In order to understand if you are part of a shame-based family, you have to observe behaviors that take place within a private family setting, find out which behaviors are toxic and unhealthy, and create a plan of action to correct the behaviors. As we discuss common behaviors of a shame-based family, take an objective approach to find out which ones are practiced in your family and what you can do to facilitate change.
What is a Shame-Based Family?
Shame-based families have very limited and constricted feelings. There may be rules about what feelings are appropriate to share. For example, a family may discourage the expression of anger or sadness, but expect all family members to smile, show happiness, and/or act like nothing is wrong. This causes a person to assign a negative label to certain feelings or to see feelings as bad or wrong. The emphasis of the family is to portray a healthy image to others, even though the family is dysfunctional. What matters most to shame-based families is not the healing of its hurting members, but the maintenance of its reputation at all costs.
Their Effect on Family Members
Shame-based families are critical of each other’s needs. This causes those needs to be denied or overlooked. For example, if a child approaches a parent and is in need of their time, attention, or affirmation and that child is ridiculed, criticized, or dismissed, that child will end up feeling like that their needs are “bad.” Because they have that need, they begin to feel that they are a “bad” person. You will see this frequently with an addicted loved one who is part of a shame-based family. Their addiction creates a serious and legitimate need, but because they have so much shame about having that need, they avoid seeking help or addressing their needs. Essentially, they develop the map adaptive habit of not to voice what they are needing from others.
The environment of a shame-based family also denies the needs and desires of individual family members. This means that someone’s needs will constantly go unnoticed and unmet. As a result, this can create feelings of unworthiness in the family member whose needs weren’t validated. Family members may not feel worthy of vocalizing their needs because they don’t believe they deserve to, or they are afraid their needs will just go unnoticed or unheard. Shame-based families also have painful or unresolved issues such as: abusive behaviors, addictions, toxic secrets, etc. However, because the expression of feelings is not allowed, the relationships between family members cannot be authentic. This causes family members to become tolerant of painful things that are inappropriate and unhealthy.
Finally, shame-based families have little respect for each other’s limitations. If someone expresses a limitation, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, those limits are most often overlooked and viewed as a weakness that should be kept secret. For example, if you are physically sick as a child, but are not allowed to stay home from school without getting in “trouble” or being ridiculed, you don’t learn to set good boundaries and limits as an adult and take care of yourself when you don’t feel well. Having personal limitations becomes “weak” or “bad,” as opposed to healthy and nurturing.
At Zion Recovery Center, we believe that in order for our clients to heal, the entire family must be willing to change and heal as well. The Shame-Based Family Model and the behaviors that are part of it are very destructive and can be carried on from generation to generation. If you have a shame-based family, it is important that you do all you can to take corrective action and prevent these behaviors from continuing. Encourage open dialogue and consider help from a professional with experience in family counseling.