Thursday 27 August 2015

Shame game

I was prepping for a thing I am doing this week and was considering the influence of shame and came across some thought provoking quotes*.

                 Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.

                 ‘Shame is a soul eating emotion.’  C.G. Jung

                 ‘The difference between guilt and shame is very clear—in theory. We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are.’ - LEWIS B. SMEDES, Shame and Grace

Shame in our house is an easy target to hit for some of our children, in fact the real trick is not hitting it for them.

‘Don’t do that, don’t do this, why have you put that there, why did you say that, where have you been, what are you doing?’ Regardless of the intonation or innocence of the questioner these words, like arrows, score direct hits on feelings of shame. Understandably this precipitates a reaction, pushing back and fighting. It’s a well worn path that we often try to avoid but seem to find ourselves travelling.

Appropriate parenting uses tiny drops of shame to moderate behaviour with immediate restoration. Though I confess that Peanut seems impervious to this approach after cutting a chunk of hair off her head this weekend she was given an appropriate stern talking too. She was then given the love, restored to the fold and all was well, though her hair was hacked it was redeemable. Peanut then slinked off and and removed 50% of her fringe to the hairline giving herself a semi mullet. Mrs C, an ex hairdresser, was mortified/devastated, I suggested that Peanut is to only be allowed out of the house in a balaclava for the next six months while it grows out.

Not helpful.

Peanut though without remorse or shame noted in her defence ‘it’s dad’s fault, he says I look like Dora the Explorer, so now I don’t’. In my defence I wasn’t in the house. The more astute will be wondering how a three year old got her hands on a pair of razor sharp professional hairdressing scissor not once but twice. As the qualified Health and Safety Officer/Social Worker of the home I’d like to claim ignorance.

I digress.

In light of the stuff I’d read and pondered on shame I started to think about the ‘why’ questions that I hear myself ask Flossy.

Each 'why' seems like an accusation directed to the core of her being and punch straight into that shame.
‘You are bad’ is what is being heard. Frequently we are mopping up the aftermath of overwhelming shame. Teachers, friends, wider family members passers by in the street set it off and we mop it up.
I’d never given it much thought as to why ‘why’ questions don’t work. Maybe this is part of the answer.
Oh, and we compromised and found a headband for Peanut.

*I didn’t get where I am today by not knowing how to Google stuff


  1. Transposing my memory of this into adult language: when asked 'why' you go inside to consider it, ask yourself 'why', but don't know the answer - so conclude it must be your nature, it's who you are. Thus who you are is the problem - you're bad. Then there is nothing left to do or feel but shame.

    1. You make a lot of sense, being able to reflect when caring and parenting children is a key skill, often overlooked!
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. That photo is scary. I'm thinking very regularly these days how important our language is around our children. I'm reading Oliver James' book at the moment - great reading and very thought provoking

    1. Slightly confused after reading 'Jamie Oliver' book. I re read and now it makes perfect sense. Every day the significance of language becomes more apparent. Thank you for commenting.

  3. This is such a thought provoking post, I'm really interested in how we build emotional intelligence as this was a key 'missing' part in my own education and is something I'm still working on, communication and language use is fascinating especially when our own upbringing needs to be reevaluated!

    1. I worry that after six children by the time I get to the end of them I might just be getting the hang of this parenting malarky.