After Tragedy: an author on “healthy shame”…

Yesterday I struggled to pull myself from the cable news coverage of the tragic and senseless killings in Aurora, Colorado. The day was pretty much a wash since I couldn’t get all the sadness out of my head. I could have walked away… and I tried. I spent some time out in the absolutely beautiful weather that we experienced here in my part of Missouri. I even tried a meditation. I struggled to clear my head and ended up right back in front of the TV for most of the day. I don’t live in the Aurora area, and to my knowledge I knew none of the victims or their families, but I was really affected by it all.

I follow the author Karla McLaren on Facebook and I’ve mentioned her here a few times. Among other things, she writes about and discusses empathy and the language of emotions. In short, she often speaks of how important emotions are when they happen. For part of yesterday, I told myself that it was okay that I spent so much time dwelling on the tragedy, even though most people would probably think it wasn’t healthy. Maybe it was something I was meant to be feeling at the moment.

Then, Karla posted the following on her Facebook page.

As we read of yet another gun tragedy and send blessings to the victims, survivors, and the city of Aurora, I’m thinking so much of the vital, irreplaceable work of healthy shame.

In explosive violence, we can all see the panic and rage — out of control, brutal — but what I see more strongly is the absence of healthy shame, which helps people moderate their behavior.

So many of us learned about shame by *being* shamed — but that’s not how shame works in a healthy psyche. In fact, an overly shaming environment can actually create the kind of explosive violence we see in these sorts of tragedies. When people can’t access their own healthy, authentic, intrinsic shame, their behavior often goes off the rails.

Bullying, abuse, and violence — all are clear signs of serious shame impairment. Healthy and appropriate shame is an absolutely irreplaceable emotion that reduces violence and helps us become better people.

Today, along with feeling sadness and grief, I bow to healthy shame as the necessary emotion in this and so many other painful situations. Blessings to us all.

– Karla McLaren

I must admit that I don’t get it exactly. I think I need some explanation. Any thoughts?



So it’s 20 minutes after I posted this. I’ve read it over a few more times and followed some of the commentary on her facebook page. I think I understand better now. I initially thought she meant this as some sort of coping thing for the rest of us… which I didn’t get. But I think she is just saying we should be really happy that “healthy shame” exists because it keeps us from getting into trouble and doing bad things. And be happy you have it, because apparently this guy is missing that skill or part of the brain. Am I there? Maybe? I don’t know.

About Patrick Keller

Patrick Keller is an educator, blogger, and the host of the Big Séance Podcast, which is a place for paranerds to have an open discussion on all things paranormal, but specifically topics like ghosts and hauntings, paranormal research, spirit communication, psychics and mediums, and life after death. He’s the founder of the now inactive Missouri Spirit Seekers and has spent a lot of time experimenting with spirit communication tools and techniques, such as EVP. Patrick also has a passion for spending hours at a time in cemeteries and loves cemetery photography. Visit! View all posts by Patrick Keller

4 responses to “After Tragedy: an author on “healthy shame”…

  • Randallkeller

    You are there, sir. There are many reasons certain behavior is wrong, but people do wrong things every day, so something has to kick in to stop us. We all know the store won’t fold because we steal a pack of gum, but we don’t steal one because we’d be too ashamed if we got caught. And some of us, too ashamed to admit we were thieves – even to ourselves. People who are rude or abusive or whatever have no shame, so nothing stops them from being those things. There’s no penalty for those, but when we discover bad behavior,we’re ashamed. That’s why it’s healthy. Sociopaths don’t have it at all.

  • Diana

    She would have been clearer if she just said “conscience.” We develop one from watching good role models who act morally, and who teach us the golden rule. Shaming, even when we do it to ourselves, is always unhealthy. It can lead to bad behaviors like addictions and violence.

  • Maria Laing

    I’m not sure I relate to Karla McLaren’s post. I am working on it. I struggles with the emotions and thoughts about Aurora’s event on a deep personal level. I’ve lived in Denver and have family there. Yesterday and today I spoke at length with one of my brothers there. We experienced domestic gun violence. When I was an early teen our mother, who has deep sociopathic tendencies shot my father at close range in our kitchen with a 12 gauge shotgun. I don’t pretend to understand what leads a person to “cross the line” into behavior that is so brutal and irrevocable, and who exhibits no shame or remorse, as is the case with our mother. What I want to say about this, in a way that contributes something positive to this discussion is in agreement with Randall Keller: sociopaths have no shame, and furthermore, they exhibit degrees violence and abuse everyday in ways that have the potential to kill our spirits, if not our bodies. Sociopaths tend to be narcissistic as well. Having a mother with these tendencies has made me extremely sensitive to violence and abusive behaviors of any sort. As much as many of us attempt to ascend to higher evolvement here on earth, realistically there seems to be no end in sight to these experiences as long as we are in this demension. I think the only thing we have within our power to do in response to these cruel events is to refine our own ways of relating to one another, to bring ourselves into balance in every conscious moment. This is the only way I can figure out to transcend such violence. My heart breaks for all those who have lost loved ones….they are going through such pain right now, and for those who were wounded, emotionally and physically, who will have to live with the memory of it the rest of their lives.

  • Aunt Sarah

    I understand why she is speaking of shame, and not conscience. Diana says conscience is developed…a learned behavior, a “thing” you “have”.
    “healthy shame” is a normal feeling, and a good thing! Even her book is speaking of “feelings and why we have them”! Healthy feelings, healthy shame, as opposed to unhealthy feelings, unhealthy shame (ie. being “shamed”).
    Randall gets that some people have NO shame, apparently NO appropriate feelings that appropriately kick in, that lets us feel like doing what’s right.

    How many times have you read about serial killers abusing animals, and abusing others as children? Some think that they are born with something missing!! Is seems this smiling murderer is missing appropriate feelings, that did not kick in and stop him from being evil.

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