Shame On You – These Three Simple Words Can Destroy An Individual’s Sense of Self-Worth
March 16, 2014 by JOSH RICHARDSON
Words have a dramatic effect on how we interact with people and the decisions we ultimately make. They can influence us, inspire us and just as easily bring us to tears, affect our confidence and self-esteem. Shame on you. These three simple words can temporarily — or, when used too often, permanently — destroy an individual’s sense of value and self-worth.
“In modernity, shame is the most obstructed and hidden emotion, and therefore the most destructive,” said Thomas Scheff, professor emeritus of sociology at UC Santa Barbara. “Emotions are like breathing — they cause trouble only when obstructed.”
In complex decisions of “right” and “wrong,” our emotions may get the last word, but the words we hear make us judge ourselves. Particular emotional centers in the brain charge up when the dilemmas involve insults from others.
When hidden, he continued, shame causes serious struggles not only for individuals but also for groups. In an article published in the current issue of the journal Cultural Sociology, Scheff examines the ubiquity of hidden shame and suggests it may be one of the keys to understanding contemporary society.
According to Scheff a society that fosters individualism (ours, for example) provides a ripe breeding ground for the emotion of shame because people are encouraged to “go it alone, no matter the cost to relationships,” he said. “People learn to act as if they were complete in themselves and independent of others. This feature has constructive and creative sides, but it has at least two other implications: alienation and the hiding of shame.”
Scheff noted that while shame is no less prevalent now than in previous years or decades or generations, it is more hidden. “Shame is a biological entity like other emotions, but people are more ashamed of it than they are of the others,” he said. “The hiding of emotions is more widespread in modern societies than in traditional ones.”
Our ego identification comes through many emotions, so we must take steps to ensure that our actions are coming from a position of kindess and loved rather than the learned sense of responsibility that we place upon ourselves for the judgements of others.