It is staggering how many people out in the world will try to control you via shame.
A main reason why so many people resort to shame as a behavior control strategy is because THEY were controlled by shame when they were growing up.
Every single time I write about shame, I get somebody pushing back at me, declaring that shame is essential to learning appropriate, moral ways to behave.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Shame isn’t just feeing bad when we do things that violate our moral principles.
Shame is the feeling that WE are bad. That we CAN’T do good things, because we are fundamentally toxic.
In the short term, shame can often be an effective behavior modifier, because no one wants to BE bad. If we’re told that if we do (or feel, or think) X, then we’re clearly a BAD person, we’ll think twice about doing (or feeling or thinking) X.
The thing is, shame, in the long term, chips away at our sense of self.
When we are drowning in shame, we are NOT motivated to work on our behavior.
Why would we be motivated to be better, when we’re convinced we’re fundamentally bad?
When we’ve been blasted over and over with shame, even our attempts to improve feel hopeless.
We feel like we’re swimming against the current of our real, supposedly shameful self.
Everybody reading this needs to know that, no matter what you’ve been made to feel throughout your life, you are not fundamentally “bad.”
You have qualities some people would consider good, and you have some qualities some people would consider not so good. You do things that some people agree with and like, and you do things that some people disagree with and don’t like.
You are a human.
You have good days and less good days.
Some days you’ll not be thrilled with your choices.
Some days you’ll fail to live up to who you want to be.
None of it means you are beyond help or hope. None of it means you are fundamentally or incorrigibly “bad.”
You might have a voice in your head telling you that no matter how hard you try, you can’t be a “good person.”
You might have real people in the real world telling you that because of who you are or where you come from or how you identify, you are “bad” and “should” experience shame.
You need to now that people change.
If you don’t like who you are or what you’ve done in the past, it is not too late to make a change. If you are reading these words, you have the opportunity to change what you do, even who you are.
Shame does not motivate change, at least long term. Shame tends to keep us stuck, feeling helpless and hopeless.
You are free to judge what you do. I judge what I do all the time. We SHOULD have opinions and feelings about what we do. We SHOULD have standards for our behavior.
Just be careful that your judgments about what you do don’t generalize to who you ARE, especially in the sense of “good” or “bad.”
You’re a person, and people change.
None of us is set in stone.
Nobody reading this is a completed project.
No matter what your past holds, it is your past.
You get to choose and create who you are. Right here. Right now.