Shaming attacks create crippling fear when we need confidence and courage.
At a recent workshop that addressed communication, one guideline stuck out: “It’s okay to disagree; not okay to blame, shame or attack (others).”
In our current political arena, we are subjected to seeing and hearing many negative, perhaps outrageous, examples of how we talk to one another and about one another. Recent disagreements or actions taken have incited a huge negative reaction that led to intensely humiliating and shaming others for their behavior. What causes this type of “hateful” response? It’s often deeply held shame that, without being addressed, can make the “attacking” reaction unlikely to change. However, this type of reaction can lose its power if recipients are able to remain true to their own beliefs and stay strong.
Anger Is Not the Problem—It’s Shame
When a person cannot tolerate being confronted and experiences even mild slights or disagreements as personal attacks, they often react out of anger and even rage. Anger, in this context, is defensive and it’s usually a defense against deeply felt shame.
When a person feels shamed by the words or behavior of others, and is compelled to discredit or demolish the messenger, they are responding to something old. The shame in this context comes out of an unhealed hurt often during childhood that gets deeply triggered at current moments of perceived “attacks.” The powerful unresolved influence from the past is what fuels the intense angry overreaction. In essence, the person is reacting from a past injurious attack and often not the current situation. The revealing sign is that the behavior appears way over the top and out of the context in which it’s taking place.
Recipients of Angry Defensive Reactions
When we experience angry shaming attacks to our behavior or character, we can feel the impact. When the circumstance is one where we are or we observe others repeatedly subjected to being shamed and humiliated, in time, our sense of wellbeing is affected. What often results is a state of fear taking hold that can lead to compliant behavior in an attempt to avoid future attacks. When this occurs, the targeted person gradually loses agency.