Raising a Boy Using Shame

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About Jayson Gaddis

Jayson Gaddis — householder, former psychotherapist, teacher, speaker, writer, relationship specialist, & soul guide is using the vehicle of his marriage and his children to become who he truly is, while expanding his capacity to love. He’s on the planet to help people master the soul lesson burning in their heart, through the vehicle of intimacy and relationship. He’s a husband and part-time stay-at-home Dad getting schooled by his two cosmic kids.


  1. There are some things people should be ashamded of, and that has to start in childhood – but failing to conform to some gender role is not one of them.

    Kids should learn the difference between vulnerability and weakness. One is natural and necessary for any kind of real strength, one is shameful. Selfishnes is shameflul, though I realize how fast the economy would collapse if consumers stiopped feeding their egos and telling themselves “They’ve earned this …whatever the toy of the moment happens to be.

    What a better world – and almost unrecognizable – it would be if people were ashamed of lying.

    • Jayson Gaddis says:

      Agreed about the gender role Jim.

      What is shameful? weakness? I disaggree. Weakness is just weakness. no need to add extra value judgments. we are all weak at times. it’s part of the human experience and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, IMO.

      selfishness ain’t shameful in my world. narcissism is the issue. and that’s typically not a person’s fault, it’s how they got brought up. blaming anyone for their stance in life is adding more shame in the mix. why keep shaming people?

      there is also a difference between shaming someone and feeling ashamed. it seems that we are built to feel ashamed when we behave in ways that are out of our own integrity. that can and does motivate a lot of us to make different choices. but, the issue is in this culture that many folks can not feel how ashamed they are b/c they’ve been trained to stuff it, or bury it, again mostly b/c it hasn’t been safe for them.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I mostly agree about using shame too much as a parenting tool. For one thing, you can actually make a child rebel against any sense of shame. The kid might grow into someone who refuses to apologize about anything ever, because he got sick of parents trying to manipulate him using shame. I know I grew up in a fairly shame-filled household and the result (me) is a somewhat rebellious, shameless lout. Now if anyone tells me I should be ashamed of myself, I tend to think I’m probably doing something right….

    On the other hand, shame is still part of how many of us see morality play itself out in our society. It’s central to our political and social activism. I’m not sure we should give up saying politician X “ought to be ashamed of himself for doing that” or celebrity Y “should be ashamed for saying that” or CEO of corporation Z “ought to be ashamed of dumping that toxic sludge like that.”

    Though, come to think of it, if shame really made people behave themselves, we would never ever have to say anyone “ought to be ashamed,” because they already would be. Maybe it fails as much as it succeeds.

    • Jayson Gaddis says:

      Yup. sounds like you might still be rebelling. is that still necessary? or are you reacting out of a pattern fro the past? when we say someone “ought to be ashamed” of X behavior, we just add more shame on the shit pile. it doesn’t work. they already feel it, why rub their nose in it and what does that do for you? fighting shame with more shame ain’t the way.

      • wellokaythen says:

        So, does that mean that there is no such thing as “shameful behavior”? No one could ever face the criticism that he or she behaved “disgracefully”? That’s going to be hard to give up.

        • Jayson Gaddis says:

          shameful behavior? sure. but no need to remind someone. when we feel ashamed, we know it. some of us just mask it and cover it up so we don’t have to face or feel it. I just hear a lot of judging going on. what is disgraceful really? shameful behavior? according to whose moral and ethical standards?

  3. Shame was central to my upbringing, and I believe that this is why I am a weak, anxious adult.

  4. Wirbelwind says:

    Shame is useful when dealing with very bad and alarming things your kid has done, like unprovoked attacks, stealing etc. However, shame is a powerful tool and shouldn’t be abused…

    • Jayson Gaddis says:

      so you are suggesting we use shame when they steal? shaming shameful behavior might not be the ticket. we have to be more creative than that. what is driving the stealing behavior? perhaps a deep inadequacy, in which case, would you really shame someone like that? what would that get you?

  5. Yeah the bottom line is we can only do better if we feel good about ourselves and are empowered. Any form of shame does the complete opposite of that, therefore any change that does happen comes at a heavy price and will seep out in some other destructive way. Ever seen any or Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication stuff. He calls it a suicidal attempt to get a need met. Suicidal because it makes it less likely that we will get our need met in that way. It is such a shame that we still use shame;-) (that was my attempt at shame humor..teehee;-) Thanks for sharing this because we need to understand shame so we can see how useless it is and do away with it. It still happens surprisingly A LOT! I don’t use it on my toddler but I think that is because I never use it on myself.

  6. Really took a lot away from this piece. Raising a boy in a two-home situation I think my son’s Dad was raised with shaming being at the core of his childhood experience and see myself working hard with my partner to fix this every time he comes home from being with his Dad.

    I bookmarked this one and shared it with friend because I think even Mom’s need to realize that we enable the shaming and often are at the core of it. Looking back on my own childhood I think I can relate to much of what you experienced but from my Mom but it’s the tools they were given and we don’t have to use those same tools to build our families. Our parents did the best they could and all we can do is make an effort to do better and keep improving the process.

    Thank you for writing this!

    • Jayson Gaddis says:

      absolutely moms can and do use shame. it’s a human thing. not just a guy thing. moms shame a bit differently perhaps?

  7. Jason thank you for this excellent piece and for pointing out what a pivotal role shame plays in parenthood and manhood. I felt ashamed from a young age. In my case I don’t know that it was my parents overtly but more an out of control environment and some deep seated panick and self doubt. The work of manhood has been coming to grips with that. And allowing myself to love my kids with my whole heart and with no expectation has been the biggest single part of that.

    • Jayson Gaddis says:

      Tom, you are welcome. awesome. sounds like you have come out of the shame trap that so many little boys got trapped in. Thanks for doing whatever personal work you did to get there. I’m curious if your shame still rears its head from time to time?

  8. http://bpdfamily.com/bpdresources/nk_a108.htm

    Borderline Personality Disorder is one of the most sever personality disorders and has no real cure or medicinal treatments. This link takes you to an article telling about the effects bpd mothers have on their children – but the sidebar is an excellent bullet list of the psychological effects of shaming children.

    “Some characteristics of adults shamed in childhood

    1. Adults shamed as children are afraid of vulnerability and fear of exposure of the self.

    2. Adults shamed as children may suffer extreme shyness, embarrassment and feelings of being inferior to others. They don’t believe they make mistakes. Instead they believe they are mistakes.

    3. Adults shamed as children fear intimacy and tend to avoid real commitment in relationships. These adults frequently express the feeling that one foot is out of the door prepared to run.

    4. Adults shamed as children may appear either grandiose and self-centered or seem selfless.

    5. Adults shamed as children feel that, “No matter what I do, it won’t make a difference; I am and always will be worthless and unlovable.”

    6. Adults shamed as children frequently feel defensive when even a minor negative feedback is given. They suffer feelings of severe humiliation if forced to look at mistakes or imperfections.

    7. Adults shamed as children frequently blame others before they can be blamed.

    8. Adults shamed as children may suffer from debilitating guilt These individuals apologize constantly. They assume responsibility for the behavior of those around them.

    9. Adults shamed as children feel like outsiders. They feel a pervasive sense of loneliness throughout their lives, even when surrounded with those who love and care.

    10. Adults shamed as children project their beliefs about themselves onto others. They engage in mind-reading that is not in their favor, consistently feeling judged by others.

    11. Adults shamed as children often feel ugly, flawed and imperfect. These feelings regarding self may lead to focus on clothing and make-up in an attempt to hide flaws in personal appearance and self.

    12. Adults shamed as children often feel angry and judgmental towards the qualities in others that they feel ashamed of in themselves. This can lead to shaming others.

    13. Adults shamed as children often feel controlled from the outside as well as from within. Normal spontaneous expression is blocked.

    14. Adults shamed as children feel they must do things perfectly or not at all. This internalized belief frequently leads to performance anxiety and procrastination.

    15. Adults shamed as children experience depression.

    16. Adults shamed as children block their feelings of shame through compulsive behaviors like workaholis, eating disorders, shopping, substance abuse, list-making or gambling.

    17. Adults shamed as children lie to themselves and others.

    18. Adults shamed as children often have caseloads rather than friendships.

    19. Adults shamed as children often involve themselves in compulsive processing of past interactions and events and intellectualization as a defense against pain.

    20. Adults shamed as children have little sense of emotional boundaries. They feel constantly violated by others. They frequently build false boundaries through walls, rage, pleasing or isolation.

    21. Adults shamed as children are stuck in dependency or counter-dependency.

    Jane Middleton-Moz

  9. drdanfee says:

    Thanks lots for this article. What a great opportunity to be the kinds of fathers we usually wished we had as kids growing up, but sadly, did not have. It’s never to late to have an effective, loving Dad: Be one yourself, today. My adopted Dad was way too busy pulling the plow to do much of anything else, a time bind not uncommon in working class families, especially these days when the economy is so far down that any work seems preferable to no work. I also knew I was gay from an unusually early age (4 years old) so that put quite a few wrinkles in the twisted fabric that was already old-fashioned shame-based parenting. The, locate us all in the USA Bible where guilt/shame got all confused with having faith. Tranquilizers, anyone?


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