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Changing the “Shame and Blame” Game

By Rachel Lewis

Changing the “Shame and Blame” GameShame and blame constantly
surround us, but especially surround teenagers. Throughout history and literature, shame has been used as a tool to keep kids and society in line. Whether it’s Hester Prynne being made to wear a scarlet “A” in The Scarlet Letter, or the way that people attack one another online and through Twitter, shame has become something that is always present.

Shame vs. Guilt
We tend to think of shame as being very similar to guilt, but the subtle differences between the two are astounding. In their book, Facing Shame, Mason and Possum say that, “While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person.” Brene Brown, PHD, LMSW, who gave a fantastic TED Talk on shame and is a shame and vulnerability researcher says that, “Shame is the intense painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”

The idea that shame has become such a naturalized part of society is disturbing to how we perceive ourselves but most especially to how we teach teenagers. Teens are still incredibly impressionable and are looking to find who they are and how they fit in. Proponents of the “shame and blame” method believe that shame works because of past precedent. Shame has helped change behaviors in the past so therefore we can utilize it as a tool now. Other proponents believe that since teens are still impressionable that verbal criticism and shame can curtail bad behaviors more effectively. Unfortunately, those shaming behaviors and verbal smack downs can have an incredibly negative effect on self-esteem and self-worth. As stated above, shame is a negative emotion about oneself. Once those negative emotions are there, all shame will do is prove that those feelings are right. Shame increases the chances of distress and alienation which continues that same shame cycle. Shame, unlike guilt, takes those negative emotions about one’s actions and turns them inward.

Change the Game
So how do we change the “shame and blame” game? By trying to be a more wholehearted and vulnerable person. We need to be the model for the behaviors that we want teens to emulate. When parents preach about how something is wrong but then turn around and praise stories about their high school years, teens see the hypocrisy. The things that we say and the way that we act matters. If we are shaming people through social media, then teens will learn that behavior is okay. We are the models they look to more so than anyone else.

Rachel Lewis
Rachel Lewis graduated with honors from the University of Kansas in just three and a half years in December, 2010, and has already written a book and started her second business.  She has been interviewed by the New York Times, USA Today, Fox Business and has been cited in an article in Forbes on successful businesses. She has worked with students from middle school through college helping with goal setting, confidence building, study skills, and getting ready for “the real world.” She launched Success Skills Weekly with her mother and brother to assist students with critical skills that are needed for success, but not being taught anywhere. Rachel is a member of the Junior League of Kansas City, and was selected as a Belle of the American Royal in 2011 and has been an active volunteer for the BOTAR and the American Royal organizations. She is also the Head Cheer Coach at her high school alma mater.


If you would like more information about a success skills program for your middle school, high school or college age student, please visit,  email Rachel directly at or call 1-877-872-5019.

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