Tag Archives: shame


Thank you for this post to a parent who wishes to remain anonymous.

“I will be back on Monday, you see, I just need a loan to get a van on the road” I happened to be a spectator as a man vented his rage . I gathered that he had been ordered to attend a basic skills course as part of the jumping hoops that goes hand in hand with claiming job seekers allowance.

At one time I would have just dismissed this man as bad tempered and full of pride. Today I recognise the primary driver of his rage as shame. In part of his diatribe he announced he was a time served painter and decorator, he had plenty of work just waiting for him.

Shame is the brother of guilt and the two are often confused. Put simply guilt tells us that we have done something bad whereas shame informs us that we are bad. Guilt can be a positive emotion, it regulates our behaviour. Shame tends to escalate behaviour, rage, irrationality, increase of mental health problems, even suicidal thoughts can all arise out of shame.

We are all guilty of using shame to control others, it increases our power and diminishes theirs. It is also a useful short cut when we are lacking time or stressed ourselves. It is wrong though. Shame eats away at pride, self esteem and dignity of the victim. It isolates and makes any chance of a fruitful relationship almost impossible.

So back to our decorator, the trainer was a woman in her thirties, he was certainly nearer sixty. Of the generation when a school leaver could finish school without any formal qualifications on a Friday and walk into an apprenticeship on a Monday. He  was now being faced with having his literacy and maths  assessed after years of employment, he would have felt humilated. It was not the trainer’s fault, but nevertheless he reacted out of shame.

The Care Crisis Review https://childprotectionresource.online/care-crisis-review/identified a culture of blame and shame within child protection. Shame is dishonouring, it tells a person that they are less than, not good enough, it shatters  self esteem and sets up a cycle of conflict.

It can be intentional, just as matter of unfortunate circumstances or it can be intentionally built into a system. I would suggest that  in some Government schemes such as benefit sanctions shame is embedded into system. I can also see that within the child protection system ,children can exhibit shame based behaviours after intervention and family members certainly do.

Certainly some shaming is deliberate, it is one of the prime tools of bullying, as it gives power . When used personally , it is also a sign of immaturity, small children use it to regulate each others behaviour. Shaming is also widely used in social media, probably more so than in “real life”.

Families often come into child protection because of problems of domestic violence, addiction or mental health impairments; all of which are to some extent shame based. Domestic violence certainly can be fuelled by shame, a perpetrators  need to control and shame their victim may arise out of their own feelings of inadequacy. The victim in turn, feels too ashamed to get help. Addiction and mental illness, which are often intertwined can often be traced back to childhood trauma, sometimes inter generational trauma, which is shame based.

Those of us who live with shame on a daily basis learn the shame game, we react rather than act. Interventions in our lives our perceived as personal threats whether they are or not and we defend ourselves, by shaming back and/ or avoidance.  In other words the classic fight or flight response. Parents aggressively  shame social workers and judges on social media and withdraw from working with professionals. There seems to be too much at stake as any intervention seems targeted at undermining the very person we perceive ourselves to be, making us feel small.

It’s ugly. What encourages me though it is certainly no more gross than the apartheid in South Africa which came peacefully to an end through reconciliation. To some extent , the regular contributors on this forum have demonstrated this willingness to listen and respect each others viewpoint and it has worked , we have found common ground despite our diverse backgrounds. We have said ” I hear you” , even if I don’t like what you do I will see you as a human being with something valuable to contribute to the debate. Not always, but for a very good percentage of the time.

As I  said, it happened in South Africa, it was not about forgiveness, though that sometimes was the outcome, it was about having space and safety to have the injured parties story told. If you think I have gone off on a tangent , I haven’t; people were imprisoned , killed and segregated for being non white. They were shamed for being born the wrong colour. As Helen Sparkles says parents are mainly sad not bad, they may have been brought up in care themselves or have a combination of the problems already mentioned. They can be shamed through the system, for a variety of reasons, some of which relate to lack of resources. I am not saying they are all victims , but some are. The power imbalance is enormous and shaming is related to power.

When working with parents displaying shame based behaviours, I would suggest trying to build them up rather than taking them apart. Assertion training is excellent and gives woman in particular options other than passive /aggressive behaviour.  She can then model these learned skills to her children. I am not being condescending, just writing from experience. When I was treated with respect by a social worker, I relaxed, he relaxed and we formed a working relationship. I do recognise that social workers themselves are often working in shame based environments, for instance is not disrespectful to expect them to hot desk, what does this actually say about what their employer thinks about them?

I would like all those involved in what ever capacity in the child protection system to consider the following:

  1. Become aware of how and why you shame people in your relationships.
  2. Notice your payback through shaming
  3. Work through the implications of the damage that occurs to others and yourself through shaming.
  4. If you do need to confront someone, try and accomplish this with respect.

This is a huge subject, I have in this blog post just tackled the tip of the iceberg. It is important as it is such a negative feeling, endemic on all sides in child protection and never leads to a positive outcome.