6 Oct

“Shame on you!”

“You should be ashamed of yourself!”

No, not you, not any of you ~ i’ve just been thinking about shame lately.  

Usually , i think about it from the perspective of the person who feels ashamed. Think about what triggers it and how to let it go.

You know, i distinguish between guilt and shame.   Guilt is what you feel when you’ve done something wrong.  Shame is what you feel when someone else has done something wrong and you’re taking responsibility for it.  Or some people say that shame is feeling like you are wrong – not that something you did was wrong, but that you as a person are somehow essentially wrong.

Either way, shame’s not a helpful feeling, and usually when i think about it, i’m thinking about how to help people let go of feeling ashamed.

Lately, i’ve been thinking about the shame-ers.   The ones pointing fingers and tsking, the ones trying to make other people feel ashamed.

What’s that about?  What drives some people to put their energy into trying to make someone else feel really terrible?

i’m pretty sure that’s not what they say to themselves.  i don’t think they usually get up in the morning and think, “Gee, let me go make someone else miserable.”  

i think they have some way of trying to justify it to themselves.  Just about any time we do mean things, we have a story we tell ourselves about why it’s the right thing to do.  We are pretty much all trying to be “the good guy” in our own life stories.

So how does it work?   What makes someone think that the best thing they can do with their time is go tell someone else what they’re doing wrong?  And do it in a way that hurts, that makes the person feel crappy.

i don’t know.

Yeah, that’s my best shot.  If you came here thinking i was gonna have some good insight on this, oops, sorry.  Not today.  

Cause i don’t get it.

It’s a form of bullying, though.  i get that.

Ok, it could protect the person from having to look at their own life.  So i can imagine – if i’ve got a crappy life and could benefit from making changes in myself, but can’t face that possibility, then rather than look at that, i’ll go point the finger at someone else.  Tell them ’bout themselves, what’s wrong with them.

And if i stay really busy with that, maybe i won’t have to think about how crappy my own life is, and what might be helpful for me to consider changing.


i don’t know.  That’s my best theory.  

Either that, or they’re totally caught up in re-enacting some past drama of their own.  So imagine ~ something happens,  which is really none of my business, but it triggers such strong feelings in me that i can’t see the reality of the situation and i react as if it were some thing i experienced at some past time in my life that i’m still not able to deal with.


i can see how that could happen.

i’m not trying to make excuses ~ not for mean commenters, or for other people who put their life energy into pointing fingers and casting shame.  Just trying to figure out how it works from their end.

What do youall think?

18 Responses to “Shame”

  1. tori October 6, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    I really believe that those who point fingers half the time enjoy the drama they create, its like they have never moved past their school years and are stuck with that teenage nasty mentality that some have.

    Its possible to express an opinion, a view without it being intentionally bitchy, nasty and hurtful, i dont think anyone expects everyone to agree with them all the time, but there are some that seem to thrive on stirring the shit..why? because they probably live in a sad little existence themselves, perhaps feel shame themselves and its easier to deflect it onto others than take a good long look at themselves.

    • aisha October 8, 2012 at 6:57 am #

      Hi, Tori,

      Yes, i agree, i think they do enjoy the drama of it all. And i think that excitement allows them to avoid thinking about their own life.

      And i really agree – there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone, or even thinking that they’re doing something wrong – they may be. i think you can express that without being shaming.

      And o, yes, shaming someone else helps deflect one’s own shame. Yep.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.



  2. sin October 6, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    Shame is a kind of guilt, right? Trying to shame someone is trying to make them feel guilty about something. When that occurs is it about trying to shape or modify behaviour by showing where and how it’s wrong?

    Is it more than that? I think it is, but I’m not sure how. Is it that it splashes onto the whole person so that it’s not just an action or choice that’s wrong, but the whole person?

    I don’t have answers, just more questions.

    Thanks for raising this, it’s very thought provoking.

    • aisha October 8, 2012 at 7:04 am #

      Hey, Sin,

      See i don’t think so, i think trying to shame someone is trying to make them feel bad about themselves, not to get them to feel guilty. It’s not about changing their behavior, it’s about making them realize what an awful, terrible person they are to have done it in the first place.

      i think shame is like that by definition – at least the psychological definition. i don’t have answers either, but lots of time spent thinking about it and reading about it.

      i’m glad you thought it was thought-provoking!



  3. Master Charles October 6, 2012 at 8:25 am #

    It’s also a way to exercise power over another, like you said, bullying…but in a softer sense. Instead of forcing you as to what to do, or telling you what to do, someone will shame you for what you have done or intend to do, and try to exercise control by means of influence. It is the same power as telling someone, “no.” Passive aggression.

    • aisha October 8, 2012 at 7:13 am #

      Hi, Master Charles,

      Yes, there is power involved, but not exactly a power exchange – or not consensual anyhow. i think it’s key that you say they’re shaming people for something they’ve done or intend to do – it’s not really about helping them do something different, just making them feel bad about it.

      Thanks for commenting!


  4. ancilla_ksst October 6, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    This is interesting, because I just had the experience of being on the opposite side of the shame-y place. I told someone else that they were wrong (privately), and I could no longer be friends with them because of what they were doing. This was a very extreme step for me because I am a very tolerant and accepting person, but they told me about something that was going on with their household that I just could not ignore, gloss over, or treat as YKINMK type of thing.

    I did not go on any long shaming tirades, or send hate mail, or publicly identify the person, and I greatly regret the loss of our friendship and conversations, but it was something so far outside my moral compass I just couldn’t deal with it.

    • aisha October 8, 2012 at 7:33 am #

      Dear ancilla,

      i totally believe that you can tell someone what you feel or believe ` – even when it’s negative – without being shaming. It sounds like you worked really hard to do that.

      I think it’s really important to do what you did. Sometimes that can be the tool that actually leads to change, but even if it’s not, i think we need to be honest and genuine. i think when we speak from our own space, that we are not shaming.

      Thanks for sharing this.



  5. yesthankyousir October 6, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    As a relative of someone with BPD I deal with them and their shame games frequently. Its usually a side product of other points in their argument but still as important. I’ve come to.this conclusion, the shamers will not change. Because they will never step back and say “Oh this ______ is happening in my life. It makes me feel _________.” Instead they behave like a toddler who is yet able to speak. Screaming, shouting, frustrated, shaming madness at anyone in their life.

    A small viewpoint from my corner of it all.

  6. yesthankyousir October 6, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    I lost my way in that comment, as the shamee I’ve had to simply say “I feel like we are not meeting eye to eye. We can talk about this later.” Because on the whole I don’t believe in heated arguments and that’s where this shaming often leads. I feel attacked and become defensive. They feel like they’ve won. Because the focus is no longer on them, its on me and my emotional reaction.

    • aisha October 8, 2012 at 7:41 am #

      Hi, Andi,

      i think if you’ve learned how to do that, you’ve really accomplished something.

      People with BPD sometimes have a real talent for finding our most tender spots and taking a little jab right there. That’s one of the reasons some therapists are reluctant to work with them. Getting poked in those places inside ourselves where vulnerability to shame lives is likely to trigger defensiveness in anyone, and that’s not a comfortable place to be.

      And i think you’re exactly right – the goal of it all is to distract them from their own emotional pain.

      Thanks for sharing your insight.



  7. Kitty the Submissive Wife October 6, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    I think it is very true that people feel like they are coming from the right place… If you carry that on, then the person feeling shame may already be concerned about their actions or extra sensitive. The truth is that we don’t deal with confrontration well, either when we have it coming at us or when we feel compelled to say something. And because of that, it becomes about the words we say to each other and not the person. You have to care about the person to say constructive things. And some people just don’t care about people.

    Not sure I said any of that right, but it is an interesting topic.

    • aisha October 8, 2012 at 8:07 am #

      Hi, Kitty,

      i think you’re so right! The things that trigger feelings of shame are things that touch us on our own sensitivity. Typically, they are things that we can’t help, at least not immediately. So race, body shape, sexuality, femininity, and essential worthiness – when people touch us on those kinds of things, we feel ashamed.

      And when shame is triggered, it’s really, really hard not to react defensively. It just is.

      O, gosh, i’ve got more to say… hmmm, at least one more blog post here.

      But you’re so right – how we say it matters immensely. Thanks for your comment!



  8. faithful October 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    When my dog does something I deem wrong (very infrequent) I do say “shame on you”. Amazingly enough I think he understands it. Does this count? Not sure I have ever said it to a human.


    • aisha October 8, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      Lol, faithful! i don’t think dogs can distinguish between shame and guilt, but i think you’re right, they sure do seem to understand that!



  9. vanillamom October 7, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    interesting post, sis…I can think of a few occasions I’ve said it to my kids…sister destroys a lego tower that brother has been working on for hours…he’s inconsolable and can’t even speak, and leaves the room “shame on you…that was very unkind”…or to my son who likewise does something of that ilk to sister.

    it is not a common thing for me to say, it takes a LOT to provoke it from me. But something to think about to be sure.

    Master does not “shame” me, though he will often embarrass me. Sometimes privately, sometimes publicly, but that not too often. Usually he does it to get a rise out of me..or make me squirm a bit. “look at you, you naughty slut…you’re soaked…” *blush, squirm*

    and i guess if people feel like I’ve put pressure on them to be better…spouse, kids, friends…it’s because I have good advice, dontchaknow? *smiles* And there is a pretty wide perfectionist streak in me.

    But I NEVER hold the attitude that I’m “better” than anyone else…some things come easier to me than to others…but the same is true of them. I have a very hard time remembering names. Titles of movies. Books…I’ll flap my hands and say “you know….that guy who wrote the book about….” and feel very foolish because I simply cannot remember. But I can drive anywhere once and never forget how to get back there. We all have our special talents, right.

    And I’m swinging around the topic and writing a blogpost without intending to…Sunday morning sermonizing, I guess!! To me shame is way more akin to embarrassment than of being shamed as in shunning…I can be ashamed of my actions and not have it be a negative, but a teaching tool to NOT do that again (and it’s true, I rarely make the same mistake twice because I get so embarrassed when I fuck up).

    I guess that is it…I could go on, but I’ll stfu for now!



    • aisha October 8, 2012 at 8:18 am #

      Hey, ‘Nilla,

      You know you can write a blog post in my comments anytime you want to!

      i think shame goes much deeper than a reaction to advice or embarrassment about something. Shame happens when you feel like you’re wrong, or there’s something wrong with you, because of whatever.

      So you know, for example, there was a time when i used to think, “What’s wrong with me that i like to be spanked???? That’s messed up!! i don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

      There’s shame in that. Now i can say, o, yeah, i like to be spanked, i’m submissive, and feel ok about it – with other kinky people. i don’t know how i’d feel if i had to explain it to a vanilla friend. Maybe i’m that secure, but it’s hard to say.

      Does that make sense? i think that’s my next blog post, talking about why some things trigger shame and others don’t.

      Thanks for your comment, ‘nilla.

      hugs, and love,


  10. Wordwytch October 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    A little later here… been busy. Shame and guilt are very intertwined. There have been a lot of interesting points made. In my mind, guilt is something we feel because we’ve done wrong. Shame is when we know we’ve screwed up and have not fixed or acknowledged it.
    Shame is also a thing I feel that others try to force on people (like bullying) when they want to enforce an issue or behaviour. “Shame you you for fornicating!” “Shame on you for eating the last piece of cake!” Often there is no actual crime except for what is seen in the eyes of others. I think that is what frustrates me the most.

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