Can Shaming Really Motivate? 4 Thoughts About Shame, Guilt, and Change

waylandheat asked a question:

Hi J.S. Park! I’ve been reading your book What the Church Won’t Talk About because I am currently struggling a lot with stuff and on top of that feeling a very dry season with God. I honestly love reading through your thoughts and stories on Tumblr, and reading through this book has brought me a renewed perspective on things- so thank you J.S. Park for being a light in so many lives! I don’t know if you have written anywhere on it before- but have you ever shared your thoughts on shame?

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for your encouragement and your kind words. I really needed them today. Also the book you’re referring to is here for anyone interested.

Here are a few thoughts about shame:

1) Shame is a very poor motivation for long-term change.

Shame is that sick physical feeling of being washed through with a debilitating shiver; emotionally it can be an internal bomb of embarrassment, grief, anger, or regret; psychologically it feels like losing self-worth and value. We try to escape this feeling as much as we can—it’s an awful, nauseating, dizzying flush that your entire body recognizes on impact.

Shame is socially weaponized to coerce others into “doing the right thing.” Other times, it’s just to make someone feel like a terrible person, like they could never do any good. In the best case scenario, “shaming” would create the desire to reflect and change your ways for the better. It provokes a sort of social conformity in which you must fall in line for the common benefit of everyone else.

You can see shame tactics being weaponized everywhere. Think of every “public shaming” blog, made famous first by Tumblr, that calls out your fave celebrities for being problematic or mocks the guy who uses the entire four-chair table at Starbucks. Think of books like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother or movies like Whiplash. Think of the model who was recently charged for “fat-shaming” (the actual charge was invasion of privacy, and rightly so). Think of this recent method to help quit smoking, in which if you relapse, you donate the amount of money you’ve saved off cigarettes to a campaign that you hate (this combines shame with aversion). Think of a typical evangelical preacher, who uses fear, shame, and fire-and-brimstone to manipulate you into “getting right with God.” Think of terms like “slut-shaming, virgin-shaming, gay-shaming”—and the list goes on.

In the short term, some studies show that shame can make change. However, other studies show that shame is destructive and does permanent long-term damage.

I believe that shame doesn’t really work as a motivation for long-term change. All it does is modify behavior to look like it’s conforming, without actually getting to the root of the issue.

For a great talk about shame and vulnerability, watch Brene Brown’s TED Talk, the most watched TED Talk of all time. Her research is the absolute seminal work on this topic.

2) Shame and guilt are two entirely different things.

You’ve probably heard this by now, but guilt is saying, “I did something bad,” while shame is saying, “I am bad.”

It sounds like splitting hairs, but our approach to both can have entirely different outcomes.

If we can adapt to guilt—”I did something bad”—then we can focus on the how and why of the behavior and even internally change our motivations.

If we adapt to shame—”I am bad”—then there’s no room to look at how and why we do things, and instead can only use punishment and external deprivation to make change. This in turn only makes us craftier and more likely to suppress our true motivations without changing them.

We’ve all seen this before. You can have two people who attend church sit side-by-side who look exactly the same: they show up on time, they donate to charity, they bring coffee and donuts, they read their Bible everyday, they mow your lawn for free. But one is motivated by the anxiety of possible punishment and always compensating for a terrible gap inside them, as if they’ll always be found out. The other is motivated by doing good purely for the good in itself.

Of course, our motives are very messy and never this clear-cut. We could be a blend of both. But the next time you mess up, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Do you feel guilt or remorse or even anger about the thing you did? That’s more or less normal. Or do you disproportionately beat yourself up and wish you could disappear for a week? There’s probably buried shame that’s been carved into you by condemning voices over a lifetime—and really that’s no fault of your own. Many of us have been indoctrinated since birth to only respond to shame, and so we’ve become maladaptive.

Continue reading “Can Shaming Really Motivate? 4 Thoughts About Shame, Guilt, and Change”

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Depression: The Sneak Attack Phantom


This is the Preface to my book How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression.



Depression is a rumor, until it is reality, and then it’s as if nothing else was ever real. Still, no one will believe you. I find it hard to believe it myself. I wrote this book for those who believe, and for those who want to.

Depression is, when you’re in it, absolutely ridiculous, because it seems to be the most important thing in the world when it’s happening. At the same time, it robs the world of any importance, as if nothing could ever happen again. It is a nightmare of infinity wrapped in cellophane.

Whenever I describe it happening, it sounds absurd. And it is.

At the grocery store I’m thinking about how to grill this salmon, and my chest folds inward, a curled up canvas of wax paper in a cruel, gnarled fist. It’s the familiar feeling of drowning, of disappearing in frothing acid. I fight back both tears and laughter, and I tell myself, Everything’s fine, everything’s fine, a cognitive trick to pull myself out of the falling, but nothing is fine, nothing is fine. There’s nothing I can do. My basket full of trinkets is weightless and a wrecking ball. I see people rushing to somewhere, but the illusion of significance slips away in a long, defeated sigh. I hate this part. My shoulders crumple because I’ve stopped holding them up. I can barely look at the cashier and I don’t remember paying when he hands me the receipt. I can’t turn on music in the car; it’s unbearable to turn the wheel. I’m someone else’s ghost in someone else’s body.

I wish I could say it gets easier each time, but I never know how long it’s going to be.

I never know when the colors will come back.

I never know if this will be the one that wins.

The bad news is that I don’t have a magic formula, a six-step cure, or a silver bullet. I wish I did. But I don’t believe there’s a right combination of words that will unlock depression.

The best thing we can offer each other is each other, our set of experiences, our voices, our ears, so that the tunnel is less intimidating and the light is not as distant as it was.

I wish I had more than this. I wish I could cover every angle. Maybe, though, I can cover a few.

At the very least, I can tell you what I’ve been through, and what’s worked for me. And maybe some of that will work for you, too.

— J.S. Park | How Hard It Really Is

From Atheism to Faith: Discovering the Hidden Story of Humanity


About my journey from atheism to faith, and how our historical impulse for religion points to the hidden story of humanity. I also engage with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and his take on religious metafictions.

For my seminar and Q&A “Jesus for Atheists,” click here.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression


Hello lovely friends! After a year and a half of painstaking work, my book on fighting depression is here. It’s called: How How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression.

The book covers:
• The science behind depression
• The helpful (and unhelpful) dialogue around mental illness
• The debate between seeing it as a choice or disease
• Stories of survivors
• A secret culture of suicide worship
• An interview with a depressed doctor
• The problem with finding a “cure”
• My own attempt at suicide
• A myriad of voices from nearly two-hundred surveys conducted over a year

The paperback is here. The ebook is here.

For my video on depression, check here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xggg6xFObIE

Be blessed and love y’all, friends. A reminder that if you’re in a dark place, I hope you’ll reach out. You are truly more loved than you know. 
— J.S.


When Should Politics End a Friendship?


Different political opinions can end a friendship—but should they?

How politics, faith, and friendship can fit together.

My post on politics, which was published on the front page of WordPress:
https://jsparkblog.com/2017/03/06/when-do-politics-decide-friendship/

This is part of a series called “Where Faith Meets Life,” covering topics like politics, abuse, marriage, and mental illness.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Be blessed and love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

Dealing with Depression: What to Say (and What Not to Say)


There’s a lot of unhelpful dialogue when it comes to depression and the way we talk about it matters. As a lifelong fighter of depression, here are some things I’ve learned to say (and not to say), and how presence matters more than advice.

My book on depression is here: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/B073TX15LB/

This is the first in a series of videos called “Where Faith Meets Life,” covering topics like politics, abuse, marriage, and mental illness.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Be blessed and love y’all, friends!
J.S.

When Depression Looks Like an Excuse



I think one of the hardest parts about living with mental illness is trying to explain it without sounding like it’s an excuse. The difference is that everyone wants a good excuse, but sufferers of mental illness aren’t looking to suffer. We would “snap out of it” if we could.

Depression isn’t “antisocial” or “moody” or “flaky,” but a completely debilitating fog that suffocates rational thinking. When I’m sad, it’s manageable. When I’m depressed, it’s downright crippling. I’ll force myself to work through it, but I hope you’ll understand that I can’t fight myself every time. Some days it’s easier not to pretend.
J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC0 1.0

Real Joy Actually Hurts



It can be easy to romanticize a passion or a social cause or a marriage or raising kids with tons of posed pictures and flowery words—but all such things are gritty, raw, rough, and painstakingly sculpted from our fully invested hearts. There is a lot of standing around and sweating through our shirts and seasons of self-doubt and all the frustrated parts that no one else can see. We fall in love with highlights but these were formed in the valley. Please don’t be seduced by soundbites and filtered photos and bowtie daydreams. Real joy actually hurts, but that’s why it’s real. It was carved from the best of us.
J.S.


[Photo by The Ganeys Photography.]

The Deal with North Korea



Here’s the deal: If you share any misinformed hype about North Korea, I’m blocking you here and I’m done with you in real life, for good.

North Korean citizens are scared, exhausted, and threatened daily into falling in line. They’re in constant fear of death or worse. They’re imprisoned and tortured for the smallest infractions, and about 3500 die every month from starvation. The very few in power in NK are the monsters, not the people. The entire nation is not some one-dimensional evil entity: it’s comprised of families, and they want peace as much as you or I do.

If your only idea of North Koreans is a ridiculous caricature from action movies or ratings-driven media, then don’t speculate. Either learn or seriously shut your mouth.

Those of you hyping up North Korean panic are exactly the reason why there’s a panic. And yes, you know who “you” are. I’m especially appalled and ashamed at the evangelical American church for fear-mongering and flag-waving about North Korea. I’m shaking as I write this and absolutely disgusted at your antics.

I pray for North Korean citizens. Their liberty is one of the very few times I’ve marched in front of the White House in raising peaceful awareness of their awful conditions. Please pray with me and help however you can. Start with clamping down on misinformation.
J.S.


Photo by Stephan, CC BY-SA 2.0