SHAME is described as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour. It is a loss of respect or esteem, it is dishonour, or a person, action, or situation that brings a loss of respect or honour.
Shame is one of the biggest killers of our teenager’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It robs identity and purpose and makes an individual hide away or cover actions that need to be spoken of. Without releasing confusion, regret, embarrassment, hurt or frustration the feelings can end up crippling a person in later life, and become the root cause of depression, hopelessness and under achievement.
Although shame is an emotion that is closely related to guilt, it is important to understand the difference. Shame can be defined as 'a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.' Others have distinguished between the two by indicating that 'We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are.' That is why I continually stress the importance of distinguishing the behaviour of the teen from the person they are. It is critical that we always LOVE the person but discuss and focus on the behaviour.
Shame is often a much stronger and more profound emotion than guilt. Shame is when we feel disappointed about something inside of us, our basic nature. Both shame and guilt can have intensive implications for our perceptions of self and our behavior toward other people, particularly in situations of conflict. But self-esteem is the one valuable tool we all need in life in order to be able to survive.
The teen years are simply a period of maturation between childhood and adulthood, but in the process of transition a child must journey through self discovery in numerous areas of their lives; physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, relationally and sexually, in order to arrive at an understanding of who they are. That is a lot to accomplish in only a few years of their lives!
One of our many roles as parents is to steer our teens through ‘change’ with the stability, safety and security in place to support them through these tough years. We are their support. We are their rock and foundation platform from which they NEED to be able to mistakes and as a consequence learn, mature and grow.
MISTAKES ARE THE GREATEST GIFT TO OUR TEENS BECAUSE IT’S WHERE THE GREATEST GROWTH COMES…….but we don’t like to see ‘failure’ and so we either try and rescue our teens from facing it OR ignore it, hide it and cover it up when it happens.
By not honouring the role that mistakes have, we deny our teens the greatest opportunity to become who they are. Therefore we need to stand alongside our teens IN THE MIDST of their mistakes and provide the opportunity to discuss choices and options to overcome difficulty, empower them, equip them and educate them in change. We have to be strong and emotionally mature ourselves in order to do this well and so I urge parents to disentangle from their own insecurities, fears and inhibitions by also seeking some help or support at this time. We are responsible for our teenagers, but we also need to take ownership of our reactions to their behaviour without blaming them for triggering us. If something is there to be triggered, it is not our teen who is to blame!
SO HOW DO WE TELL IF OUR TEENAGER IS CARRYING SHAME?
One of the challenges of identifying symptoms of shame is that they look very similar, if not identical to, symptoms of depression. Teens may often withdraw from loved ones, feel apathetic toward activities that were once enjoyable, isolate themselves, and experience feelings of being overwhelmed but have difficulty expressing any of these feelings. Teens suffering from shame might also lose their appetites, fall behind in school, and have trouble in relationships. By many measures, they appear depressed.
HOW DO WE PREVENT SHAME?
Shaming your child when he/she does something wrong is not a correct way to discipline a child, it doesn't matter how old the child is. Shaming children can sometimes even turn the child against the parents and the child will be more inclined to sneak around you and lie to you. Often your teen just wants to talk and get help, but if they open up and are honest they also place themselves in a vulnerable position if a parent responds by shaming them. Not only will it make them feel worse but it will bury shame inside. If you don't agree with their choices you should still try to help them think through their decisions and show that each one has a consequence.
Teens hate negativity. The result often leads to rebellion and the decision to do whatever they want. In addition, blaming someone all the time doesn't encourage them to do better. In fact, it does the complete opposite. The teen becomes more depressed from all the shaming and doesn't make the right decisions. Criticising them doesn't help them either, nor does it improve or correct their mistakes - what does help is a constructive, unemotional discussion of their options.
It is vital that we teach our young people what shame is so that they can watch out for trigger signs and have the tools to deal with the emotions associated with it as they grow and leave home.
Here are a few pointers to work through together. Use a memory from earlier childhood ie when a teacher humiliated them in class:
Ask your teen to describe a specific incident from childhood in which they felt shame.
Ask them to clarify or record what thoughts went with their feelings.
Ask them to express the feelings and thoughts that they had during the incident.
Do the same with the feelings they had afterwards.
What impulses did they have?
Did they want to move towards others, or to move against them, or to move away from them?
Ask them where they felt the shame in their body?
How strong was the feeling on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is the most severe?
Lastly, ask them to relate how they think that shame scene still influences them today. The impact can be either something they like or something they don't like.
Discuss the difference between guilt and shame and the effect it can have if buried as opposed to expressed.
Finally I will leave you with two quotes from Brené Brown's book 'Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead'.
“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: "Who has earned the right to hear my story?" If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.”
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”