A favorite line in a new book by Brene Brown, “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)” describes what doesn’t work: “You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors.” This old way of trying to resolve parental issues with children figures in to most clients who present with long-time low self esteem and anger.
The message of shame misses the lessons in bad behavior and reinforces the belief that a person is deeply flawed and unworthy of acceptance and belonging because of their behavior. The false self that a shamed person constructs is an effort to hide or cover up the true self, which is always a combination of darkness and light. To be human is to be imperfect, a stage of evolving, not a reason to be humiliated and punished.
A much better way of helping each other, and especially children, to grow is the message of a parenting style called “Parenting With Love and Logic,” by Jim Fay. In this way of thinking, unacceptable behavior is always a chance to problem solve and make a choice. A parent sets expectations for a child’s behavior, and when these are not met, becomes the child’s mentor in identifying what has gone wrong, why it may have gone wrong, and what better choices could have been made. A correcting action or consequence can then follow.
The parent works to stay out of emotional intensity during this process. There is no need to shame when a parent does not buy into feeling that the child’s behavior somehow is a reflection of who the parent is. The parent realizes that each child’s journey and mistakes are unique to them and can be turned into opportunities to discuss issues of respect, responsibility, and emotion regulation.
The book by Brene Brown agrees with Jim Fay’s philosophy. It ends with these powerful words: “Shame starts at home. Fortunately, so does shame resilience. As parents, we have the opportunity to raise children who are courageous, compassionate and connected.” This is a better way.