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Shaming Children Is Emotionally Abusive | Dr. Kary...

Shaming Children Is Emotionally Abusive | Dr. Karyl McBride

middleSage is proud to feature Guest Author Dr. Karyl McBride, Ph.D.  Author of “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?”  

karyl-mcbrideI recently attended a social gathering with friends, family, strangers and a bunch of cute kids. As the day ended and goodbyes were shared, I over heard a six-year-old quietly ask her mother for something. Suddenly, in front of the crowd, the mother exploded and yelled hysterically at the child. The little girl was silenced with tears streaming down her cheeks. It looked like a familiar scene for mother and daughter. The crowd silenced too, but quickly acted like nothing happened. This example of shaming and humiliating a child can have long term devastating effects. Will this little girl grow up to respect her mother?

“Wherever I look, I see signs of the commandment to honor one’s parents and nowhere of a commandment that calls for the respect of a child.” Children respect those who respect them. The above quote comes from my colleague, Alice Miller, who passed in 2010. Her deeply thoughtful and profound work continues to inspire. She’s considered the most articulate child advocate in the world.

Adult children raised by narcissistic parents frequently tell similar childhood stories of shame and humiliation. Often these shaming acts take place in front of other people. Treating children badly and without respect is not the golden rule for parenting, but why do we see this so often?

Just today, a friend shared a similar story. Her brother frequently shames his children. When the family gets together, he loudly announces the wrong doings of his children, with no insight to the damage it does. The children stand listening with eyes cast downward. Is it any wonder that young people in these situations grow into adults with self-doubt, depression and anxiety?

105902-103524Shaming and humiliating children is emotionally abusive. It is not ok to smack children physically or with words. Young people deserve and are entitled to reach out, attach and bond with their caretakers. It is an expectation that the parent will provide safety, protection, acceptance, understanding and empathy. When this does happen, children grow up knowing their worth and demanding respect from others and themselves. When children are emotionally or psychologically abused, they grow up feeling unloved, unwanted, and fearful. Normal development is interrupted and it sends the wounded child into exile. This is when negative internal messages are developed and why we have so many adults today feeling “not good enough.”

As children become adults, they parent themselves in the same manner they were parented. Messages internalized from childhood are now ingrained in the adult. Those messages play like repeating endless tapes. “How could you be so stupid?” “ You can’t do anything right.” “ This is why no-one likes you.”

Shaming and humiliation causes fear in children. This fear does not go away when they grow up. It becomes a barrier for a healthy emotional life and is difficult to eradicate. If these same children become parents, the possibility also exists that the fear and negativity can be unwittingly passed through the generations.

Our goal in recovery is to stop the legacy of distorted love. As Seneca (Roman philosopher, author, politician, 4 B.C.E. to C.E. 65) says, “ Fear and love cannot live together…Blows are used to correct brute beasts.”

When we talk about disrespectful children, we must look at parenting. Solid parenting shows children respect and empathy. When a parent truly gives respect to a child, they receive it back. When this becomes the norm for the household, we see young people grow up with a loving value system that makes a difference in the world. However, when children are shamed, humiliated and then silenced, it represses the harm that may re-surface later in life. If this happens, it can be in the form of self-destruction or cruelty to others.

Make the commitment to never shame a child. Treat children like you want to be treated. If you were raised by narcissistic parents, your own recovery work truly makes the difference. I salute you for the earnest efforts to stop the legacy of distorted love. The children of the world need YOU!

Additional Resources:

Virtual Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Work the 5-step recovery model in the comfort of your own home.


Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers: http://amzn.com/1439129436

Audiobook: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/the-book-2/buy-the-book/

Website: www.willieverbegoodenough.com and www.karylmcbridephd.com

Survey: Is This My Mom? Use this to assess if your parent has narcissistic traits. It is applicable for men as well.  http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/is-this-your-mom/

Research: Interview You?  http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/interview-you/


*When we invited Dr. McBride to contribute an article for middleSage she chose this one specifically.  It has also been published as part of her series in Psychology Today.


  1. Good idea to highlight experts in their fields! Mine is midlife psychology and I’d love to write a piece for you on what we know now about boomers and their shared emotional legacy…

    • Barbara Coleman

      15 November

      We’d love to have you submit a piece, Laura! Whenever you’re ready, send your article to us at middlesagepost@gmail.com ! Thanks for reading! I LOVE Dr. McBride, her book was a life changing experience for me.

  2. Bouncin Barb

    15 November

    I would have loved to have had a Dr. McBride when my son was growing up. I would have done things so differently. My son and I have had a lot of battles but are now on the mend thankfully. I raised him the way I was raised. Lots of hollering and no patience. Sad.

  3. Thanks so much for posting this article! The information is so important and I have pinned this to my “parenting” Pinterest board.
    Bonnie a.k.a. LadyBlogger recently posted…Analyze Your HandwritingMy Profile

    • Barbara Coleman

      17 November

      Bonnie, I can’t thank you enough for sharing Dr. McBrides message. Her book was a game changer for me and there’s a lot of women out there that would benefit from her message.

  4. Terry

    17 November

    There is no manual that comes with raising kids and I agree that the mother should not have blown up in public if she was upset at her Daughter. She should have waited and calmly talked to her daughter, but she didn’t.
    No matter how wonderful of a parent we try to be… it doesn’t always happen that way. Even the best of parents aren’t always on their A game.
    Terry recently posted…#Giveaway Hazelaid Hazelwood Jewelry From The Hazelnut Plant For PH Balance And Acid ReliefMy Profile

  5. Amber

    17 November

    This is very true… you cannot take back public humiliation either. Tact is essential in addressing bad behavior in public, especially with children that are especially sensitive to criticism!

  6. Winter

    17 November

    Some friends and I were just discussing…….If how we were disciplined when we were children would today be considered child abuse. The answer yes. As we evolve as people we learn and we can all do better.
    Winter recently posted…11/29/13 San Francisco Bay OneCup Single Serve Coffees – GiveawayMy Profile

  7. Amberlee Cave

    17 November

    I was always afraid to have children because of the way I was raised.. I have been doing good so far, but I am always worried about being too harsh to them
    Amberlee Cave recently posted…Vitabath ReviewMy Profile

  8. Tasha

    18 November

    Shaming children is totally emotionally abusive. I agree wholeheartedly. Thankfully as a child I never experienced this. However when I go older things changed.

    Things went down hill about a year after my mother got married and had my little sister with my step father who turned emotionally and verbally abusive. She started drinking and became a severe alcoholic.

    Their marriage lasted twelve years until he finally had enough of her not wanting to get the help she so desperately needed that he kicked her out.

    She had no where to go, and being that she is my mother, I invited her to stay with me in my home on the condition that she go and get help and get her life in order.

    That’s when all the emotional and verbal abuse she endured in her marriage started and had been turned around on me. The next two years of her living with me became a complete and utter hell. Lots of shaming and constantly putting me down.

    I wouldn’t wish that kind of emotional pain on anyone. I felt so trapped and bullied to the point where I was ready to end it all.

    If it wasn’t for the amazing man that came into my life at the right moment, I wouldn’t have had no where to go, no way out of that hell.

    It’s been a year now since I’ve spoken to my mother. I finally realized whether it’s family or not, it wasn’t healthy to have her in my life anymore. Though I miss her and think about how she’s doing all the time.

    I had to walk away.

    Sorry for the long rant. I felt really connected to this article and Dr. McBrides message.
    Tasha recently posted…Penningtons Holiday Collection Look Book 2013My Profile

  9. Michelle Rogers

    26 January

    I’ve been abuse physically, emotionally,and mentally awhile back when I was younger so I know first hand about abuse. What I don’t understand is why I’m in another relationship thats similiar? Ive been with him 13 years and just realize he has signs of narcissistic traits. The troubling thing is my son which is 18 years old now lives in the same house hold. My son has ADHD and as a child was exposed to a high level of lead poisoning. If you know anything about having ADHD then you know its a true struggle being a step son living with a narcissistic man. I find myself always trying to protect my son from angry outburst, knit picking, far fetch assumptions, and mental abuse. I need help?

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