There is an instinct in humans to always find someone or something to blame when things don’t go our away. There is nothing wrong with identifying what went wrong and the causes of it and sometimes even blame is justified.
But oftentimes we go beyond blaming—we shame. We humiliate, intentionally and unintentionally.
And the saddest part of it all is that we pile on shame onto people who already have self-inflicted senses of humiliation on them.
Do we really believe when we tell someone how horrible something is and that they should feel sorry for having done that thing that they don’t already feel horrible and sorry and ashamed about it?
Chances are that most, not all, of us realize and regret and feel ashamed about things we have done the moment we have done them. The reason I can say this with such confidence is that study after study and anecdote after anecdote prove that we are our own harshest critics.
No one is immune to having a sense of shame about any given action they perform throughout the day, no matter the amount of success they have achieved.
But, I’ll take it even one step further—no one is immune to a sense of shame about something they have done whether that thing is good or bad. That’s right, we can be ashamed of both good and bad actions we take.
How can this be you ask? Well, it’s because we live in a world where we are constantly indoctrinated with conflicting ideas and values. On the right hand we see an ad telling us to indulge our desires with clothes, vacations, houses, romantic partners and other things. On the left hand, we are told that wanting and getting all these things is greedy, lustful, and sinful.
Usually one of these—usually whichever one we have greater exposure to—will dominate our thoughts when making decisions. But even then it is no guarantee of whether we will feel shame or not about what we end up doing.
The goal here is to become aware of what is happening. Oftentimes, we take a course of action and end up feeling “off” about it.
The first step to dealing with this is to define what that “off” feeling is by name—shame. Then second, we need to identify the conflicting viewpoints within us that are giving rise to that sense of shame.
Do not underestimate the power of this 2-step process. When you name a problem and identify its cause, its grip over you begins to diminish just by virtue of acknowledging what is going on.
Skeptical? Give it a try next time you feel ashamed of something. Identify what it is you are feeling—shame—and why—the conflicting beliefs/values you hold. Do this every time you have a “shameful” experience.
Now, before we wrap it up—I do want to touch on something very important. When we see others, especially close friends and family, engaging in something we disapprove of or engaged in some self-destructive activities there is a very easy tendency to try to shame them into stopping that particular behavior.
I would like you to listen to this and to listen to it very carefully: there is no faster way to push away a person you care about than to make them feel ashamed.
Remember what we learned earlier: chances are they already feel ashamed about what it is they have or are doing. And if they are not already feeling this way or maybe even feeling the opposite, then shaming them won’t change their mind.
The better way is to approach them from the perspective of a friend curious to better understand what is going on. And remember always the golden rule: treat them the way you would want to be treated if roles were reversed.