Using shame to police others’ behavior.
How we React Under Stress When People Don’t Behave
You don’t have to be an expert on stress to notice that when people are stressed, their worse (or natural?) traits such as shaming rise to the surface. It’s also prime time for hall-monitor types who seemingly thrive on pointing out the flaws and transgressions in others behavior.
What’s interesting, is that this can occur regardless of any concensus on which rules are in effect. People often don’t need rules or concensus to shame others into doing what they want.
What Motivates us to Wield Shame as a Weapon?
The current pandemic threw a number of curveballs into our lives. This presented many with challenges regarding appropriate responses to behavior deemed against the rules. Even though there was no concensus on the rules. Many states required social distances, but did not specify many of the details or consequences.
Left to our own devices, many people simply took to policing others behavior. Some people wore masks and others did not. Some people can’t seem to guage six feet. They’re thisclose or twelve feet away holding up the check-in line.
Reactance theory, founded in 1966, refers to the “push-back” behavior and arousal that occurs when people perceive a loss of or threat to their freedom. Don’t tell us what to do. Who likes that? This works both ways. When stressed, we are more likely to see others’ behavior as threatening. So, some will police and others will react to that policing.
Shame can be filed under a host of actions and emotions that people experience when they are fearful, uncertain or confused. When we are stressed or anxious, there’s a tendency to resort to survival mode and any bad habits that we believed were long extinguished. Without a regular routine, many find themselves reactive in the moment. Shame is a common “go to” that deflects from the anxiety and physiological discomfort that accompanies this state. If the problem is “you” then it’s not “me.”
Many couples experience this in their day to day interaction. Blaming the other to deflect attention. How much easier it is to manifest this behavior in interactions with strangers.
Defense mechanisms refer to behavior we use to protect ourselves from feeling discomfort. Unfortunately, in this time of Covid-19, this protective behavior is showing up as:
- Racist attacks
What is Shame?
Shame is an emotion we experience when we perceive that we have fallen below our set of values. It is often perceived as a shortcoming or being “less than.” One minor solution to this experiene in the context of the current pandamic, is to pause, stand back from the experience to determine the direction of that shame. Whose standard is at play? You may have been the target of someone else’s deflection.