Three Simple Words That Destroys The Individual’s Sense of Self-Worth ‘Shame On You’
If there are three words that can destroy an individual’s sense of self-word more than all others, they are “Shame on you”.
Words have a huge effect on our lives. They can change the way we interact with other people, the decisions we make, affect our self-confidence, they can make us laugh, cry or even provide us with huge amounts of inspiration. “Shame on you” may just be three simple words, but if said often enough, they can permanently destroy an individual’s sense of self-belief and self-worth.
The Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara, Thomas Scheff, pointed out that “Emotions are like breathing – they cause trouble only when obstructed”. “In modernity, shame is the most obstructed and hidden emotion, and therefore the most destructive”.
In an article published in a recent edition of the Journal of Cultural Sociology, Professor Scheff examines the current phenomenon of hidden shame and argues it could be the key to understanding the behaviors of modern society.
Our society encourages individualism and according to Professor Scheff, this provides the perfect circumstances for the feeling of shame. 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”.
Professor Scheff observed that although shame in our society is not at a greater level that in previous generations, we tend to hide it more than ever before. “Shame is a biological entity like other emotions, but people are more ashamed of it than they are the others” he said. “The hiding of emotions is more widespread is more widespread in modern societies than in traditional ones”.
The way we identify with our ego comes through our emotions, so it’s important we make sure our decisions in life are coming solely from a place of love and kindness, rather than a sense of responsibility we place on ourselves for the judgment of other people.
Professor Scheff does however note that shame can sometime be a very useful emotion. “Shame is the basis of morality” he said. “You can’t have a moral society without shame. It provides the weight for morality. There are hundreds of things in your head about what you should or shouldn’t do, but the one that hits you is the one that has shame behind it”.
It is now known that shame is not only an emotion. A recent study that aimed to map how emotions are displayed on the body found that shame presents itself in ways similar to fear, disgust and even surprise. Professor Scheff suggests that the reaction to shame can be the precursor to other larger acts of aggression like wars and other conflicts.
Some people are able to better manage the effects of shame than others. “Those lucky rascals who as children were treated with sympathetic attention from at least one of their caregivers feel more pride, accepted as they are and, therefore, less shame and rejection” said Professor Scheff.
So how do we go about resolving our internal sense of hidden shame? The answer, according to Professor Scheff, is as simple as having a good laugh. “That is, laugh at yourself, the universe or at your circumstances, but not at other people” he said. “Most of the laughing we do in comedy is good. No matter the actors, we are really laughing at our own selves that we see in their foolishness”.