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This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 6
- learn what typical kids need as they grow, and how to fill their needs
effectively over two decades without neglecting yourself. The range and
scope of major U.S. social
American parents are failing at
this. Successfully implementing the concepts in this Lesson depend on your integrating and practicing the ideas
in the prior
encourages family adults to help their kids learn how to
recognize and manage excessive shame and
guilts, The article provides effective options for doing this, and
assumes you're familiar with...
What's the Problem?
Families exist to
needs of) their members. My research
as a professional
therapist since 1979 suggests that
most American (and other?) adults were raised in
environments. This seems to cause up to six psychological
The core wound
is developing a fragmented, disorganized
governed by a
This usually causes
excessive shame and guilts. Shame is the crippling feeling
that comes from believing "I am worthless, no good, and unlovable -
I'm a bad
person." Guilt is the emotional reaction to believing "I broke someone's
rule - a should (not), must (not), ought (not), cannot, or have to."
Shame and guilt usually occur together and amplify each other.
They feel similar,
but have different causes and are healed differently. Both begin in
early childhood. Kids are small, weak, clumsy, and "stu-pid" compared to the giant
all-powerful beings (parents) that care for them. Small children can feel
"bad me" (shame) even before they have language.
The way that parents react to young kids includes smiling or scowling,
praise or criticism, and loving, harsh, or no touching. Research
suggests typical babies learn to interpret their caregivers' facial
expres-sions, voice tones, and body language well before they can understand
adult speech. So a weary, annoy-ed, frustrated, overloaded (or shamed) parent
can unintentionally promote their egocentric young child feeling "I'm
bad!" without any words.
Unless parents have the attitude "mistakes are normal, helpful learning
experiences," they can unin-tentionally foster their child's perception that
breaking the adult rules is "bad" (causes pain). That forms embryonic guilt
feelings. A universal experiential rule based on punishment or withholding
of love and attention, is "Don't make Big People mad!"
So - unless small kids steadily perceive their adults to be clearly
delighted with them despite the kids' clumsiness, moods, messes,
demands, and mistakes, the seeds of shame (low self esteem) and guilt are
sown soon after birth.
Unless family adults are steadily committed to
minimizing these powerful emotions, they're apt to flourish -
specially in low-nurturance homes, neighborhoods, and schools. Without
intentional intervention, shame and guilts will migrate into adulthood and
frequently stress young women and men and their relationships.
Attentive parents can intuit whether their child has low self esteem (shame)
or excessive guilt. Unsure parents can use a symptom-list like this;
Symptoms of Excessive Shame
are many signs. This list is suggestive, not proof of
these crippling psychological wounds.
The more of these traits a child
has, the more likely s/he is
by a false self).
See if you recognize any of these traits...
1) Having a rigid core belief,
like...“I am a bad, weak, unlovable,
undeserving, inept, unat-tractive, stupid, powerless, worthless (boy / girl
/ son / daughter / sibling / child).”
2) Being excessively
zealous, defensive, rigid, dogmatic,
4) Constant belittling, discounting,
and criticizing ones self and/or
responsibilities (possible "failures") excessively.
6) A compulsion to
rescue needy or hurting others; championing
and identifying with the underdog.
7) Having few or no real
friends; and/or being
consistently drawn to other troubled kids;
or a compulsion
to socialize and be charming and the center of attention.
sensitivity and defensiveness to imagined or actual criticism or
avoiding eye contact, and being apologetic or
defensive about that.
11) Often misperceiving
neutral feedback as criticism,
wrongly assuming unspoken criticisms.
12) Excessive concern with
personal and/or social blame and fault-finding.
13) Feeling "irrationally"
guilty and/or discounting earned
14) Vehemence about my rights or "I (don't)
deserve...," or equality," or "fairness."
15) Endlessly focusing on past
mistakes” publicly or privately;
putting his/her opinions, needs,
and welfare last (vs. equal).
17) Having an
unreasonable fear of failing, "losing," or
Never admitting “mistakes” or apologizing, or reflexively apologizing all the time.
More common symptoms of excessive shame and guilt...
19) Habitually unflattering, inappropriate, and/or
sloppy clothing, grooming, and/or hygiene.
concern with personal appearances.
perfectionism ("I can't help it"), and/or a driven
need to "win," and/or be the best," or "number 1.
shading the truth or
lying directly or by omission, and denying it to avoid expected ridicule, criticism, or disapproval (also a symptom of
- e.g. resisting or avoiding appropriate
medical care: poor person-al
habits (e.g. smoking), lack of exercise, and/or toxic environ-ments; and
ignoring, justifying, minimizing, explaining, analyzing, or joking about this
Constantly trying to please others; being unusually "nice" and
26) Discounting and/or
deserved compliments, and being very hard on myself.
27) Chronically giving time and energy to others, and
getting little or nothing in return.
28) Repeatedly choosing, justifying, and tolerating relationships, situations, and/or environ-ments
which promote major shame,
guilt, and anxieties.
29) Repeatedly taking risks that
result in self-harm, humiliation, and/or loss of self and so-cial respect.
or doing so anxiously and expecting rejection. Being timid,
passive, quiet, reserved, or aggressive,
self-centered, and/or a bully.
31) Not setting and/or
(boundaries) with one's Self and others.
and/or justifying a core belief like I
dont deserve or expect success, love, se-curity, comfort, friends, and/or
setting ones self up for failure, disappointment,
losses, and feeling or saying I cant help it,” "it doesn't
matter," "I don't care," or "I deserve it."
34) Frequently choosing long-suffering
victim, saint, or martyr roles in key relationships and social
settings, and not questioning why.
The more of these shame-traits
a child has, the higher the odds s/he is psychologically wounded. That's the primary
assessment goal, not just
testing for excessive shame and/or guilt.
If you care for a child burdened
with excessive guilts and/or shame, what can you do?
Use the fol-lowing as a checklist for yourself
and/or other parents...
To teach kids how to manage their shame and guilt, parents need to...
__ be steadily
by their respective
and managing their own shame and guilt effectively
(Lesson 1). Without this, the next options will be difficult or
__ assess for
their own excessive guilt and
shame, and intentionally reduce
any you find;
__ understand the
[wounds + unawareness]
commit to protecting their kids from its toxic
__ make three wise courtship
and then thoughtfully evaluate the pros and cons of each child
conception together; and...
__ adopt a long-range vision of how they
want their children to be as independent adults, and give high
and their children's needs over several decades.
As they do, parents need to...
__ clearly understand _ normal child
developmental needs and _ the
requisites for evolving a
family environment. Then...
__ stay aware
of the above as they raise their child/ren;.
__ want to
discipline respectfully, to teach,
vs. to punish (shame).
parents need to want to teach their kids how to learn..
__ to be
of and to name their emotions;
__ how to make
productive rather than shaming;
__ how to appreciate
their achievements and feel non-egotistical
__ how to avoid
and unrealistic expectations of themselves;
__ how to see mistakes
as learning opportunities, not shameful failures; and ...
__ help kids to
convert early shame to non-egotistical
self-love as they grow;
and parents need to...
__ help their kids learn what causes
guilt, how it differs from shame, how to forgive themselves, and how to
moderate and use guilt productively.
Parents who don't consciously commit to or value these vital goals
probably didn't have early caregivers who did either. That's one
reason shame is called "the gift that goes on giving."'
Another protection parents can co-create for their kids is a healthy home
and family "guilt policy."
About "Guilt Policies"
policy is a set of values, attitudes, and beliefs about something that
guides decisions and beha-vior. Let's
define a "healthy guilt policy" as a set of learned values, beliefs,
and rules like these:
OK (vs. "bad") if I feel guilty. Guilt is a normal, healthy
reaction to feeling I've done something wrong (broken someone's
I have the right to express my guilty
thoughts and feelings to others without apology or expecting them to
I have the right to get clear on what rules
I feel I've broken, and who made the rules.
If I'm not clear on what our relationship or
family rules are, I have the right to ask for clarification.
If I don't like or agree with the rules, I
have the right to negotiate rules that feel more reasonable
It's better to express my emotions and
assert my needs honestly as I feel them, rather then hint, repress, numb
out, procrastinate, and/or expect others
to mind-read me,
It's good to stay aware that guilt and shame
feel the same, but are caused and reduced differently.
How do these sample rules compare
to your personal guilt policy? To the policy in your home and family?
Option - discuss this concept with your other family adults, and
clarify what your personal and household guilt policies are. They have been silently
shaping the guilt policies of each minor child among you. Work toward
evolving and living by a shared "healthy guilt policy" as a fundamental way
of helping all of you manage your guilts.
Stay aware that "no policy"
is a policy...
fundamental point here is that the unspoken rules about guilt that you
adults model and teach will strongly influence your kids' success at using
their guilts constructively or not. If your family guilt policy promotes
unwarranted or excessive guilt, it's unlikely you can help your kids make
Consider that most kids - specially young ones - don't have the concepts or
language to discuss their guilts or negotiate the rules that cause them.
That implies that to minimize the risk of toxic guilts and shame, you adults
must pay patient, conscious attention to what your behaviors are teaching
your kids about shame, self-esteem, pride, and guilt. Did your caregivers do
this for you?
Note the opportunity of evolving and practicing a family policy on
personal and family pride and self-love and respect. Most people and
families already have these policies, but may not be conscious of or discuss
them. Can you articulate your personal policy about these essential
resources? Can your other family adults? Can your kids?