6 Reasons Not To Shame Your Child Shame is a toxic emotion, avoid burdening your child with it

Feelings of shame can be excruciatingly painful. The voices and sometimes unvoiced reactions of disgust or hate become encoded in our unconscious. Usually, the toxic emotion of shame is the legacy given to us by our parents. Mostly in their endeavor to raise their kids to be upright citizens.

By adulthood, we are filled with so much toxic shame that it mars every moment of our life. We no longer feel good about ourselves and in general, develop a sense of uneasiness about ourselves and our world.

That not being ‘good enough’ colors our daily existence. The thing about shame is that it comes from thinking about a belief that is untrue. Either by a standard set by society or your family.

Publicly shaming a child destroys his self-esteem 

Brené Brown on Shame

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston calls shame an unspoken epidemic. It is the reason behind many forms of destructive behaviors. And she perfectly differentiates between the two confused emotions ‘shame’ and guilt. She states that Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.”

Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, and eating disorders. Guilt is inversely correlated with those things. The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.

Parents need to understand the difference between the two and try and steer their reactions to their kid’s errant behaviors by being aware of their words when correcting them. Instead of saying,  ‘you’re a bad boy’, when a child has done something wrong, say ‘What you have done is not right.’  A child immediately understands his action is wrong and will try and correct it. But if you labeled him as bad, you have given your verdict – it’s final.

Shame affects us not just psychologically, it also negatively impacts our bodies

1) Causes Stress & Affects the Body

Shame creates a stress response and stress causes our bodies to release cortisol. Being ashamed of who you are because you are ‘not good’ affects the natural homeostasis of the body. Physiologically your body will respond to the emotion of shame which in turn causes your body to release stress hormones leading to symptoms such as nausea, chest tightness, lethargy, shrinking yourself smaller, flushing skin, and avoidance of eye contact.  It could bring about lifelong stomach and respiratory health problems.

2) Affects Self-Esteem

Parents are the mirrors of their child’s developing selves. If that mirroring is negative and shaming, it affects a child’s self-esteem. ‘I am not good enough is the message a child grows up with. He will be constantly wracked with self-doubt and anxiety. It simply corrodes away who they are and what they positively believe about themselves.  A child begins having negative feelings about not just himself but also his body – feeling awkward, ugly, and dirty. This could lead to Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD),   anorexia, and other eating disorders

3) Feels Something Lacking

When we shame a child we give them the message that they are inferior – something is lacking within them. The feeling of not being good enough could also lead to unreasonable envy or jealousy. This could be exacerbated when we shame and compare them to other siblings or friends.  This is a common tactic many misguided parents indulge in, thinking that by shaming a child  ‘Why can’t you be like Jack’ they are of inspiring them.

Hearing these negative messages only creates a sense of hatred and a feeling of jealousy toward the world.  Others are perceived as having something more than them. This could lead to interpersonal issues and conflicts. The gnawing need to fight constantly to cover up for one’s perceived inadequacies and try to grasp our share of praise.  A child will grow up trying to compensate for these shame-based feelings either by becoming a workaholic or a conman. Overcoming a sense of worthlessness is compensated by developing dysfunctional coping strategies, conscious and unconscious, numbing and destructive.

4) No Confidence To Deal With Life

Being made to feel that one is not good enough makes one literally want to crawl and hide. People who have experienced shame as kids often look and feel small, shrinking. Their heads are bowed,  eyes downcast, they won’t make eye contact, look away, cringe and try to hide. The expression “hang your head in shame” captures some of its physicality of it.  It affects how we interact with others and our behavior affects how others interact with us.

The recent phenomenon Dr. Jordan Peterson says is that a sexual predator will pick a child who lacks confidence because they know they can get away with it.

Usually, school bullies pick up kids who will not fight back. When we feel ashamed, we feel that we are the reason for the problem. Our shame stops us from dealing with challenges or monsters in the world since we have internalized the message ‘bad’, and ‘not good’, into our personalities.

Psychologist Albert Bandura coined the term self-efficacy which defines the feeling of confidence an individual has about their capacity to influence events and achieve goals.

5) Becoming Dependent on External Validation

When a child grows up constantly belittled he experiences toxic shame and comes to believe that they are inherently flawed, they need to soothe this distressing feeling constantly. They need to cover this insecure feeling of being exposed. they become addicted to drugs, unhealthy eating, or unmeaningful relationships.

Furthermore, they end up being people pleasers or codependents.  Always needing to feel validated by someone else. The agony of social rejection, scorn, disapproval, criticism, and dislike makes one afraid to expose one’s true self.  Shame prevents them from realizing their actual potential because they are fearful of being shamed in case they fail.

6) Joy & Positive Emotions

When parents instill shame in their kids they teach them that they are unworthy and undeserving. The child grows up feeling morose and gloomy about our world. They need to constantly be on their toes, striving to achieve unreasonable standards of perfection. They lose their innate sense of spontaneous joy.

Moreover, shame makes them feel unsure about other people’s responses. That cynical parent is constantly judging their every action killing vitality and self-expression. The world of the shamed child is lonely, filled with dread, and joyless. They become numbed robots living in a dystopian world.

Listening To Shame by Brené Brown

Becoming A Mindful Parent

Parents need to become aware of their own past history and get rid of their own negative shame conditioning. Respecting and cherishing a child’s God-given talents and skills.

Correcting when needed but understanding the impact of their words and behavior on their vulnerable kids.  Learning to change children’s negative actions with kind words and love. We need to douse shame with empathy.

Image Source: Pixabay

Further Reading

How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Calmer, Happier Parent – Carla Naumburg  

Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion –  Gary Chapman 

Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames – Thich Nhat Hanh 

4.8 4 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments