In my last post, I reviewed the research of James Gilligan on the issue of violence. Gilligan did a significant amount of work with inmates and discovered what we think is a profound premise concerning the link between shame and violence.
Hope for reducing violence
The premise is that unhealthy anger that leads to aggression and violence originates from shame. To some, this premise may seem obvious. Yet, this may be the first time others have heard this.
Often, we look at alternative societal issues such as poverty, criminal history, or educational level as reasons for violence. The good news is that if the primary and most consistently found issue is a heavy dose of shame, it leads us to the presupposition that if we can address, reduce and prevent shame, we also can reduce violence.
I find that news to be very hopeful.
We all recognize that shame permeates our society. We use shame in our families, our schools, our churches and our individual relationships to control behavior. In light of what we know about shame, it seems an ineffective and emotionally damaging way to control behavior. Therefore, I would like to suggest that Gilligan’s premise opens new avenues to consider for reducing violence in society.
Where does shame begin?
I think it will be important to look at the places where shame originates.
The first place to look is within our families. If we can effectively help parents and caregivers become more aware and better equipped to address their own shame issues, it is much more likely they can interrupt the transgenerational messages and behaviors that are shame-based.
So many parents have been raised in shame-based homes, and as a result, tend when parenting and raising their own children to return to those shame-based legacies they learned. Gilligan’s premise provides new reasons for us to give our children an environment that is characterized by effective discipline without shame.
Shame within society
Consider shame’s affect on society as a whole. If we can effectively reduce and potentially eliminate shame-based punishment, education, coaching, relationships, prisons and any other shame-based processes, then we can be agents of change who alter society’s shame dynamic, thereby helping to reduce the violence that is so prominent.
I see this reality when students first come to us to attend our varied school programs at Lakeside. So many of our students come into our programs feeling like it is impossible for them to succeed due to the messages sent to them by the key caregivers in their lives: parents, peers or past school personnel.
No shame-based programs
Our programs do not have shame-based discipline systems, and it is amazing to see the results in our students. Students who have been placed with us because of their inability to succeed in a school district become successful, behaviorally more in control and less angry.
This occurs because of the impact of our great staff who use systems of care that do not punish, do not shame and do not create the same devastation that many of our students have experienced throughout their lives. So, even though our impact is to only one region of the U.S., we believe that we are preventing violence by providing our students with a structured and intentional, but shame-free environment.
There is hope for our students, parents and society if we can begin a movement based on this profound premise. Reduce the shame and we can reduce the violence!
More on the nature of shame in my next post.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Some information taken from Preventing Violence through Anger Management, 2006, Diane Wagenhals.