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Shame - an enemy or a friend

Updated: Jul 11

A supporter group of a Portuguese football team enters the dressing room after the important game their team has lost. They abuse ­­­­­­­several of the players and some of them get seriously hurt.

I had to scan the article a few times because it felt so absurd and I initially thought I got it wrong. I thought it was the opposing team that got beat up, but they could shower and dress in peace. What was going on?

If you look at the eyes of shame researchers like for example, D Nathanson (Shame and Pride), we can see that part of the reason to the supporter’s actions, is that they are trying to avoid shame. They proudly came to the game, wearing the team's jerseys. They cheered their players but with every goal the opposing team got, the more the supporters’ pride was replaced by shame. Their ­pride­­­­­­­­ and or maybe we should call it honor, disappeared with every boll in the net behind their goalkeeper. To not having to take on that shame and humiliation, showing that they certainly did not accept being humiliated in that way, they abused their own players. Completely illogical if you want the team to perform the next game, but quite logical from the one who does not want to be associated with losers.

Shame is the motivation behind many illogical and harmful behaviors, getting angry and violent is one usual strategy. Since we lack tools to deal with the award and unpleasant feeling of shame, we attack those who have stimulated the feeling in us.

My son was 6 years old when we balanced our way up a flight of stairs in the café we visited. On the top step he tripped and fell over. He dropped both the cinnamon bun and spilled his juice in front of several other visitors. Turning angrily towards me, he said, “you should have warned me.”

If I hadn't caught myself, I'd have yelled at him back.

He simply wanted to get rid of the shame. My impulse to yell back at him came from a feeling of shame over that my son talked to me in that way so I wanted to put the shame back on him. It could have ended in all sorts of non-pleasant and non-connecting ways.

Having practiced for some years to deal with feelings of shame by connecting them inwards to my needs, I took a deep breath. I asked myself if I needed dignity? It took no more than that, to realise that it was the same need that my son had difficulty meeting where he sat with the juice spilled around him in front of all these people. To be able to self-connect with empathy made it easy connecting with what was going on in him. We could get something new to drink and had a lovely time at the café as we were now connecting again. And indeed, he said that he felt embarrassed when he fell and regretted that he was mad at me. I could also tell him how awkward it felt for me when he blamed me and together we brainstormed different ways to handle situations like this.

If there is one thing I would like to contribute to my son, it is to show him how to process feelings of shame. (To get mad at him as I don't want to feel ashamed myself beats this purpose.)


You can order my books on shame down below, global delivery is included in the price!

And if you want a deep-dive in into mediation and how shame shows up in conflict

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