No One Can Shame You, But You

A photo by Volkan Olmez.

Today my hairdresser called me an old soul, which is absolutely true. By it, I think she means I enjoy time alone, I enjoy reading and quiet and talking. I like real conversation, real relationship, real people. I prefer on-on-one as opposed to large groups, and some Friday nights, I’m perfectly happy at home with a book and “my show” (which is usually a documentary about space travel or World War II).  I may be more than an old soul. I may actually be an old man.

Which is why I say with all the “get off my lawn-iness” I can muster: something is missing in this generation, my generation. We are the millennials. The data addicted, faux-social, student loan saddled, and (here’s the old man part) perpetually offended.

As a psychotherapist, and old man wannabe, I see every day the effects of offense. People come in and out of my office offended, upset because of something someone said, angry because of something someone did. Offense is something people of all ages experience, but millennials seem to have a panache for it, even adding the suffix “-shamed” to a whole host of words which, innocent as they are, become hate-speech when so suffixed.





I’ve been blogger shamed. I should probably be ashamed. But the old-man in me just doesn’t care.

Now here is my problem with all this shaming:

It surrenders control of your well-being and happiness to a bully

 by disempowering you to assume control of your own emotions.

After Victor Frankl was released from the concentration camp Auschwitz he published Man’s Search for Meaning in which he writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This is what’s missing in my generation; the resolve, tenacity, and fortitude to choose one’s own attitude. It’s a terrible surprise to millennials when they discover there is no such thing as another person who can make you angry, sad, depressed or shamed. All a person can do to you is exchange information. You, the recipient of that information, choose how to feel about it.

The information given to you by a cruel person may indeed be shameful. A bully may call you fat, a careless person may say callous and rude things, but all they have done is given you information. What you do with that information is your choice.

The fallacy of a shaming culture is the belief that anyone can make you feel a certain way. No one can make you feel anything. No one can shame you. People don’t have that kind of power over you – unless you give it to them. And to do so, is really a way of transferring responsibility for your emotional state to another. You can’t do it. At least, you can’t do it and at the same time be an empowered, self-assured, content individual. As you disown responsibility for your feelings, you give the bully power, while you diminish your own.

The effect is a minimization of your personhood, your command of your own life, your confidence. It’s an easy escape from the fear of confronting yourself. It’s a way of avoiding yourself. If you have someone else to blame for the way you feel, you don’t have to answer for your own thoughts and behaviors which may contribute to your negative emotional states.

“I’ve been ____-shamed” is easier to say than “I recognize the information being exchanged, but I choose not to accept it as accurate or helpful. Therefore, I reject it, and I reject the corresponding emotional state. I choose to be happy and content in myself. I choose to manage my identity. I choose not to feel shamed. I choose to feel good enough. I choose to accept myself.”

Learning to talk to yourself in this way is how power is taken back from the shamers. It’s really the only answer to your feelings of shame, because despite your best efforts, you are never going to change the shamer. There will always be rude, cold, inconsiderate people. There will always be shamers. If you spend your life trying to change someone else’s behavior, you will live a life of disappointment and cynicism. Instead, spend your life bettering yourself, and learning how to manage your reactions to the bullies. Time spent thinking and worrying about shamers is time better spent developing your own self-worth and confidence.

Millennials need practice in this. As a card carrying member of Facebook Generation, I can attest we get a little blamey. It’s just easier. But this is no path to empowerment, actualization or maturity. We can do better for ourselves. We can take back power from those to whom we have given it. We can take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We can find peace, contentment and confidence.

We can do all this by putting a stop to the blaming behavior of shaming. Yes, it hurts to be called names, it hurts to be belittled, made fun of or ridiculed. But ultimately, to stay with these feelings is no one one else’s choice but your own.

Eleanor Roosevelt said it better than I, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” You’re never shamed because someone says you are. You’re shamed when you believe you are. And the only person who can change your beliefs about yourself, is you.

  • Disclaimer – This article falls into the category of “problems of living.” The advice given is not intended for those who have suffered trauma. If you have received a mental health diagnosis or experienced a traumatic situation, I encourage you to seek additional help from a licensed professional.


2 thoughts on “No One Can Shame You, But You

  1. Well said! How we react to being put down says more about us than it does about the person who said it. I remember someone calling me an airhead once and the experience really stuck with me because I was not at all upset. I was mostly just confused because I knew it wasn’t true and had the self awareness and confidence to understand that the comment wasn’t important and shouldn’t impact me. Great blog!

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