Social media "gurus" are making countless videos on the subject of shame, which has ignited many conversations with my clients. Our discussions lead to realizations that range from inspiring and uplifting to shock and relief, because many don't know that there are two forms of shame: healthy and toxic.
I've researched the concepts of shame, guilt, and remorse at great length. And I've delved even deeper into the idea of shame as a motivator. The key finding: the negative effects of toxic shame versus the positive motivation of personal shame.
Toxic shame comes from the outside; i.e., from a friend, family member, or stranger. That type of shame is considered toxic, and it does NOT motivate a positive change in behavior.
I tested this concept recently during one of my addiction groups. I showed them a "fat shaming" video and asked how it would make them feel if someone made the same type of video for "addiction shaming." I asked, "Would it motivate you to stop your negative behaviors?"
The resounding consensus: it would not. In fact, many group members shared stories of friends and family who had used shame and blame as a tactic – and how it drove them to drink more, score more drugs, or isolate even further.
However, shame felt on a personal level can be a strong motivational factor for some. The key here is that the individual needs to experience the shame from their own ego, their own core self. That's what creates the dynamic shift that results in a change in behavior.
Most of us know the discomfort of feeling ostracized from family or friends because of something we did. It makes us feel alone and isolated. From there, it becomes a loneliness cycle, one that promotes more toxic shame and negative behaviors.
Shame may be tempting to use as motivational tool. But it really only works on the self. And when you do experience personal shame and remorse, the key is to feel it, let it drive you, and then learn to let it go.