One of the most painful ways people emotionally wound other people is by shaming and blaming. To exert their power, parents shame and blame their children more than praise and encourage them. Employers flex their power muscles by often shaming and blaming their employees, even in the presence of others. Teachers, when feeling disobeyed by students, find it easier to shame and blame them. All of this shaming and blaming results in an angry and, at times, even violent community. People who are shamed often, usually become enraged people I call “ragers”.
This power struggle with the tongue is often a competition of who can say meanest, foulest, and most derogatory things. The truth is that none of the individuals wants to lose, so the “virtual war” will be an endless brawl most often ending in a physical, senseless confrontation involving real weapons of rocks, bottles, cutlasses, pieces of wood, and sometimes guns. There is no letting go. No giving up. It is a fight to the end. Where does the seed of violence first begin its germination? Is it in the school, the church, or the home?
Typically, “ragers” grew up in an environment of “shamed-based relationships”. “Ragers” were typically shamed or punished by their caretakers for expressing emotion when they were young. Here are examples of phrases used to shame others: “Be a man and don’t cry”, “Nice girls don’t get angry”, “I’ll give you something to cry about”, “You are no good, child”, or “I don’t know why you are such a worthless fool”.
To fully deal with the violence and power struggle in our communities, schools, businesses, we must first address the issues at home. We must find ways to teach our parents how to love and not to shame. Perhaps we need a “boot camp” for parents and their teenagers who use violence and shaming as a normal way of expression.
After much research on the subject, I came across social scientist and pastor Thomas F. Fischer’s “Eight Characteristics of Shame-based Relationships”. I will share them with you without any adaptation:
High shame/low self-esteem: Shame-based individuals cannot honor and respect themselves or others. Instead, they’re trapped by their self-consciousness, their sense of inadequacy, and their defense mechanisms which shield them from their own hypersensitive self-judgmentalism.
Distorted view of others: With anger too strong and frightening to admit, they tend to project these feelings outside of themselves. They often make themselves victims by characterizing others as angry, blaming, unfair, aggressive, judgmental, controlling or mean. Since the victimization needs must be maintained, the hostile or unfair feelings projected toward others tend to remain unchanged, too.
Distorted view of themselves: Unable consciously or unconsciously to deal with the shameful awareness that they can and do make mistakes, shame-based individuals will engage in various self-distortions and denials. These may come in many forms. Perhaps a common manifestation of this tendency toward self-distortion is when they are hard on themselves or when they see themselves as infinitely better than others. Such narcissistic tendencies may move them to “overreport” the good things they do while “underreporting” their failures.
Others may not recognize their grandiose tendency toward “white lies”. Unfortunately, they may not recognize it either. Over time, the grandiose “white lie” can become the “greatest fish story ever told”. As these shame-based individuals believe and live out their phantasmal grandiose image of themselves, it is no wonder that, in their blind, shame-driven narcissism, they wonder how anyone can do without them.
Motivated by fear: The greater their fears, the greater the need for their mental censors to protect them from their fears. As heightened fears raise the level of hyper-vigilance, their increased hyper-vigilance requires a rapidly increased defensive hyper-response.
Black-and-white thinking: Closely related to fear motivations is the practice of “splitting” or assigning people and their behaviors to rigid categories. Yes/No, Black/White, Either/Or, Safe/Unsafe, Good/Bad are all examples of the rigid categories they create. When they judge others, there is no “gray” area. Nearly always, it’s “all or nothing”, “throw the baby out with the bath water,” etc.
Enslaved by hyper-self-criticism: Those upon whom this judgmentalism falls may feel intense guilt. As if it were any consolation, shame-based individuals judge themselves even more critically, mercilessly and unfairly than they do others. As they have been taught, they are either good or bad, perfect or failure, saint or sinner, worthy of love or unworthy of love, competent or incompetent, etc.
Fear of abandonment: Being abandoned is a fate worse than death. It must be avoided at all costs by behaviors such as people-pleasing, perfectionism, giving in, overextending themselves to find love, putting up rigid boundaries to avoid relationships and thus abandonment.
Loneliness: Shame-based loneliness results from the strict detachment which characterized shame-based individuals. This detachment may be seen in their preference for isolation. This isolation can be accomplished in numerous ways including physical withdrawal, emotional withdrawal, or putting on a subtlety-guarded “life of the party” façade.
If you are a pastor, teacher, community worker, or parent, and you know a teenager who is always angry or responds to disappointments and disagreements in violent ways, look a little closer and see which of these eight characteristics are manifested in his or her life.
I do not want you to close this paper thinking that we are all innocent bystanders who are never violent or mean. Let me share these questions with you I read during a seminar. If you say yes to any of these, you may also need some help.
• Do you think that most of the people you know are stupid jerks who can’t do anything right?
• Are you impatient with the people who wait on you in stores and restaurants?
• Do you argue with nearly everyone you meet at some point in your encounter with them?
• Do you prefer to watch violent, action movies and television shows, and sometimes secretly wish that you could do the things that the characters are doing?
• Do you prefer to play with violent action video games, kick the cat, beat the dog, or your children or your spouse, or fantasize about doing those things? Think on these things.
• Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 327-19809 or visit www.soencouragement.org.