A little bit of shame goes a long way. It can motivate us to change. It can be a sign of the fact that we’re not sociopaths. We need to be able to feel and experience shame in small doses because it keeps us grounded or centered. It can serve as a corrective to our otherwise selfish impulses. Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying we should be content to deliver shaming messages to other people in small doses. Let’s avoid delivering shame at all costs. I’m just saying, the presence of a little bit of shame in our lives may actually be a positive thing for us.
Let’s think about what happens when we literally have no shame. We have no internal impetus to avoid behaviors that would be destructive to ourselves or to others. We probably wouldn’t have any negative feedback. Truth be told, I actually have no idea what that would be like. Feel free to disregard those guesses. But here’s the thing. I’ve never had the desire to change something about my life unless I was first ashamed of the thing that needed to be changed. In other words, if I don’t feel ashamed, then I’m really not bothered. Shame can be the instrument that wakes us up to the fact that change is necessary.
One more time: Do I think it’s a good idea to live in shame? Absolutely not. Do I think we should embrace toxic shame? No. (More on toxic shame tomorrow). Do I think we should shame others? Never.
I just think that the internal experience of shame can sometimes guide us in an appropriate direction in the right set of circumstances.