Recognizing Shame-Based Parenting

In our work with students and families at Lakeside, we encounter thousands of parents who have struggled with their children and teenagers. We find that parents are usually desperate to help their child and often do not know how. So, we first identify the problem. A frequent one we see is that the child is trapped in a cycle where he or she is unable to achieve life-goals in the home or educational goals in the school.

Shame-based parenting can adversely influence a child’s ability to achieve

How can you help your child succeed?

There are a myriad of reasons why children do not succeed.

I want to be clear that it may or may not be related to how they are parented.

However, any parent struggling with a child in public can often be impulsive in the desire to gain control of inappropriate behavior. A frantic (not emotionally healthy) response usually occurs because the parent does not know what to do.

It is important as a society that we have great empathy for parents who are struggling and come beside them in any way that helps, supports, offers healthy parenting information and even coaches them in practical skills.

Shame-based legacies, a cycle of failure

Did you feel trapped in pain and shame from family members who may have been acting out their own pain and shame?

Shame is one issue we have been discussing in my posts.

Individuals who have lived in a family where toxic shame was used to motivate or punish are prone to continue that cycle of toxic shame into the next generation of their family. Further, did you know it is possible to  be unaware of anger you harbor as the current parent because of how you were spoken to or punished growing up?

If parents have been unable to deal with their legacy of anger in a healthy way, it is quite likely that they will continue the transgenerational shame-based parenting legacy into their own family.

We often find that these parents have deeply personal wounds, and almost in a robotic way, they parent with the same or similar version of shame.

They feel trapped within themselves, and thus, act (and live) out the pain and shame perpetrated against them by family members who may have been acting out their own pain and shame. This process of shaming and punishing can become a vicious cycle which creates and perpetuates the exact opposite home environment than what is needed to raise a healthy child.

Shame-based punishment proven ineffective

Shame-based punishment can lead to depression, aggression, anger and violence.

In my next post, I will discuss the impact of shame-based punishment in greater detail. But what we do know is that shame is not an effective way to deal with behavioral problems in a child.

In fact, when we discover heavy doses of shame-based parenting, we often recognize that the style of punishment utilized has done more damage than good in helping a child figure out what he or she did and how to change.

If the child acts out (and all children do), and that parent has had a shame-based childhood experience, then it is likely that he or she is operating from a shameful set of personal beliefs. If that is true, then the parent’s own anger and shame becomes activated, and slipping into the same cycle of shaming the child too easily occurs.

Empathy for parents

baby shamed
You can learn to parent without shaming.

I have great empathy for anyone who has experienced a toxic shame-based childhood. It is sometimes hard to separate healthy discipline and shame-based punishment for individuals who have lived this kind of life.

However, if we are going to address anger that leads to aggression in our homes and society, we need to look beyond the outward behaviors and appreciate the underlying layers. It is in those emotional layers underneath where wounding and relational dysfunction have caused, and continue to cause, the very same destructive behaviors that we are trying to prevent.

If we honestly wish to help the parents who create such a definitive impact in their homes, it is important that we be vigilant to come beside them and help them discover their roots of shame.

So often we shame parents for being shamed! How tragic! They need someone to help them to recognize that they can be free of the guilt and shame that often accompanies a shame-based parenting legacy. Then, we can introduce them to healthier ways to care for their children.

More to come in my next post.

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Some information taken from Preventing Violence through Anger Management, 2006, Diane Wagenhals.

One Comment

  1. Lucy shilton

    This is a great post but as someone who had shame based parents, not just one but two! I struggle to have empathy for them as they refused point blank to see a therapist or to actually look at themselves and their failings in the relationship. Neither of my parents have a good relationship with any of us (kids) and will go to the grave convinced they did an outstanding job. They didn’t.

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