusting the blame and problem on them.
We humans are good at this.
We can be subtle, or overt.
We can do it without even thinking.
We’ve all done it.
We might even be pretty good at it.
Shaming others and shaming our self.
So why do we do it?
We use shame for a reason, and it’s not very pretty.
When we use shame ourselves and others we are trying to embarrass them, humble them, cut them down to size, put them in their place, or mortify them.
We are not trying to help them, serve them, or give them warm fuzzies.
Often the goal is to make that person feel inadequate and ashamed. To humiliate them.
But just because we are trying to shame someone, doesn’t mean we will be able to. They just may shrug their shoulders and not feel ashamed at all. Because they are in charge of their own emotions, responses, and how they process our words.
Just like we don’t all have the same personality, self-expectations, strengths and weaknesses, or same experiences, different things cause us shame.
None of us may like being teased for our body shape, but not all of us will feel shame when someone talks negatively about our body shape.
While shame is universal, and we all feel it, and have felt it, we feel shame about different things.
What may bring mild embarrassment to one person, may bring intense feelings of shame to another.
And what triggers shame in one person, will be different for another person.
But the person who is doing the shaming is never acting in love. Never acting for the good of the other person. Never trying to NOT cut and humble the other person in some way.
6 eye opening reasons we use shame.
Shaming another doesn’t produce lasting positive behavior. Sure, it seems to occasionally work, so we keep doing it, but when it changes outward behavior, it doesn’t do it for the right reasons. It may also produce rebellion and an attitude of bitterness and hate towards the person who did the shaming.
So why do we do it?
1. Motivation. A common tactic for using shame is to try and motivate someone to do something, or not do something. We like to think if we can shame them, then they will start or stop doing something.
Shaming someone who is overweight so they will diet. Or shaming someone for their grades so they will work harder at school may seem beneficial. But shame is a bad motivator. It leaves more scars than progress.
Often it makes people turn secretive and go underground. And it is tears down their identity and their self-motivation.
2. Win a conversation or argument. Also known as having the last word. We feel we can win by criticizing them and in the process shaming them and shutting them up. We may shame them to get the focus of the conversation or argument off us and back on them; now they are in the hot seat. In our defensiveness and not wanting to take responsibility for our own actions, we can turn around and blame them for something, and then shame them. Once again taking the focus off of us and putting it on them.
Short term we may feel good because we perceive we won the conversation or argument, but long term the relationship loses. And now the other person has unseen scars to deal with, because words do hurt. Not to mention now having to deal with having anger, resentment, and forgiveness issues against us.
3. As a teaching opportunity. Pulling someone aside to make an example of them about what not to do, is an easy way to shame someone. We may think we are helping the rest of the group through this “teachable moment,” but no one likes to be criticized and used as an example in front of their peers. And this “teachable moment” is more bullying than teaching.
4. We are fueled by other emotions. Anger, envy, fear, pride, self-righteousness, and judgement can easily bloom into opportunities where we turn on another person and shame them. Where we in the moment stamp on them to make ourselves feel good, or to raise ourselves up, and show we are better than them.
5. It’s what we have learned to do. Our parents, family, teachers, coaches, or others modeled this technique of shaming others to us. Maybe it was done to us and we learned to do it to others. Maybe it was how our family kept someone in their place. Taught each other lessons. Motivated one another. Or got their way.
6. Vulnerability and real communication is hard. To ask for what we really want. To admit our own feelings and insecurities is hard work and takes time to figure out. It can seem easier to shame someone into getting good grades instead of asking them questions and seeing their viewpoint. Or having a conversation where we express our viewpoint and listen to them and their reasons and try to compromise on actual strategies that will help them raise their grades. Being honest enough to admit to ourselves, or even them, that we feel scared and ashamed when they get low grades because we feel others will judge us to be a bad parent is now owning part of the problem and very scary. How many of us learned how to do this?
Shame reveals more about the person shaming than it does the other person.
Like with so many other ways we communicate with one another or treat each other, when we shame someone, it reveals more about us than it does the other person.
It reveals our heart, thoughts, emotions, motivations, and principles.
It shows we are thinking more of ourselves, than we are of the other person.
Love is patient. Kind. Realizes others are human just like us. Looks to help and understand the other. Overlooks things. Realizes we are all different in temperament, personality, and opinions and accounts for this. Wants the best for others. Seeks to help and serve. Is willing to compromise and put the relationship first. Is quick to encourage and forgive. Is vulnerable and honest and admits when it is wrong.
This is how God treats us. And how we are to treat each other. And ourselves.
Yes, we will fail. No surprise. We are human.
We will find we are shaming ourselves for going off our diet, forgetting to do something, or for staying up so late again.
We will find ourselves trying to motivate others with cutting words that are trying to shame.
And we apologize. Admit our faults. Ask forgiveness. Give grace.
And try again.
When we find ourselves using shame, we try and do the hard work of examining our emotions and what we are really feeling and communicate honestly with others. And with ourselves.
Because we want to be motivated by love.
We want to root out shame and not use it as a communication strategy. With ourselves or with others.
Real communication means vulnerability.
So, let’s go back to my teen’s room.
It doesn’t take long for the words to leave my mouth when I realize I am trying to “motivate” them with shame.
I didn’t enter that room wanting what was best for them, but what I thought was best for me. Before I entered, I had my own irritations and agenda.
I wasn’t going to calmly ask them to clean their messes. No. I was angry, indignant, and put out by their messes before I even entered the room. My purpose was to let them know their behavior was unacceptable.
I wince, realizing my motives. I am caught again in my selfishness.
I stop standing in the doorway and come sit on the bed with them.
I take a deep breath and ask for my child’s forgiveness. For a re-do.
We chat about something totally different before we circle back around to the original topic.
“Your bedroom is looking pretty messy,” I say. “What are your thoughts?”
“It does need some cleaning,” they say.
“A little,” I say, and we both giggle.
“You have a habit of leaving things lying around,” I say, pointing to the desk, “and it makes me feel like I need to clean up after you. Which causes me to feel resentful because messes bother me. It’s just the way I am wired. So, I know part of the problem is me. And I own it. But we also live together, and you need to clean up after yourself. Can you work harder at cleaning up after yourself?”
“Of course,” they say.
“Great. That’s all I am asking.”
“And I’ll clean this room,” they say.
“That would be wonderful,” I say, “but if you can only clean one or the other, house messes bother me more than bedroom messes.”
“Good to know.”
I know it’s not the end of the conversation. I know I will see messes around, but it is a start.
It feels good to work together. To not be on my self-righteous plastic bucket looking down on them and angrily lording it over them.
Because that’s the position shaming puts us in.
And that’s one reason shaming never works in the long term.
When you feel yourself using shame on yourself or someone else ask yourself these questions:
1. What is motivating this desire to shame someone? (Sometimes it is fueled by our own past shame in this area. Sometimes we fear being judged or evaluated by others and seen as deficient. Sometimes it is another emotion like anger, envy, pride.)
2. How much is this their problem, and how much is this my problem? (We may be wanting them to change or do something so we don’t have to deal with our part of the problem.)
3. How can I help and motivate this other person in love? How would I want someone to treat me? How much am I willing to compromise on this issue?
4. Where do I need to give them grace and myself grace?
5. What could I do instead of shaming them? How can I preserve the relationship and get positive results using love?
6. How can I tell them how I feel and what I need and still listen to them?
Thanks for stopping by. Keep remembering what’s important.
Download a free guided exercise to help you heal from shame
Download a free PDF freebie, “What to Do When You Are Feeling Shame: A Guided Exercise.” It will walk you through some practical exercises to deal with shame. Ending with how to avoid feeling shame in the future. My passion is to see you living shame-free; in glorious freedom. “What to Do When You Are Feeling Shame: A Guided Exercise” can help you step towards that freedom by breaking the lies of shame you believe and replacing those lies with the truth.
From Shame to Grace: How to Erase Shame From our Identities — Other posts in this series on shame
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