When people believe they haven't lived up to their own or others expectations, they feel SHAME. There are always plenty of
expectations of young people. That means plenty of opportunities for them to feel shame.
Shame is an important feeling to discuss for a number of reasons. It's often the primary emotional disturbance that people of all
ages seek relief from by drinking, using and abusing drugs, or even attempting suicide. Most young people generate some
shame because there are so many expectations of them coming from so many places. It's easy to start to believe they're not
living up to some. The bigger the gap they see between expectations and reality, the more shame they'll generate. Sometimes
they create a bigger gap by exaggerating the expectations they believe others have of them. Other times they wrongly
perceive how much they do or don't live up to others expectations. Young people can even generate a morbid level of shame
Adding to this problem, some adults will often tell young people, "You should be ashamed of yourself". Young people
generate enough shame on their own. They don't need any encouragement. Such comments are
unprofessional, and potentially dangerous. We never know how shame might play out, or when it might reach a morbid level.
It wouldn't be uncommon for a young person being "bullied" to have some level of shame before they started getting "bullied".
That could just make being "bullied" even worse. A simple but important way a young person might think they don't live up to
expectations is that they don't have as many friends as they think they should.
There's one common way those being bullied might think they don't live up to expectations. It stems from the fact that they
struggle to deal with being "bullied". They think they should be able to handle it better, or on their own. In other words, they
"should" on themselves. That may be part of the reason they don't let adults know it's happening, and don't seek adult help.
The "bullies" might even contribute to this shame by taunting them about having to run to teachers or their parents for help.
|What understandable means
|Nature + Nurture = Personality
|Unconditional Other Acceptance
SHAME about the past or present will often play out as ANXIETY about the future. If young people believe they haven't lived
up to expectations in the past, it's easy for them to imagine they won't in the future. That includes struggling to deal with past
"bullying". Outward manifestations of anxiety could even make young people more likely targets for those who would "bully"
others. That's especially true when it's social anxiety. If a young person thinks they don't live up to expectations regarding the
number of friends they have, and in their ability to make friends, it's easier for them to generate anxiety about doing so in the
LOW SELF-ESTEEM is often cited as the cause of much unhealthy, self-defeating behavior. That includes avoiding doing
things that might make life better. Low self-esteem that is apparent to others could make young people targets of those who
"bully" others as well. What people call low self-esteem is really just:
SHAME about past and current abilities, performances or behavior
ANXIETY about future ones because of the past
SHAME also often plays out as ANGER. It's a way people try to protect themselves from feeling ashamed when confronted by
others. When young people are generating a lot of shame, you get either "turtles" (anxiety) or "rattlesnakes" (anger). Both
reactions are purely defensive just like they are in the real animals. Anger gives people a false sense of power, righteousness,
permission and protection. As long as they stay angry, they don't have to feel ashamed. Many "bullies" may be
"rattlesnakes". Generating anger and striking out at others of similar age may be their way of trying to ward off shame.
Teachers and parents too often react or overreact to ANGER in young people. That causes adults to miss that it might be a
way a young person is trying to protect him/herself against SHAME. Adults sometimes even wrongly conclude that, "The
problem with some of these kids is they have no shame". Actually, it's usually the exact opposite. They have too much.
SHAME is often accompanied by a sense of powerlessness. That sense of powerlessness can come from many places. It
can come from having overbearing or abusive adults in their lives. It can also come from not being able to do as well in school
as they might like. The more powerless young people feel, the more attractive anger will be to them. The more powerless
they feel, the more likely they will be to adopt the "mistaken" goals of power and control in their interactions with others.
That includes both teachers and other students. A sense of power and control is what those who "bully" others typically are
seeking. It's often to compensate for a sense of powerlessness. A sense of powerlessness is what many who are the
receiving end of being bullied end up feeling.
Another common "mistaken" goal in "bullying" is revenge. ANGER is the driving force behind any behavior intended to get a
sense of revenge as well. Sometimes the targets of those who "bully" others are young people who appear to live up to
others expectations more than the "bullies" do. In the minds of those "bullying" others, such young people may be perceived
as making the "bullies" look bad by comparison. That can be their reason for being angry at them and adopting the
"mistaken" goal of revenge. This can be the "irrational logic" of "bullying" behavior that otherwise leaves adults wondering
The point is that SHAME often does play an important and often unrecognized role in the lives of both those being
"bullied", and their tormentors.
SHAME can also be a secondary disturbance in that:
1) It makes people want to keep what they think and feel, or even do a secret
2) It makes deny there's anything wrong, and pretend there isn't
3) It makes people less likely to accept or ask for help that is available
The reason is that young people so often believe it would make them look bad in the eyes of others should others find out
what they really think, feel, or do. Dr. Albert Ellis used to sum up this effect by saying, "Shame blocks change". It keeps
people from doing things that could make their lives better. For example, it keeps those being "bullied" seeking the help of
school official or their parents.
Keeping secrets can lead to problems in another way. It allows young people to rehearse and practice irrational beliefs
without challenge from others. Irrational simply means they think or believe things that make them feel worse than necessary
or helpful. Many of these irrational beliefs are simple and often erroneous opinions others give them about themselves.
Others are what they come up with on their own because of what others say and do. That rehearsal and practice can cause
those irrational beliefs to become "rutted" in their brains. This makes such beliefs automatic. That makes simple OPINIONS
start to feel like FACTS. Simple opinions that start to seem like facts can start to have an inordinate amount of negative
impact on their lives. They could even one day lead to either the school shootings or suicides we too often see or hear
about. For example, consider thoughts like the following:
"I can't take this anymore"
"It's really awful that I have to deal with this"
"It's never going to stop"
"It's never going to get any better"
If someone is eighty years old with terminal cancer, those are FACTS. However, when someone is a teenager and being
"bullied", such statements are just OPINIONS. However, they start to feel like FACTS because he or she repeated them to
him/herself so much without challenge from others. And if young people start to treat thoughts like these as FACTS, it's not
that big a leap to start to conclude that:
"I have to make it stop"
"I have to make them pay for what they did to me"
Such OPINIONS could become the "irrational logic" behind school shootings or suicides. Irrational because it can make
many lives worse. However, if someone actually believes these things to be indisputable FACTS, it's understandable why
they might do such things. All this can happen because young people keep secrets. And the reason they so often do is
The best way to combat shame, and low self-esteem, is to teach and encourage young people to have (USA) or
Unconditional Self-Acceptance. I typically start by letting them know I have Unconditional OTHER Acceptance or
(UOA) for them and everyone else. I then explain that UOA means that I truly believe that:
Anything we think, feel, say or do, have in the past, or might in the future, is
perfectly understandable given our personal, and often unique life experiences
That doesn't mean it's helpful, healthy or acceptable to others. What people think, feel, say and do often is not.
Understandable simply means:
1) If we put anyone else through exactly what we have each been through, others would probably
end up thinking, feeling, saying and doing much the same things, and maybe even worse
2) We'll never be the first person in human history to think, feel, say or do something
3) And we'll never be the last either
4) We'll always have a lot of company
If a young person struggles to deal with "bullying", they certainly won't be the first to do so. Unfortunately, they won't be the
last either. "Bullying" has been going on since the beginning of time and probably will continue despite our best efforts to
Just imagine how most adults would deal with it if their peers did the kind of things to them that some kids do to other kids.
Probably not much better than most kids do. It's just that most people stop doing such things to others as they get older.
Not everyone unfortunately. So most adults don't have to deal with that kind of behavior anymore. If they did, they'd
probably struggle as well. Those who do have to deal with such behavior from other adults often struggle to just like young
Understandable also means:
5) No one's perfect, everyone makes mistakes. It's why we have so many emergency rooms,
paramedics, police, and therapists. It's why we need laws and consequences.
6) We all do the best we can at the time, given what our lives have been like before we find ourselves
in situations. We could do better, but do the best we can at the time.
#6 is relevant to being "bullied". Could young people learn to handle being bullied better. Of course. That's the whole
point of teaching them Mental and Emotional Karate. However, if no one has ever taught that to them, they probably will
struggle. And that will be the best they could do at the time.
Finally, understandable also means:
7) We're all what Dr. Ellis used to call Fallible Human Beings (FHBs) who at times think, feel, say and do
things that make our lives, and sometimes the lives of others worse instead of better
The way some young people react to being "bullied" isn't always the best possible way. Sometimes they think, feel, and do
things that make their lives worse than they already are, or need to be. That's part of being human.
Hopefully, young people will start to see whatever they think, feel, say or do as understandable, part of being human,
and nothing to be ashamed of. But how someone looks at themselves and what they think, feel, say or do is a product of
choices they make. Choices that they alone can make. No one can make another person look at things these ways. It's
his or her choice.
Here's another way to approach USA and UOA. My daughter is currently reading a college text on developmental
psychology. From what she's learning in that text, you could create this formula:
NATURE + NURTURE = PERSONALITY
It's like the algebraic formula: a + b = c Where a is a constant, and b is a variable. If a stays the same, and you change
b, c changes.
NATURE involves genetic inheritance, and all those things that happen as a result of a developing brain and nervous
system. Those are all constants in many ways. NURTURE would be the life experiences someone has. Those can vary
from one person to another a great deal. PERSONALITY would be their pattern of thoughts, feelings and actions that make
you who you are.
Therefore, whatever YOU end up thinking, feeling, saying or doing is simply a product of NATURE plus NURTURE. What
you think, feel, say and do is understandable given the constants of human development, and the life experiences YOU
have had. If you're being "bullied", and others aren't, there's a big difference in the NURTURE part of the formula. If others
were subjected to the same life experience of being "bullied", given the constants about human nature, they'd probably think,
feel, say and do much the same things as you do.
Unconditional Other Acceptance (UOA) comes from looking at what other people think, feel, say or do the same way.
Seeing what others think, feel, say and do as understandable has many pluses for both us and them.
That doesn't mean you have to like or accept, or even tolerate what they think, feel, say or do. You don't. Dr. Paul Hauck
says that whenever a situation we find ourselves in is not to our liking, we have four basic choices as to what we want to do
1) Problem solve and assert ourselves
2) Tolerate with disturbance
3) Tolerate without disturbance
It's important to remember that we get what we tolerate. If we tolerate the bad behavior of others, what reason do they have
The question with bullying is what is the best way to assert yourself. Asserting yourself directly with "bullies" might work, but
often doesn't. More often than not, the best way is to enlist the help of adults like school personnel, or even police if
You don't want to "Tolerate with disturbance". You don't want to put up with it, and upset yourself about being "bullied".
However, if you do that now, it's perfectly understandable. That's what a lot of young people who get "bullied" do. So you
certainly wouldn't be the first or last to do so. And you certainly don't want to beat up on yourself for doing so. That never
Whether you choose to do, it's important you strive to get into the best possible emotional place to do so. Getting frustrated,
irritated or annoyed can be helpful "energy to move" (e-motion) to motivate you to problems solve and assert yourself.
Getting anxious, depressed, or feeling ashamed can get in the way. However, get angry and you're more likely to become
aggressive instead of being assertive. Sometimes that works, but often young people end up doing things that get them into
trouble by being aggressive. School shootings are a perfect example.
Learning to have UOA for those bullying you can help temper any emotion you have and help you get and stay in a much
better emotional place than you might otherwise. To have enough helpful "energy to move" to take care of any business that
need taking care of - to respond in the best possible way instead of react or overreact. There are two ways to make
something you don't like worse, do nothing and overreact to it.
UOA is also important for teachers and parents to have, both for those being "bullied" and the "bullies" as well.
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