Our son is prone to shame (one of the unfortunate things he learnt from his parents). Recently, he came home from school is a foul mood. And we had no idea what was going on, but he was on a warpath. Upon reflection, my response to the warpath only made it worse. Hours later, in the safety of his bedroom he told me what happened. At school he was yelled at by a teacher in front of all his friends for something he did not feel was correct. He felt deep shame.
Shame has weight. It’s like a weight pulling you down to the bottom of the sea. Shame invokes a response in us. Most often it is a combination of self-hatred and lashing out. And yes, sometimes that lashing out is at others, while other times it is lashing out at ourselves.
We can actively try to shame someone. But we can also cause shame inadvertantly or unintentionally. I see this happening in change all the time. We call someone out on something, make a joke about something, and so on. The response in the person is to close up, become small, and retreat into themselves or there is an outburst. The outburst comes across as an overreaction to the situation. We are viewing it as an overreaction to a moment or to a change we seek to make, however they are not reacting to that, they are reacting to shame and a feeling being attacked.
How we respond has significant impact. Do we lash out in return? Do we attack? Or can we respond with grace and humility? Can we notice the lashing out as a signal that shame is present and attempt to listen to understand what is going on? Perhaps the foul mood is not a reaction to the change, but something that happened.
Often change makers are shame handlers. Not intentionally, but it seems to come with the job. Who do you need to have a quiet conversation with today?