Children and the Burden of Shame
Children in fundamentalist families are often regarded as little adults, with the same sinful tendencies and the same need to be “saved.” Consequently, there may be little or no realization that a growing child needs to progress through various stages of cognitive and emotional development. Instead, childhood issues such as egocentrism, aggression, sexuality, and teenage rebellion are labeled as sins, instead of natural and predictable processes. The “sin” is attributed to an innate fault in their natures that needs to be corrected, the child is made to feel ashamed of him or herself, and is disciplined accordingly: “Shame on you,” “You’re so selfish. What’s the matter with you?” “You know Jesus sees you when you do that!” The focus is on guilt, control and force, instead of fostering self-confidence and new coping skills. The innocent child feels they are defective, bad, inadequate, or a failure. They become filled with shame.
Shame is more damaging than guilt, when we feel bad because of what we have done, not because of who we essentially are. Shame takes a heavy toll on a child’s self-esteem, and often becomes a part of their psyche that persists into adulthood.
On the other hand, good parents know that poor childhood behavior is linked to needs, not to a flawed nature, and is part of a child’s natural development.