Belittling. Comments such as “You’re too old to want to be held,” or “You’re just a cry-baby,” are horribly humiliating to a child. When a parent makes a negative comparison between his child and another such as, “Why can’t you act like Tommy? Tommy isn’t a cry-baby” it is not only humiliating but teaches a child to always compare himself with peers and find himself deficient in the comparison.
Blaming. When a child makes a mistake, such as accidentally hitting a ball through a neighbor’s window, he needs to take responsibility. But many parents go way beyond teaching the child a lesson by blaming and berating their children: “You stupid idiot! You should have known better than to play so close to the house! Now I’m going to have to pay for that window. I don’t have enough money to constantly be cleaning up your messes!” All this accomplishes is to shame the child to such an extent that he cannot find a way to walk away from the situation with his head held high. Blaming the child like this is like rubbing his nose in the mess he made and it produces such intolerable shame that he may be forced to deny responsibility or find ways of excusing it.
Contempt. Expressions of disgust or contempt communicate absolute rejection. The look of contempt (often a sneer or a raised upper lip), especially from someone who is significant to a child, can be a devastating inducer of shame because the child is made to feel disgusting or offensive.
Humiliation. As Gershen Kaufman stated in his book, Shame: The Power of Caring: “There is no more humiliating experience than to have another person who is clearly the stronger and more powerful take advantage of that power and give us a beating.” I can personally attest to this. My mother often punished me by hitting me with the limb off a tree and she often did this outside, in front of the neighbors. The humiliation I felt was like a deep wound to my soul.
Disabling Expectations. Appropriate parental expectations serve as necessary guides to behavior and are not disabling. Disabling expectations, on the other hand, have to do with pressuring a child to excel or perform a task, skill or activity. Parents who have an inordinate need to have their child excel at a particular activity or skill are likely to behave in ways that pressure the child to do more and more. According to Kaufman, when a child becomes aware of the real possibility of failing to meet parental expectations he or she often experiences a binding self-consciousness. This self-consciousness—the painful watching of oneself—is very disabling. When something is expected of us in this way, attaining the goal is made harder, if not impossible.
Yet another way that parents induce shame in their children is by communicating to them that they are a disappointment to them. Such messages as “I can’t believe you could do such a thing” or “I am deeply disappointed in you” accompanied by a disapproving tone of voice and facial expression can crush a child’s spirit.
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