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Guilt and Shame

Dr. Brené Brown is an academic researcher who has spent several decades studying vulnerability and shame. We’ve enjoyed her amazing books, TED talks, and, most recently, her Netflix special.

Dr. Brown delves into the difference between shame and guilt, defining them as follows: Shame is a focus on the self, while guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is: “I am bad.” Guilt is: “I did something bad.” Dr. Brown’s data showed a clear link between shame and depression, anxiety, violence, aggression, suicide, eating disorders and addiction. The same was NOT found to be true for guilt.

Dr. Brown explains that when an individual feels shame, they feel that they are not worthy of love or belonging. And without feeling worthy of love and belonging, they cannot form healthy relationships.

This research, data, and understanding can have a profound impact on how we parent our children. When it comes to modifying a child’s behavior, it is critical to show aversion for the mistake or behavior, but NOT the child. For example, when a child lies: “You made a bad decision. You chose not to tell the truth,” rather than, “You are a liar.” When a child is mean: “The way you spoke to your sister was not kind,” versus, “You are so mean.” When a child leaves their laundry on the floor, remind them: “Only the clothes that are in the hamper will be washed,” instead of, “You are such a slob.”

Always distinguish between their poor action or behavior, and their inherent goodness.

The goal is NOT to have our children feel ashamed of themselves!

We are looking to show them that they are inherently good people, who sometimes make bad decisions. When they feel guilty about their bad decisions, they separate themselves from the mistakes they wish they never made, and work to do better next time.

As parents, it is our job to help them OWN their decisions, make amends, and plan how to make better choices, moving forward.

Were you raised to feel shame? Or guilt? And how did that inform your self-esteem and mindset?

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