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  • Deah Curry PhD

Corrosion of Shame Leads to Self-Sabotage

Author's Note: This piece was written on 11 Sept 2009, which Facebook today reminded me about. I had been provoked by a posted image made by a colleague that showed up in my feed, and triggered me so strongly I just couldn't keep my mouth shut. Here's the rant in full.


Recently I heard someone argue for shaming a client into having the motivation to be accountable. This was justified as a coach's responsibility to be honest in ways that friends won't or can't be. This advocate equates confrontation with using a tactic of shaming. Then disavowed responsibility for inflicting intentional emotional damage by claiming that shame is not an action but rather a perception that lies in the eye of the perceiver. This, folks, is an argument that suggests a personality disorder. [added 2023: and it blames the victim!] It's a position that terribly misguided parents consciously or unconsciously hold that leads to manipulation and disempowerment of their children at best, and potentially severe, life long psychological impairment. The consequences of being subjected to what psychologists call a shaming environment is directly tied to learned habits of self-sabotage. Our view of reality and interpersonal dynamics gets drastically skewed when subjected to being shamed. Shame robs us of our emotional and spiritual bearings. We get mired in believing we are irredeemably flawed. It steals our sense of being good enough. It drives us into dysfunctional and paralyzing perfectionism. Or worse, it creates the need to self-medicate away the pain with alcohol and other drugs, food, escapist or risky behaviors, and toxic relationships and religions. Although this may be a tactic still used by drill sergeants in military boot camp, no self-respecting coach, therapist, or parent would intentionally shame someone into their idea of compliance. Just like arsenic is not a culinary seasoning, shame is not a coaching tool. If you have a coach, therapist, teacher, parent, or partner in your life who uses shaming tactics to get you to agree with them or change who you are, it's time to tell them you won't accept their attitudes and behaviors any longer. If you are suffering from shame, there's likely a small child inside of you who needs your fierce protection. The way out of the corrosion of shame is to take back your power.

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