Joel Achenbach noted a pattern of suspicion followed by silence among those who knew something about Jerry Sandusky's behavior with young boys. Those who work with survivors of child sexual abuse know this pattern all too well and are often angered by it. How do we explain the reluctance of people to talk about their suspicions openly so that something might be done to stop these atrocities?
One of the explanations suggested is that the abuser is a person of power or status who could use that power to punish anyone who dared talk about what they suspected of doing. Though there is some truth to this, especially in the minds of the young person who has been manipulated and sometimes threatened into silence, there is a more basic explanation that becomes clear in an understanding of the nature of shame. 4 Tips To Overcome The Shame Of Obesity
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Shame is a powerful survival emotion with which we are all hardwired. It is the emotion that compels us to surrender and try to hide when we are faced with an overwhelming threat or defeated in competition. It can save our lives in a primitive battle over status, and it has a complex function in forming our consciences and guiding our moral awareness. Although we use the word in complex connotations, it is a fundamental and powerful basic emotion and shares some characteristics with other survival emotions. Here are three ways we can understand shame.
1. Shame compels an immediate behavioral response. Fear compels us to freeze first, then run. Anger compels us to attack. Shame compels us to surrender and withdraw, averting our gaze and trying to hide. We want to become invisible, and anything that draws attention to us makes the shame stronger. So when someone tells an inappropriate joke at a party, everyone wants to crawl under the table. When someone in your group is behaving badly, no one wants to be the first to call attention to the problem. "For some people, the subject is literally unspeakable," Achenbach notes in an article from the Washington Post.
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2. Shame is contagious. Like the panic triggered in a crowded theater when someone shouts fire or the rage evoked in a mob when it is focused on a target, shame over someone's exposure evokes an emotional response in all of us. Depending on our relationship to the person shamed, the emotional response can be one of shame or anger. When Dad is drunk and making a fool of himself, everyone in the family wants to leave the scene. A secondary reaction of anger may set in soon, but the initial response is shared shame. 9 Ways Parents Can Prevent Bullying
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