After a Violent Meltdown - Avoiding Shame

Written by Yvonne Newbold

Shame is one of the most painful emotions to experience, it eats away at our sense of self, our self-esteem and self-confidence, and it makes us feel hopeless, useless, worthless and miserable. It feeds our critical self-talk voice in our heads with an huge overdose of negativity, and it closes down joy and optimism. 

The impact of carrying shame can last for a lifetime. Shame can lead to depression, withdrawing from social interactions, mental health deterioration and even alcoholism and other substance abuse. 

Never underestimate how much shame affects our children when a very difficult or dangerous episode of behaviour has happened. Our children don’t have the life experience or understanding to try and put shame into any context, so they carry it all and blame and hate themselves so harshly. There is no punishment or sanction or consequence that feels worse than a child who shrouds themselves in shame. They are beating themselves up inside unforgivably and they are having a really tough time.

That’s why our children often can’t apologise afterwards and they don’t want to talk about it or be reminded of what happened and what they did. That’s why they may try to laugh about it or to brush is off, or to blame others for why it happened by saying things like – “well you started it”. Shame is a huge emotion, if it overwhelms adults, so just think how it must feel when you’re only a child?

We are the adults, and it’s our job to help our children through their negative feelings. So even though it was the parent who was hurt, even though it was your house that got trashed, even though it was you have had some very hurtful insults thrown at you, it also has to be you who makes things alright again.

Our children don’t want to be like this, and if we are feeling awful, they are feeling worse. We have to find a way to help our child cope with this sense of shame, and to be able to put it into perspective to make it more manageable. If we don’t help them with their shame, this is where self-hatred starts, this could well be one of the places that suicidal thoughts are born. That means that, right in the aftermath of a very difficult meltdown it’s not the time to add in more guilt, or try to show the child that hitting people is wrong. They know that already and they hate themselves for losing control.

Afterwards is the time to let them know that they are loved unconditionally and that together you will find a way to make things better. Because they want that even more than you do. Let them know that you want to help them to feel better in themselves and to help them learn how to manage those great big overwhelming emotions that cause these very difficult behaviour episodes. Let your child know that you're on their side, you're a team, and that together you'll find ways to make things better and easier.

Letting them know that they are loved and that you believe in them can alleviate the impact of shame. Building close relationships that encourage trust and connection, with compassion and understanding instead of judgement or blame, can be the key to turning things around. Staying curious can really help too. Keep an open mind, ask yourself lots of questions, look at what happened beforehand, communicate with your child as much as you can. Stay curious and be kind always.

Curiosity means that we keep asking all those "why" questions, we look for clues and we try to make sense of what's happened. Curiosity keeps us open minded, and curiosity also prevents us becoming judgmental towards our children. That can only be a good thing, because becoming judgmental tends to encourage blame and even more shame. 

You've got this, and things really can and do get better. I so hope things improve very soon for you and your child.