The goal of all parenting is to create "good" behavior. Guilt and shame are two completely different emotional states of being and many parents have these paired as one-and-the-same. Parents who use shame to discipline may feel the job is getting done, and maybe, on a behavioral level, there is a change but the effects of shame on long-term success and self-esteem in children show that shame doesn't lead to lasting change. Many parents shame out of pure frustration. Shame provides an anger-release for the parent only making the parent feel better, and usually the parent only feels better temporarily. Once the initial reactive moment has passed the parent often feels bad for having handled things poorly. Apologies may follow but typically with an excuse, which further shames the child, for why the parent lost emotional control. No doubt raising children is extremely challenging and all parents will shame on occasion but, regardless, shame does not lead to positive change.
The Damaging Effects of Shame
1. Shame diminishes the emotional world of the child: Shame damages the child's emotional world and the child's perception of him or herself. Therefore, if the child's behavior changes, it is changing out of fear, not out of understanding what he or she did incorrectly. The child leaves shaming situations feeling like a flawed and defective person instead of leaving the situation with the learning and understanding of what behavior he or she needs to improve.
2. Lack of self-worth: When a child's emotional needs are dismissed, criticized or invalidated he or she grows up to feel unimportant and not good enough. If a child is told he or she is "bad" this message is internalized and absorbed as "who they are" and the child travels with this belief well into adulthood. This belief damages their confidence in themselves, their trust in others, their levels of success and their ability to have close relationships.
3. Dehumanizing: Shame makes a child feel less-than-human. The impact of shame is life-long as the child then adult becomes afraid of being "exposed" which leads to interpersonal anxiety and withdrawal. These children learn they are bad. Some children try to make up for this "badness" through becoming over achievers and others under achieve. The overachiever, however, isn't any healthier emotionally than the underachiever. Both are operating from fear and low self-worth. One is trying to outrun their negative self-perception in an effort to cover it up through success while the other lives shame through learned helplessness and underachieving.
4. Powerlessness to act: Shame takes the shape of the inner voices and images that mimic the parents and other significant adults who gave these children the message to not be "so stupid" or "you know how so-and-so is" with an eye-roll. Shamed children seek pleasure, but are inhibited by internalized voices telling them they are "selfish" or "lazy." These children strive to get ahead and to speak their truth but are held back by deep insecurity that they are not good enough and they fear that their self-expression will expose them to others causing rejection.
5. Poor self-expression: Having felt the sting of an adult's negative judgment, shamed children completely censor themselves in order to escape being seen as embarrassing or bad. Shame crushes a child's natural enthusiasm, their natural expressive essence, their curiosity, and their desire to do things by themselves for the fear of being ostracized.
6. Emotional unpredictability: The experience of shame inhibits the expression of all emotions -- with the occasional exception of anger or rage. Children who are shamed fluctuate emotionally between two oppositions of expression: emotional silence and feeling frozen and/or through moments of complete hostility and rage. All emotions come with a physical expression. For instance, when a person feels sad the sadness physically manifests as crying. When a person feels angry the anger is physically expressed through yelling, when a person feels guilty they show motivation to change. Shame is not accompanied by a physical outlet. Shame cannot move through the emotional system, therefore, shame keeps a person emotionally stuck.
7. Hypersensitivity: When parents shame their children they leave them feeling humiliated and these children become paranoid of others leading to fear and anger problems. Shamed children communicate their anger through passive-aggression or through self-destruction. They feel automatically disapproved of by others, tend to take everything personally, even when no one is rejecting them. Shamed children become experts at reading body language and other subtleties in the behavior of others often misinterpreting these things as impeding rejection.
The consequences to come from shame-based parenting last well into adulthood. Sadly even well-meaning parents underestimate a child's sensitivity to shame. Words that many parents consider harmless have the power to puncture a child's self-esteem for many years to come. If and when shame is used, consciously or accidentally, the parent must repair the damage immediately with ownership and apology based upon the parent's faulty behavior. When parents can own up to their mistakes in parenting, they teach their children how to be human, how to take responsibility for being wrong and what a genuine apology looks like. Parents, in taking ownership for their shaming mistake, teach their children about good behavior through understanding and insight rather than through shame and humiliation. This is what inspires good behavior and healthy self-esteem. Children learn they need to do better not be better because know they are already good enough.
Sherapy advice: Shame to a child is internalized as "I (the person) am bad." Healthy guilt-based discipline teaches the child "what I did was bad."