I was scheduled to do commentary this week as a psychology expert on a major network. The topic was shaming, and per custom, they asked me for commentary.
I guess I was supposed to say that Selena Gomez being called “fat” when she showed up in a tiny bikini was a horrible, unspeakable thing and that there should be new laws and regulations that should make such speech illegal. Instead, I pointed to the mental fragility that both the victim mentality and the entire diversity movement have created. And I provided proof.
I was canceled.
Shaming, which is essentially a new word for bullying, is epidemic. And it is true that millennials are more affected than ever. This week a new study found that millennials are mentally weaker than ever. The statist media took to the airwaves to blame shaming and inequality. They are wrong. Here’s why.
Shaming shouldn’t be so easy, but we have fostered a victimhood mentality by coddling children and precluding consequences. That has created both the “shamers” and the “shamed.”
The shamers, craving self-esteem that they don’t have based on their own accomplishments, seek instead to destroy or injure someone else to feel a sense of personal power.
The shamed, who see themselves as victims (of sexism, ageism, racism, circumstances, poverty, divorce, homophobia, the list goes on …) anyway, confirm their fears when even one person says something cruel, since their own sense of personal power is already low. When everyone gets a trophy for doing essentially nothing, then everyone expects a trophy for doing essentially nothing.
This is proven in psychological test after psychological test. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI, for example, has been administered to a large group of college students since the 1930s. Even with the advent of the end of slavery, great “advances” for women and other minorities, sex ed, massive increases in our ability to prevent disease, increased wealth for every strata in America, the shift toward anxiety and depression has gotten progressively worse.
Jean Twenge at San Diego State University, who compared all the results, said not only is the advent of anxiety and depression sharply increased, but the data indicate that college-aged people’s beliefs that they have control over their own destinies had declined sharply over the decades. Twenge’s results are consistent with other studies done across the country and through the decades. Students are getting more and more mentally ill, and less and less able to handle their own problems with confidence and perseverance.
Psychology Today reported a massive epidemic of young people seeking counseling over things that were traditionally handled intrinsically. They gave examples of one college woman seeking counseling because her roommate called her a “b-tch.” Another set of college roommates called the police to set a mouse trap for them, and then needed counseling services to get over the anxiety of the fact that they had a mouse in their dorm.
These stories are not isolated. Young people today simply can’t cope with the daily ups and downs of life, and what used to be considered a “challenge” is perceived today as a tragedy. What used to be considered a growth opportunity or a “bootstraps” moment is today perceived as victimization and cause for more laws and lawsuits.
It is coming through challenges that makes people strong, not taking an easy road.
Today, even our playgrounds are built to prevent a child’s ability to fall down and get back up with a scrape on the knee and a kiss from mama.
In the short term, we can all pat ourselves on the backs for the social justice for victims who are compensated in our courts, but the results for our culture are tantamount to a padded room – a tragedy for our sanity as a society.
Twenge also studied locus of control in children through the lifespan, and found the same sharp linear increase in the number of young people who feel very little ability to control their world intrinsically. In 1960, young people scored 80 percent higher on the Nowicki-Strickland Scale of Internal/External Locus of Control. (This is an age-adjusted locus of control scale for young people based on the famous Rotter Scale traditionally used for adults.) The sharp rise in externality among young people over a 42-year period showed parallel linear increases to the incidence of depression and anxiety.
This shift is particularly defining because with a loss of internal locus of control comes a shift to the importance of the external. Externality is a focus on what is visible, such as money, appearance, status. Internality is pursuit of personal, internal improvement, not visible to the observer, but critical to the sense of self.
The reason this shift is so important is because the external is defined by others. The internal is defined by self. Thus, an insult to someone 25 years ago was easily dismissed by a strong internal sense of control. The same insult today can quite literally cause anxiety, depression and even suicide, because as we have devolved to value the external and lost our locus of control as a society. We are much more vulnerable to what other people say and do to us. This is why shaming works, and this is why it has become an epidemic.
Some will blame helicopter parenting, media, reality TV, over-schooling, video games, etc. But I believe smaller families headed up by single-parent households perhaps underpin all of the causality above.
I am a child of divorce, and I did my second master’s thesis on the phenomenon of father loss. Daughters of divorce almost invariably suffer many of the aforementioned problems, and as such, enter life in a more compromised, vulnerable, easily victimized status with certain relatively predictable outcomes. Additionally, smaller families mean less interpersonal socialization.
It is much more difficult to get along with four siblings all day, every day, than it is to get along with a classroom of students you see between classes and extracurricular activities.
Sibling rivalry can be destructive, especially in broken families, but without it, children can quite literally enter junior high with zero experience being challenged, and without having their own internal tools to combat it.
I was one of those children. I had no coping skills, no ability to realize that when the first bully said the first mean thing, that was no measure of reality. I wondered, instead, what was wrong with me. With a busy single mom and an over-scheduled life with only structured, brief socialization, I was a sitting duck for bullying, shaming and trying to instead control what was evident and external. This is epidemic in our culture today, and I believe a breeding ground for the shaming culture.
Smaller families also results in more pressure, thus more schooling, and more measure of the external since that has come to define success. Parents prevent failure with structured, institutionalization (from school, to extra-curricular activities, even summer camps) and creative, free play is often off the table. Additionally, parents have been raised in a declining culture of internal motivation and locus of control, thus they are more dependent for their children to define themselves. Many parents feel like they’re personal failures in their own lives, and they become desperately dependent on the success of their children in all of the external ways. This is yet another recipe for disaster.
So what is the answer to the shaming and bullying epidemic in our culture?
1) We have to create a culture wherein shaming is ineffective. In our media-driven culture, this means role models need to be fostered for their internal heroics, not their external measures.
2) Role models need to avoid crying victim when they are shamed, and instead embrace a sense of internal strength that can be emulated.
3) Families need to be celebrated in media, rather than demeaned and marginalized. Children stand the best chance of success when they are raised in a family, and not by a single parent. Everything from our social-welfare system to our music argues that single parenting can be just as successful in raising children, but studies say otherwise. No matter how much people like me wish that being raised in a single family was just as good as being raised in a family, the data doesn’t lie. So it is back to “bootstraps” if I want to succeed in life.
4) Less institutionalized learning and play. Learning and play alongside parents, siblings and friends is a natural occurrence when allowed to happen organically. Structure has a role in our culture, but we need to recognize when our desire to control our children is more about our own sense of loss of power than their need for another day camp, another monitored after-school sport or another week added into the school year.
5) Less legalism. There are too many laws, too many lawsuits and too many people screaming victim when maybe they really need to be taught how to turn challenge into victory instead. Bootstraps alone might go a long way in solving this entire problem of shaming.