Shaming women for their choices breeds lifelong self-doubt


“There is such an overabundance of shame reserved for women. If it stops, it’s a shame. She keeps the baby, too bad. She loses the baby, too bad. I can not conceive, too bad. only has one [child], shame. A lot, too bad. Leave baby with [a] looking after [go to] work, shame. Doesn’t work to care [the] baby, shame, ” bed a tweet from @Gbemisoke.

Women have always been shamed for practically everything – for having body hair, for having shaved that body hair; to be too tall, too short, too thin, too fat; for using tampons, for using pads, for hitting puberty too early, for not hitting puberty early enough; to apply make-up, not to apply make-up; to be too shy, to talk too much… The list is endless. One article calls it “heredity of shame” that women inherit.

Women continue to be shamed because it works – shame drives women to self-doubt most often because the messages used to shame women are often rooted in patriarchal norms that we have been socially conditioned to to join. “…we feel the need to conform to these standards…because we grew up believing in them. There is research in neuroscience that speaks to the powerful link between experiences, narratives and memory,” says Anindita Kundu, a psychotherapist from Bengaluru.

“Growing up with shame-induced negative self-perceptions can become an internal reality [that] follow[s] into adulthood,” says psychotherapist Neil Brown. Speaking of a patient who had been ashamed since childhood, Brown adds: “And like other [people] which are based on shame, she now lives with self-doubt.

The self-doubt engendered by perpetual shame makes it easy for society to make women feel guilty about standing up for themselves. When Neha, 38, found out her husband was cheating on her, people tried to convince her it was her fault. “I was told, ‘If you decide to work, what option does your husband have?'” She says that when she found out about adultery, “for a while I questioned my appearance, my being. – because I started to believe that I am someone that men will deceive.

Making women doubt every decision they make can manifest as a constant battle in their minds, which can distort their self-esteem, in the long run. And when one is constantly shamed for every omission and commission, their self-confidence takes a hit, making it easier to “tame” and “control” them. Shame then becomes an indirect tool to prevent women from protesting against systemic inequalities. And so, constantly humiliating women works in favor of patriarchy.

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Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, notes that “vulnerability is at the ‘heart of shame’. After interviewing her, journalist Andy Hinds wrote in The Atlantic: “For women…there is a whole constellation of often conflicting expectations which, if not met, bring shame. But for men, the overriding message is that all weakness is shameful. And since vulnerability is often perceived as weakness, it is particularly risky for men to practice vulnerability. That’s why Brown thinks “shame messages are organized around gender.”

Women’s propensity to feel shame may also stem in part from the fact that they are conditioned to please people from an early age. “Young girls are told to be calm and nice, to be other-oriented, not to talk about what they want, and to please others. These gender stereotypes are continually reinforced in our society in a way which puts women at a distinct disadvantage,” notes psychologist Teyhou Smyth.

Struggling with the double whammy of conditioning and reinforcements, many women find themselves navigating directionless through the hostile terrain of self-doubt. Research suggests that, compared to men, women feel humiliated much faster and are also more prone to the negative effects of shame, such as low self-esteem.

“’Am I not enough?’ remains a perpetual question that most women struggle with,” notes Kundu. Years of social conditioning and gaslighting can make them doubt that they are a “good” when they have always been told that to be a “good” one must be docile, generous and accommodating without the slightest opinion. .

Giving in to constant shame by conforming to societal expectations keeps women trapped in status quo patriarchy and has an impact on their mental health. As psychotherapist Gavin Sharpe explains, “[T]he spends more time meeting your needs, the less time I spend meeting minewhich can, in the long run, lead to resentment and anger. And since expressing anger isn’t particularly “pleasant” behavior either, it remains suppressed, giving way to passive-aggressive behavior and, in extreme cases, psychological depression, Sharpe warns.

The alternative – protesting against the social conditioning one grew up with – can also lead to a crisis of belonging. Experts note that human beings tend to have an innate emotional need to belong, or to be “affiliated[d] with and be accepted by the members of a group. And without a sense of belonging, people can feel lost and alone, leading to stress and depression.

When Neha finally decided to divorce her husband, many told her that “women who are left alone are never accepted by society.”

Related to The Swaddle:

How being blamed by parents and partners can leave long-lasting mental scars

According to Kundu, watching one’s parents and contemporaries fulfill socially prescribed gender roles — while trying to break away from them without “plans to navigate narratives of shame” — can lead to feeling overwhelmed and lost. Plus, because they live with the constant guilt of non-compliance — even for something as small as taking a nap when they’re tired — women also tend to burn out much earlier than men. , they add.

Additionally, “when we move away from the normative identity that society has conditioned us to adhere to, it becomes more difficult to move closer to our chosen identity,” says Kundu, noting that many of his clients – especially those who manage childcare and a career simultaneously — report being “perpetually exhausted, meaningless and feeling depressed”. In existentialism, this is called noogenic neurosis – a form of neurosis resulting from existential frustration. It often sets in when we feel dissociated from our own body. According to the American Psychological Association, this may stem from the “definition of self as nothing more than an embodiment of biological needs and an actor of social role”, leading the neurosis to manifest as “chronic insignificance, apathy and aimlessness”.

While breaking this cycle of shame and self-doubt is far from easy, all hope is not lost. Experts believe that people’s propensity to feel shame decreases as they reach middle age. As she got older, Pooja, 42 – who used to constantly second-guess herself over such trivial things as not caring for her friend’s children, not dyeing her hair and refusing to spending time with parents she didn’t get along with – was able to overcome guilt and better prioritize her individual needs. But time cannot be the only solution to patriarchal expectations – by middle age, many people have already made important life decisions driven by shame.

Often it’s the lack of social support that allows social conditioning to triumph, according to Kundu. They say, “What makes the inner battle more difficult is having an environment that is not supportive… A supportive environment helps to find a constructive way to improve the relationship with oneself rather than sink into shame.”

In the absence of social support from friends and family, therapy can help cope with the lingering results of self-shame. This is also where I teach them to use the “and” language. [to address the notion that they ‘aren’t enough’] – to help them question and hold conflicting accounts about themselves. Explaining how it works, Kundu explains, “I can be a caring and available mother and want to have a full-time career at the same time. i can be a feminist and still want to get married or choose to be a housewife. It doesn’t make me bad, doesn’t make me enough.

“It is extremely important to recognize that none of us are above social conditioning; no matter how much we’d like to believe it doesn’t affect us, it does. So acknowledging this with kindness and curiosity about ourselves can go a long way.


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