The Burden of Shame (pp. 118-119)
Biblical passages lie at the base of it. But there are modern adaptations of these passages that parents use in the process of disciplining their children and that drag down a child’s self-esteem (Winell’s list, p.119) —
- Shame on you.
- You’re so selfish.
- What’s the matter with you?
- You know Jesus sees you when you do that.
- How would you feel if Jesus came back when you were doing that?
The core belief that human nature is evil is the root of it. This belief inevitably instills in all those who hold it a sense of unworthiness, a sense of inadequacy, of failure.
Marlene Winell comments that shame is worse than guilt. Guilt can arise from something we have done. But this shame comes from what we believe we are. One can move out of guilt, but not out of shame.
If people are fundamentally bad then mistakes are rarely simply innocent mistakes but at some level they are the result of “sin”. Not healthy.
Many fundamentalist families, for all the love they have for their children, nevertheless often view them as sinful from (or soon after) birth. Even their early cries and gropings can be seen as signs of an innate “selfishness” or “sinfulness” that needs to be “corrected” as soon as practicable.
The findings of child psychology — that children are different from adults in their cognitive, emotional and moral development — rarely register in any real way in child-rearing in fundamentalist families. I recall my frustration and horror when my toddler son wanted to play “killing games” with an imaginary gun. I was completely oblivious at the time to the fact that he had no notion of killing as adults do, and that I was misguidedly imputing my own experiences and feelings into him, failing completely to understand him.
“From a fundamentalist point of view, issues such as egocentrism, aggression, sexuality, and teenage rebellion are treated as problems instead of natural processes.” (p.118)
I recall my own parents telling me how selfish I once was and thinking at the time, “What are you talking about? How am I being selfish?” 🙂 They might have thought I was totally deluding myself, but as a parent myself I came to see the two sides of this story. Of course children are “selfish” in that they are living out — quite rightly — their own lives. But I would not call that “selfish” now. What I needed at that time my parents called me selfish was not correction from my “sinful ways”, but a bit of guidance to help me through a perfectly natural stage of growing up.
“A parent without this assumption [that a child acts “selfishly” because of some innate fault or sin] could give a child the benefit of the doubt, assuming that behavior is linked to needs and not to a flawed nature. There could be trust and faith in the child’s natural development, with an expectation that healthy changes would occur over time. Instead of the focus on control and force, there could be an emphasis on fostering confidence and new skills.” (p.118)
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