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Why It's Not Okay To Shame

We only have to look around on social media lately to notice that we’re quite a shaming and blaming bunch.

In the last fortnight, it’s more than obvious that we don’t condone our Australian sports players cheating. So much so that people will do anything to let the offending players know how shameful they actually are. Over and over again.

Celebrities and sports stars have the world watching when they stuff up, and boy does the world weigh in when they do. Yes, cheating in sport is less than admirable, but does the crime actually warrant the barrage of public shaming and vilification placed on the people involved? No.

All humans are fallible & make mistakes, even intentional ones. We’ve all made one. Some mistakes are small and unnoticeable, whilst some are huge with far reaching consequences. But when us mere mortals lie or cheat, we can often privately contain it to some degree. We are rarely subjected to an ongoing public flogging and put to shame about our misdemeanours until we reach breaking point. This seems to be reserved for those in the public eye.

The outcome of this shaming culture is not healthy for anyone. If you are looking to make someone feel awful, as well as worthless and hopeless, then shaming works a treat. But many of us shame others on a daily basis. We do it to control situations in our lives, particularly when we don’t agree with what we see or hear.

From an evolutionary perspective, if someone in our pack broke the rules, then we would have kicked them out of the group. For the person that was kicked out, it would have increased their vulnerability to predators and certain death. The reason that shame works so well is because we're wired to connect to others. Shame, in whatever form it takes, is a way to control another person by threatening to take connection from them.

These shaming behaviours that us adults use make us feel superior in our judgment and self-righteousness. From the shamer’s point of view, it’s often easier to point the finger, name-call and avoid a proper discussion of problems, consequences and solutions. That’s why shaming is a well-used tactic in households as well as in the workplace. It’s humiliating and distressing to be on the receiving end of this.

Whether it’s eye-rolling behind our partners back, sarcasm in the office, name-calling during a fight, yelling at the kids in front of others or constantly nagging people about their past mistakes, shaming is damaging.

Shame makes people shrink. It lowers their worth and significantly affects how they think about themselves. Yes by shaming you will probably making someone feel bad for what they have done, but when people feel shame they can't make the right decisions going forward and they can't deal with the consequences of their actions. As shame researcher, Brene Brown aptly puts it; “shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change”.

For the most part, shame makes people want to withdraw and hide. If we don’t hold space for those feeling sorry for what they have done, and allow them to deal with the consequences, then they end up feeling as though they have no real direction about where to go next.

Failures are part of growth and change for all of us. But being shamed into growth and change always fails.

So next time someone’s behaviour has upset you, rather than blame and shame, consider a different approach. An approach that focuses on a solution rather than an ongoing unhelpful process that keeps repeatedly pointing out the problem. That way, the person can get on with dealing with the natural consequences of their actions, and learn from their mistake.

Good people make bad mistakes. It happens all the time. But just because a person made a bad mistake doesn’t mean that they are a bad person.

Often we will only fully understand that until it is us that makes the mistake.

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