Uncategorized · wisdom

Stop Using Shame and Guilt to Influence Behavior

Most of us have been on the giving and receiving end of guilt and shame. But is it effective? Does it get us anywhere when we dish it out or when we are forced to take it?

Have you ever shamed someone or tried making them feel guilty to get them to behave in a certain way? I think we all probably have in some form or fashion.

It could have been trying to make your spouse or significant other feel bad about some incident where you felt wronged. You want to make extra sure they NEVER do that again.

Or maybe it was shaming your child over a bad choice they made; you want to be certain they realize how terrible their decision was so they will make the right choice next time.

It could be that you wanted a co-worker or employee know that you are not pleased with their actions and felt like it was time that SOMEBODY let them know. After all, if you don’t tell them, they can’t change, right?

No matter what the circumstance, any time you try using guilt or shame to influence someone’s behavior, one thing is for sure, you’re not endearing the other person to you. Here is a news flash: shame never inspires or motivates better behavior. It only perpetuates low self-esteem and withdrawal.

Can you think of a time when you were shamed or made to feel guilty? Most likely, especially if you already had issues with self-worth, it sent you on a downward spiral of negative thoughts. Any and every incident where someone shamed you similarly may have come to mind. We are our own worst critics, and life is hard enough already. When someone has taken it upon themselves to point out your shortcomings, down, down we go. Whether done to your face or behind your back, it stings.

People may be well-meaning when they feel the need to shame or impose guilt, believing no one else has never addressed a person’s issues and so they need to be that someone who finally comes along and puts the person in their place. “Let me tell you how terrible you are and what you did. Someone should.”

What is missing from this is the big picture of what may feel like healthy venting to the one shaming, but in reality the repercussions of the harmful words sends the victim (YES, VICTIM) into an even weaker emotional state than they were previously.

I remember a co-worker having this awesome quote in the signature block of her emails and it is perfectly placed here: You will inspire someone much more by lighting a fire inside them than lighting a fire under them.

Isn’t that what we really want? To inspire? Uplift? Encourage? Oh my goodness, that language feels so much better!

Here’s what to consider instead. Consider catching people when they’re good. Consider making a list of positive aspects of what the person is doing right. Everyone does some things right. EVERYONE.

Your spouse or significant other? Consider letting them know when you are pleased with them. That issue that feel you need to shame them with or make them feel guilty? Instead, concentrate on what you want them to become instead. Believe in them, that they will become that vision of the person you want them to become.

When your child makes a poor choice, instead of raking them over the coals, think about the opposite end of the stick. The child you know they can be. Put an incentive in place for them to reach that positive goal.

When you have a co-worker or employee and you feel like it’s your role to let them know their shortcomings, INSTEAD, look at the flip side of the coin: encourage them and inspire them when you see them doing what’s right. Assume positive intentions. Let them know you believe in them. Typically, when someone is performing below their potential, what they REALLY NEED is encouragement. A positive word. They more than likely already are aware of any negative qualities you may feel the need to point out. We are all our own worst critics. If you really want to make an impact, SPEAK LIFE into them. Let them know positive ways you envision them in the future. BELIEVE IN THEM!

I hope this has challenged your thought process on how to influence change in those around you. Light a fire within them, not a fire under them!

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