More from Mistakes Were Made.
Chapter 6 is on self-justification in marriage, but it applies to other kinds of relationships too. One particularly striking observation is on page 171.
Social psychologist June Tangney has found that being criticized for who you are rather than for what you did evokes a deep sense of shame and helplessness: it makes a person want to hide, disappear. Because the shamed person has nowhere to go to escape the desolate feeling of humiliation, Tangney found, shamed spouses tend to strike back in anger.
One which ends with “you must be reprehensible to humiliate me this way.”
Well yes. Shaming and humiliation prompt especially strong anger.
By the time a couple’s style of argument has escalated into shaming and blaming each other, the very purpose of their quarrels has shifted. It is no longer and effort to solve a problem or even to get the other person to modify his or her behavior; it’s just to wound, to insult, to score. That is why shaming leads to fierce, renewed efforts at self-justification, a refusal to compromise, and the most destructive emotion a relationship can evoke: contempt.
And contempt spells doom.
It’s interesting, isn’t it. It’s ammunition for Dan Fincke’s civility pledge and all that, because it argues that the move from criticism of behavior (or ideas) to criticism of who the person is will do nothing but inflame, and inflaming leads only to doom.