Using Shame as a Weapon: Does it Work?
Each of us has someone that we wish would change. We have tried being supportive, understanding, helpful and directive, but still they remain unchanged. It can be extremely frustrating and can lead to us wanting to shame them into change. But does using shame as a weapon work?
Using shame as a weapon
We all know that shame is a powerful influence on a person's personality.
We only have to think back to the times that we have been shamed by other people and we cringe with the memory of it, even after all these years. And often the thing that stays with us isn't that the person was wrong to shame us, but that we are still so eternally and irredeemably bad.
Knowing how powerful shame is, it is tempting to use it – consciously or unconsciously – to try to change another person. We usually don't mean it but it's often there in our words. We seemingly can't help stop using shame as a weapon.
The risk is not that it won't work
The risk in using shame as a weapon is not that it won't work, but that it will. Shame suppresses, contracts, limits and weakens the person who is shamed.
But this isn't usually what we want the other person to be like. We want them to be wiser, more active, more confident and better; shame only takes them further from these desirable qualities.
When a person is shamed, their motivation ebbs away and they are much less likely to be able to change. There is a time to start listening to your critics, but not it isn't when they are trying to shame you.
Working with shame
Counsellors and psychotherapists have plenty of experience in working with shame – it is a thing that brings a great many people to therapy.
Undoing the work of being shamed is one of the things that I do in individual and couples counselling. Our work would go nowhere if I made people feel more shameful; instead the process of recovery and change is one of helping clients feel understood, accepted and empathised with. Warmth is one of the key features of psychotherapy and counselling. Why? Because it grows people.
Once people feel stronger, then of their own accord people change the parts of their life that they couldn't tackle from a position of shame.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about the damage done by false praise.
– Tim Hill
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