The flaws of a culture built on shame


Many of us have heard the hostile statement, “Shame on you!”

This subtle art of intimidation is becoming more and more common in today’s culture. Since childhood, parents and teachers have used this tactic as a supposed way to teach us right from wrong. As we grow older, however, we instinctively impose shame and rejection to control others’ actions.

 In essence, the modern shame culture only promotes adherence to unrealistic demands and as the a result tragically tarnishes our self perception.          

 Moreover, social media platforms reinforce this cultural mindset of “if you’re not in, get out” by allowing our opinions to be on constant display and scrutiny. Instagramming our meal becomes more important than enjoying the food, and ‘selfies’ and Facebook posts markedly define our identity.

  Over time, this leads to an intense fear of being rejected or ridiculed by the community. As people online shame those who deviate from the norm, even the slightest difference from the norm causes a frenzy. Additionally, in an attempt to redeem themselves, individuals may become aggressively unique in order to be noticed and respected by others. When their efforts prove to be unsatisfactory, they are even more disappointed at themselves in the long run.

 In fact, if failure seems probable, some individuals will not accept or not try to reach their goals. Brown and Weiner, researchers at the University of California, studied the link between motivation and shame, and found that `shame-related’ emotions were the dominant responses as a result of failure.

 The detriments of shame culture go to show that not only are our culture’s expectations counterproductive, but they lead to a greater deal of self hatred, caused by a feeling of not doing wrong, but a feeling of being wrong.  For example, I can’t help but look back at the childhood punishments that deliberately isolated children from others. Instead of learning right from wrong, timeouts made me feel alienated and rejected by others.

  As one of the most negative and debilitating emotions, shame can define our self worth and drastically diminish our motivation behind personal improvement.

In fact, recent research by psychological scientists at the University of British Columbia — Jessica Tracy and Daniel Randles — concluded that substance abusers who were shamed by others to change, were more likely to relapse in coping strategies such as drinking in order to deal with the pressure. Clearly, shame does nothing to promote a society of inclusion and tolerance, but a culture of disapproval and oversensitivity.

 Moreover,  being constantly shamed and criticized by others can lead to a fear of standing out. In fact, according to Clark and Wells, researchers at the United States National Library of Medicines, a core effect of being socially shamed is the development of social anxiety disorders. As we continue to shame those who don’t fit in our cultures definitional norms, we continue to ignore the detrimental effects that failures have on the perception of one’s self.

 Contrarily, others may argue that the feeling of shame allows one to be more open minded when fixing their mistakes. However, when taken too far, shame is still a tool that allows others to control our self perception.

 Ultimately, our personal identity should not have to suffer in order for us to be respected. We must see our cultures expectations not as norms, but self fulfilling goals. Self acceptance is possible, even among the most self-critical people.

In fact a proverb once said, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

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