The holidays are great times to bring family together. But in my experience this can sometimes be a recipe for the release of pent-up tensions. Two ways that people sometimes lash out are by using blame and shame to get their way. Neither of these are healthy or effective motivators. These methods are such a part of daily life that most of us take them for granted AND tolerate them far too much. Much of this starts in childhood, when children are shamed and blamed by parents whose elders did the same thing to them.
Here are a few examples of things that others (or you) might say to invite a response of blame or shame in another: “What’s wrong with you? Why won’t you do what I want?” Or everyone’s favorite, “You’re selfish!” How about, “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,” or the old standby, “That’s OK. I’ll do it myself. Why do I expect anything from you in the first place?”
The possibilities are endless, but the point is simple: Blaming or shaming person appeals to emotion, rather than facts, logic or reason. The blamer or shamer might or might not have a valid point, rationally speaking, but it doesn’t matter. He or she is going for the emotional response to generate a desired action on your part. And therein lies the all-too-prevalent error. The rule here is to not do this to others. But just as importantly, don’t let others do it to you. If someone attempts to motivate you via blame or shame, either ignore it, or insist that they make their rational case. For example, “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. You’re so selfish.” You might respond, “Please explain. We’re all interested in ourselves, and should be. That label will not sway me. Please tell me the facts and reasons why you believe I’m acting in a wrong way.” This very well might not make the other person back down and come to reason. That might happen, but you can’t make that your goal. People will go to reason if they want to; quite frankly, people who engage in shaming and blaming usually will not. But when you respond in this way, at least you have put the responsibility back onto them. If they fuss, fume, or call you names, then you’ll know you’re probably on the right track. Walk away and refuse to take any abuse. Ditto if they passively-aggressively retreat, ignoring your request, and then lash out again at a later date.
The primary error of the shamer/blamer is the use of intimidation and emotion over reason. Emotions are a valuable and beautiful part of the human experience. But to use emotions as a substitute for reason to try and force others to do things contrary to or in the absence of reason is simply wrong. It’s not only wrong for the person you’re trying to shame or blame, but it’s ultimately wrong to yourself, if you’re the shamer/blamer. Why? Because people who respond to shame and blame do not do so because they like, admire, respect or agree with you. They’re simply bending to your intimidation. Yes, on the surface, you got what you wanted by calling them names, but you don’t have their loyalty, respect or anything you would count on in order to have their compliance and agreement over the long term. You set yourself up for a continuing struggle, one which you’ll finally lose when the shamed and blamed person finally gets fed up and stops listening to you altogether.
Sometimes shame can indeed be rational, as personal responsibility, which sometimes means accepting blame, is key to a healthy mind. But shame, guilt or regret is only rational when hard facts and evidence back them up.
At the root, the shamer/blamer appeals to your insecurity, low self-esteem, or an unhealthy need to be liked. These are errors and weaknesses. Don’t let the worst people appeal to the worst within you. Stand up for yourself and demand that people provide proof for what they claim, and skip the psychological intimidation.
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