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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 21-May-17


Sunday 21-March-17

Blame and Shame: Negative methods, destructive results

When we are trying to persuade somebody do to something (or maybe not do it again), we often use 'blame and shame'.

Blaming uses a number of assumptions:

  • Actions are good or bad. There is no middle ground. There is no accident.
  • People who do bad things are themselves bad.
  • Bad people must be punished severely.
  • People who call out bad people are good.

This makes the person who blames both judge and jury and absolves us from any challenge or guilt. As it makes them good, it also makes them superior and worthy of praise. This is a temptation that many people find difficult to resist, including when they are seeking to change minds.

Blame can lead to shame. Shame is effectively blaming oneself, which leads to self-judging and self-punishing. A typical way this is done is with repeated self-recrimination and feelings of unworthiness. This can lead to depression and even a self-destructive repetition of socially unacceptable actions that invite blame (and so confirm the person's feelings of shame).

Blame very seldom leads to anything constructive. Forgiveness is another trap as it assumes that the subject has already been blamed. In any case, there are far better ways to motivate people into acceptable action. A simple method is to ignore unacceptable acts and lavish praise on actions that you like. A simple approach is to show appreciation for good acts and give extra praise for improvement.

If we can avoid blaming other and indulging in shame ourselves, it is remarkably easy to build a far better life for both ourselves and also for those around us.

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