A Brief Commentary on Shame.

This post was, for the most part, inspired by my resent post on a robust sex education program. I found myself really jumping at what a few people said and I want to explain why: I am strongly opposed to sex shaming. More so, I find that shame is an unhelpful emotion to try to bring out in others, and it is highly misused. Now, I believe that no emotion is truly a good or bad emotion, because all emotions can lead to negative and positive results, and each has their own use.

Shame, from my experience, is an emotion which is very good at one thing: entrenching preexisting behaviors. For behaviours that we would otherwise like to avoid, such as misgendering someone, or getting drunk and embarrassing ourselves, shame can be useful as we already have the preexisting wish to avoid those behaviours. When we slip up and feel shame, it reinforces those overall positive behaviours. However, when someone is consistently doing something perceived as wrong, and it has become habitual, people try to evoke shame to get the person to change. Unfortunately, like I said, shame reinforces preexisting behaviours, so, when you shame someone about something the habitually do or like/want to do, all you achieve is making them feel bad. And, more often than not, you either have no effect on their behaviour or you entrench it even further.

When you want someone to change, you don’t want to make them feel bad. Instead you want them to reconsider their behaviours or thoughts. By shaming a person your more likely to convince them that they are a bad person, then to convince them to change their behaviour. A person will change when they stop feeling bad about themselves and are actually motivated to change their behaviour. While shaming can ultimately lead to someone picking themselves up and changing, there is no guarantee that that will happen. But there is a real risk of entrenching the behaviour even more and making it less likely that the person will change it.

Aside: It needs to be mentioned that you need to be very careful if you think you should change someone else. It’s very rare that you’ll be in a position where you can effectively change a persons behaviors. Even then you should still tread carefully. The only real time you can justify trying to change someone is when they are doing harm to themselves and others, and even with that said just because you don’t like a behaviour or think someone would be “better off” not doing it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harmful. A perfect example of this is how some religious fundamentalists who basically make up excuses for why being Gay causes harm, when really it do no more harm than being strait does.

This is part of why I’m so opposed to sex shaming. First and foremost, I think that sex between two consenting adults is just fine. I may not like what they do, but that’s none of my business anyway. Secondly, shame doesn’t change behaviours. So if you want someone to take precautions or form new sexual behaviors, shaming them is counter productive. It may help those who were never inclined to do those behaviors in the first place, but we’re already not worried about those people. We are worried about those people who already have, or are inclined to having, problematic behaviours. So the last thing we want to do is shame them and entrench those behaviours.

(Small edit: I really didn’t explain what sex shaming is in this post I’ll have to write another post to make up for that, but for completeness I’ll explain some here. One of the major components of sex shaming are “slut-shaming” but I use the term as more inclusive to basically all the ways we shame people about there consensual healthy sexual behaviour. This includes sex between LGBT persons, BDSM, a whole array of fetishes. Though I think I ought to do a full post so I’ll leave it there for now.)

12 responses to “A Brief Commentary on Shame.

  • Jane Doe

    Shaming someone rarely changes behavior, I agree. I enjoyed reading this post. If you truly care about someone you should be there to listen, encourage when needed and truly be a friend. Otherwise you are not a benefit to them. No one deserves to be intentionally shamed by another person with their helpful intentions. While I cant relate to the sexual shaming, I have personal experience with those helpful strangers, which were purely cruel.


  • Pascaline Modeste

    I love this: “When you want someone to change, you don’t want to make them feel bad. Instead you want them to reconsider their behaviours or thoughts. By shaming a person your more likely to convince them that they are a bad person, then to convince them to change their behaviour.”

    Great thought, and very well articulated!


  • Maitreya Buddha

    Follow the law where you live, ask God for advice in meditation, when in doubt, and have no shame!


  • winstonscrooge

    Shame is an easy way to impact other people. That is why it is the weapon of choice for society at large to influence the behavior of others. The two main problems with shame are that (1) it works negatively by making other people feel bad (as you said) and that simply spreads around negative energy, and (2) it only motivates people to work just hard enough to avoid being shamed. Real change comes when people act whole heartedly (because they want to do it) and not when they act motivated to avoid shame. JMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

  • equippedcat

    Very good explanation on why “sex shaming” is not useful and often harmful. No indication what it IS though.

    My best guess is saying something like:

    You are doing “x”, which is bad, evil, hated by God and makes you a bad, dangerous, worthless person.

    with the intention of “fixing” someone’s behavior. Is this what you are talking about? That would indeed likely cause more harm than good.

    What would you call the tendency for boys to consider a boy who had sex to be a “stud” and “everybody” to consider a girl who had sex to be a “slut”? There is shame involved, but it is not something which is necessary said to the person shamed but to “everyone else”, and with no intention of correcting behavior but as a way of segregating those who behave in a manner which is considered “wrong”. What is particularly annoying is taking one person and venerating them and another person who did the same thing and calling them substandard.


    • hessianwithteeth

      Well that whole last part is sex shaming as well I guess I glossed over sex shaming because really the point I wanted to make is shaming is a terrible tool for change. Though I should have define my terms better I guess now I need to do a post on of what sex shaming actually is.


      • equippedcat

        It was clear that the first type would seldom have the desired results and often cause harm. The second type is not meant to have any useful effect and for that matter, seems almost “inbred”, perhaps as a result of many generations of the first type. Although if that is the case, why is the boy venerated? Getting rid of that type of shaming may be not be possible.


  • Christopher Snell

    I did a short post on the ego-less relationship, and I think you may enjoy it.


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