Correction vs condemnation

I will be honest. I have always hated being criticized. I have grown up in an environment where I felt like I was constantly falling short and being made aware of it and thus I became rather sensitive to any criticism. For this reason, I developed some perfectionist tendencies that is still have to fight to this day.

I never really understood why I hated being criticized so much until I encountered the teachings of shame and guilt. My understanding of shame and guilt can be credited to books and my classes in university and I will expound on each a little later, first let’s define what I mean by guilt and shame.

Guilt says I have done something wrong while shame says there is something wrong with me.

Criticism comes in two forms, condemnation and correction. Correction is what some people refer to as constructive criticism in that you tell the person what they did wrong and if possible, how they can correct it.

Condemnation on the other hand is not constructive at all. It tells you that by doing the ‘wrong’ thing, there is something wrong with you. There could be nothing further from the truth because there is nothing wrong with you. As humans we are created perfectly. We may fail by our actions but that does not take away our inherent goodness before God.

The first time I encountered this concept was from Brené Brown’s, The gifts of imperfection – let go of who you think you are supposed to be and embrace who you are. This book was a game-changer for me. It expanded on a concept called wholehearted living. From the book, the three gifts to live a wholehearted life are courage, compassion and connection. The author is a shame researcher and looks at the effects that shame has on us.

I learned that the patterns of perfectionism in my life stemmed from feelings of shame. This is because, when you have been shamed, it affects your self-esteem and in an attempt to avoid such condemnation again, you try your best to not make any mistakes so that you do not go through shaming again.

Perfectionism isn’t the only negative effect of using shame on others. By reading the book, you will understand how shame leads us away from the love and belonging we seek as humans and how you can overcome these feelings and live a more authentic life.

The next place I encountered the concept of shame is in Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development. The second stage of this theory running from 18 months to 2-3 years is autonomy vs shame and doubt. A child at these levels has realized that they are a separate entity from others and they look to establish this autonomy by doing some things for themselves. They are asking if they are self-reliant or dependent on others.

What happens when they are not allowed to practice this autonomy is they develop deep feelings of shame and doubt about their own capabilities. These feelings can be seen later on as indecisiveness and self-sabotaging behaviors because this child (adult) did not learn how to trust their own instincts and that it is okay to try new things scary things and make mistakes.

A person who is raised up with these feelings of shame often internalizes the message that they are not good enough without knowing it. The voice of the caregivers who used shame to raise their children often becomes part of the child’s self-talk up to adulthood.

In my opinion, this negative voice contributes a lot to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The people suffering from these illnesses often have a very harsh inner critic. Whenever they fail to do something, the voice goes into a harsh tirade of how there must be something wrong with them because, for some reason, they are not able to do said task.

The problem with condemnation is that it is very counterproductive. Just like worry, shame is a useless feeling. However, unlike worry, shame makes you question your own worthiness.

Unless these feelings are dealt with in adulthood, a repeated set of patterns emerges whereby the adult cannot take care of themselves and is always getting in trouble. Sometimes it’s as subtle as not moving away from home or being unable maintain a home or a job to self-destructive behaviors that are coping mechanisms for the feeling of unworthiness such as overdrinking and drug abuse.

Not all self-sabotaging behaviors stem from shame but there is a need to evaluate how these deep feelings of shame, often time developed at an age when the child was unable to express or defend themselves, affect the person in adulthood. As children, we believed everything our caregivers told us without questioning and so we may have some beliefs that are repressed but that still reflect in our day-to-day life.

I am not writing this to bash anyone. After all, we are all trying to do the best we can with the resources we have. Furthermore, this is not information provided to caregivers when they get children and they are probably replicating the ways they were raised. The best thing to do when you realize that you may have been a victim of shame is to seek help from a therapist so as to overcome these feelings.

The next thing to do is to learn to parent yourself. This means that you chose to be the gentle voice of motivation and reason to yourself and stop any self-bashing before it starts. Furthermore, you need to become more aware of how people speak to you and refuse to tolerate shaming in any way.

I would like take this opportunity to thank you for taking the time to read this to the end. If you wish to read more on the negative effects of shame and condemnation and ways of overcoming these feelings, please comment below and I will be sure to do so.

If you wish to read a summary of the book mentioned above or Erik Erickson’s theory of development, also comment down below.

I have talked more about self-parenting in this post

Till the next one,


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