Let that sentence sink in. The enemy of self-compassion is shame. We want to be compassionate with ourselves, but our shameful self-talk blocks the kindness we want to extend to ourselves. It would be so wonderful to talk to ourselves kindly about the mistakes we’ve made, and the regrets we have. The problem is we often don’t know how, and instead are very hard on ourselves. This tendency doesn’t happen by accident. In fact, this pattern often starts in childhood.
Shame-talk vs Guilt-talk
Recent research* shows the long-term effects on children when they use shame self-talk versus guilt self-talk. Researchers looked at a 380 fifth graders, and measured whether these kids were using more shame self-talk or guilt self-talk. When doing something wrong, shame self-talk focused on “I did something bad,” while guilt self-talk focused on “I did something bad.” Big difference.
Those who shamed themselves for wrong-doing felt small, worthlessness, powerlessness, and exposed. Because shame hurts so much, they would do anything to not feel it, by denying responsibility or shifting the blame to someone else. It was also common to be become irrationally angry with others, aggressive and destructive.
Those who felt guilty after doing something wrong, experienced internal tension, remorse, and regret over the “bad thing done.” These powerful feelings motivated these children to confess or apologize, and learn from their mistakes.
The child who used shame self-talk felt like their sense of worth, value and the ability to be loved was at risk when making a mistake. The child who used guilt self-talk felt like their bad behavior was the focus of needed change, not their very self.
The consequences of shame self-talk are huge
This group of researchers talked with these kids again as seniors in high school, 10 years later. What they found is incredibly important for all of us to understand. The shame-prone kids were more likely to attempt suicide, drop out of high school, struggle with eating disorders and depression, and engage in high risk drug, alcohol, and sexual behaviors. The guilt-prone kids, on the other hand, were more likely to finish high school, apply for college, engage in community activities, and engage in lower risk sex, drug, and alcohol behaviors.
Shame self-talk knows nothing of self-compassion
Self-compassion is the balance of grace and truth. “I messed up, but I’m still a nice person.” Shame says, “I messed up, I’m a failure, I’m so stupid,” or “It’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong, it was his/her fault!” It’s very important for our children’s moral choices, and future happiness and success in life that we discipline without shame and teach self-compassion when we and our children fail.
Grown-ups need self-compassion too“The enemy of self-compassion is shame Click To Tweet
This is true for ourselves as well as our children.
Shame is destructive to us as adults. Shame beats us up inside, and doesn’t relent. It convicts us without a trial, with no hope of forgiveness. We as people need the healing power of grace toward ourselves.
“Self-compassion is absolutely essential for healthy, balanced living. It provides huge benefits including emotional resiliency, stress reduction, contentment, and healthier relationships. Without it we are vulnerable to the opinions of others and find it difficult to deal with and let go of our mistakes. It is tough enough to go through a difficult situation, especially when we think we had a part in creating it. It is another kind of torture to never be able to let go of self-criticism and blame.”**
I invite you to grow in this new way of relating to yourself. There is another more gracious way to treat ourselves when we fail. You and I can learn a kinder way to relate to ourselves one moment at a time.
All of us are impacted by shame…it’s part of being human. The wonderful news is that our shame can be forgiven by God, and ourselves as well. We just need to learn a new way to relate to ourselves as we live our lives.
Here’s some resources to help you get started:
I’d Love to Hear from You!
What is your response to hearing about the research on the effects of shame? Does it explain some of the struggles you’ve had? How can you be kind to yourself about what you’ve learned?
Thanks for joining me today! Please share on social media or via e-mail with others who might benefit 🙂
* Stuewig, J, Tangney, JP, Kendall, S, Folk, JB, Meyer, CR, Dearing, RL. Children’s Proneness to Shame and Guilt Predict Risky and Illegal Behaviors in Young Adulthood. Child Psychiatry & Human Development. 2015, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 217–227.
** Fredrickson, Kim. Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, Grand Rapids: MI: Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group,” 2015, 14, Used by permission.