Carrying the Weight of Shame

Regardless of where shame originates, it can have an unhealthy influence on a teenager’s life. Further, shame is demoralizing and traumatic. Shame can even extend into adulthood, causing a host of problems.

Constant shame and blame have severe mental health consequences for all children, especially teenagers. It’s important to recognize shame’s relevance in mental health and that there are ways to break the cycle of shame.

What Is Shame?

Shame is not something that develops out of nowhere. Rather, it is a response to an action someone takes or how another person makes them feel about that action. Experiencing the feeling of shame may not happen right away; it could occur later on in life. Even if the action that created the shame occurred during childhood, many adults report remembering a shameful moment and experience those feelings daily.

For example, a misbehaving child may be shamed by their parents, causing them to feel shame or guilt for their behavior. However, shaming a child is not an effective way to communicate that a parent wants a behavioral change. A more helpful way to achieve better behavior is through implementing consistent rules with consistent and appropriate consequences.

Shaming the child instead of carrying out consistent and appropriate consequences could morally damage the child. It also negatively affects their self-esteem. They may think twice about misbehaving in the same way, but it does not bring about improved behavior. Shame damages a child’s psyche. Such damage can be permanent and have future consequences on their behavioral and mental health.

Shame and Guilt

Shame and guilt often go hand-in-hand, and according to PLoS One, they are “self-conscious emotions that play adaptive roles in social behavior.” Shame and guilt will drive people to carry out actions to avoid those emotions. Further, people will perform actions to please someone else, or in the example of the child above, they will act to please the parent to avoid feeling shame.

Here is a closer look at shame and guilt.

  • Shame: Shame occurs when there is a violation of a social boundary. A person feeling shame may rectify the situation, but not due to empathy for the affected person. Instead, this person may rectify the situation to ease their shame and get back in others’ good graces.
  • Guilt: Guilt is more commonly associated with empathy. A person feeling guilt feels bad for the person who was affected by their actions. Guilt may make someone quick to rectify the situation, no matter what other bystanders think about it.

Early Trauma and Shame

When a child feels shame or guilt over past trauma, these feelings can manifest as negative mental health consequences once they reach adulthood. An adult still carrying shame from childhood may be more prone to mental health consequences like depression, anxiety, increased trauma response, PTSD, and other mental health disorders.

The trauma that sparks the shame may be hard for an adult to accept. Many adults seek therapy for traumas they barely remember, like early abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, traumatic accidents, or death. Individuals subjected to abuse and neglect are more prone to experiencing feelings of shame because their shame often stems from the fact that they could not protect themselves in a situation.

Healing from Shame

For teens struggling with issues related to shame, there are effective ways to help them manage their symptoms. First, parents or loving adults need to establish a routine with the teen that fosters confidence and encourages the child to keep playing to their strengths. This self-esteem boost can help the child feel more confident in their decisions day-to-day. It can also lead to a positive perception of life.

Parents and guardians need to be careful to avoid shameful phrases like, “You’re such a bad kid,” or, “You’re just like so and so.” Using negative connotations with a child is a sure way to perpetuate feelings of shame. Further, such phrases are not helpful and do not help the child understand what to do; instead, they damage their self-esteem.

A great way for parents to help their teens manage feelings of shame is to seek trauma therapy. A doctor or therapist can help the child work through their shame and find strategies for raising self-confidence. It can also help with any co-occurring mental health issues and give the teen strategies for success without shame as an adult.

Seeking care from a professional and practicing therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) help individuals uncover the root cause driving their emotions.

Shame is a powerful emotion, and when coupled with guilt or trauma, it can affect a person’s choices. Teens often encounter feelings of shame from many different experiences. Such emotions can be overwhelming. At Havenwood Academy, we understand that shame can be incredibly toxic to your child’s self-esteem. We help teenage girls work through their shame and treat their trauma using methods such as the 5 R’s. Our models of care will ensure that your daughter builds the foundational elements necessary to confront life’s toughest challenges. Seeking care with us will also help your teen get back on track, build up their self-esteem, and cultivate a strong sense of confidence. We want your daughter to grow into a happy and healthy adult. If your daughter is currently struggling to overcome feelings of shame, then the time to get help is now. To find out more, reach out to us today by calling (435) 586-2500


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