Shame and Humiliation – What’s the Source?

“That was stupid!”

“Can’t you do anything right?”

“You know better!”

“Don’t be a cry baby!”

“Is that the best you can do?”

Words. Words intended to cause shame, to humiliate. 

In fairness, most people who use these phrases aren’t consciously thinking  “How can I cause them shame?” Many of these comments are the ones we’ve heard addressed to us when we do something ‘wrong.’ When we begin using these same tactics ourselves, we’re just automatically emulating what we’ve learned as the means of dealing with others who aren’t living up to your expectation. What we learned was that these types of belittling comments cause emotional pain. No one likes pain. We are internally geared to do what we can to avoid things that hurt or make us feel bad. Therefore, the subconscious goal of this shaming technique is to control, manipulate or change someone’s behavior. If they get ridiculed, they won’t want to do that behavior again, is the thought process.

Does ridicule or shaming bring about the desired change of behavior? 

Sometimes it does.

Some kids learn to hold back their tears. Some work harder towards perfection.

Sometimes — it doesn’t.

Some kids just can’t hold back the tears. Some find that working harder still doesn’t bring them the approval their looking for, so they quit trying all together.

In both cases, when it ‘works’ and when it doesn’t, the message remains engrained in both sets of recipients: “Your value to others is based on your performance and their approval of that performance.”

Unfortunately, since none of us are perfect, we all know that there is always a higher level of perfection to achieve. The striving for perfection and approval never is truly accomplished, even when others around us think we have.

The Source
As with every whisper in our subconscious (or even verbally from other people), we need to consider God’s opinion. Is He in agreement with the verdict? Are those whispers in your spirit that make you feel like a failure coming from the Holy Spirit? Does God treat people like that? Did Jesus treat people like that?

In my experience, those whispers do NOT come from the Holy Spirit. Shaming and humiliating people to get them to perform does not fit with the character of the God I know. If they are not from God, then they are not Truth. 

If they are not truth, then they are lies. Who is the Father of Lies, according to Jesus? The Devil, Satan.

The first step in being set free from lies is to recognize them as such. When we recognize those deeply buried messages of shame as lies, we can then choose not to let them control and influence us anymore.

Conviction is not the same as shame.

This is an important distinction. If you do wrong or do not live up to the standards you believe in, you should ‘feel bad.’ That is correct. Those ‘bad feelings’ are meant to spur us on to do right and do better. The Holy Spirit will speak to you and tell you when you have done wrong. But just as with people, it is the tone and attitude that is used in pointing out your lack that makes the difference between bringing shame or conviction.

How do you tell the difference between shame and conviction?

Conviction speaks to the action or lack thereof. I need to find ways to change my actions so that I will be the kind of person I really am.

Shame speaks to who you are. It creates feelings of degradation, failure and fear. You may fear losing the love or approval of someone.

Fear seldom accompanies conviction. As the Apostle John said in his First Letter in the New Testament: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Conviction encourages us to acknowledge our weaknesses and failures and move forward towards positive change. Conviction says, “You’re better than this.”

Shame encourages us to hide our behaviors in fear of judgment and pain. Shame says, “You’re a failure,” so we simply try to hide what we have accepted as the ugly “truth” about ourselves.

Pegi Berdick, The Financial Whisperer, has some very eye-opening comments about the shame we experience as children and how it affects us and how we operate for the rest of our lives. She says:

Shame is a learned response taught to us as infants, and gets attached to various vehicles like money, food, sex, and our bodies.  As we mature, we tend to respond in the identical manner taught to us when we were children. Shame was used as a controlling device, by our parents, siblings, or caregivers so that we did not embarrass, conflict, and alter the image our caregivers wanted to preserve.”

Pay attention when you ‘feel bad.’ Is it conviction or is it shame?

Let go of the shame!

1 Comment Shame and Humiliation – What’s the Source?

  1. Kate Smedley

    Perceptive and well-written, it is vital to know the different between the two. Shame can be debilitating to us in terms of emotional development.


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