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Confused? Shame on you!

What happens to you when you become confused? How do you feel?

Most of our children are growing up in environments (families, schools, peer groups…) that insidiously (mostly unintentionally but nevertheless pervasively) teach them to blame themselves for feeling confused.

Children who blame themselves for feeling confused feel shame when they feel confused.

Naturally, subconsciously-automatically, children (most of us) try to avoid feeling shame. When we feel shame our natural response motivates us to change our behavior in one of three ways: 1) To overcome whatever we feel the shame is about. 2) To avoid engaging in whatever we feel the shame is about. 3) To demote the importance of whatever we feel the shame is about. These three often go round and round working out (learning) whether to ‘keep trying’ (overcome) or ‘give up’ (avoid or demote).

If children feel too much shame when they feel confused they will avoid engaging in what is confusing them.

Learning challenges are implicitly confusing. When children learn to avoid confusion (so as to avoid shame) they are developing an emotional-level aversion to the feeling of confusion. An emotional aversion to the feeling of confusion necessarily limits their ability to learn about whatever feels confusing.

This is but one example of unhealthy learning. The more we avoid learning the more ashamed of our minds we become (inevitably, because the more we avoid learning the less we can cope with our confusing worlds and the more we blame and shame ourselves because we can’t”). The more ashamed of our minds we become the easier it is to blame ourselves for feeling confused. The easier it is to blame ourselves for feeling confused the more shame we feel. The more shame we feel the more we want to avoid the confusion that causes it and the less we are able to learn because our learning is short circuited by our premature escape from confusion – our attentional bandwidth is reduced and our cognitive entrainment is disrupted. This is the root of Mind-Shame.

Mind-Shame is the most powerful and widespread, learned, learning disability in our population. Though most people have never even heard of the term, everyone has experienced and can relate to it (beyond the obvious reading aversions and math phobias – most of us have felt ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ or not ‘smart enough’ about something”). That makes “Mind-Shame“, potentially, a very contagious meme (an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture – like ‘gene’ but mental rather than biological).


Increasing our society’s recognition of Mind-Shame is a tipping point for improving the health of our children’s learning. Help us get Mind-Shame into our national conversation about education. Observe children — Notice the change come over children’s faces, voices, and body languages when shame triggers. Notice the shame appear in children when they feel confused. Notice the shame when children ‘perform’ in public. Notice how children, mostly without even being aware they are doing it, avoid engaging in what causes them to feel shame. Observe yourself — Notice your own shame and what happens to your attention (thus learning) when it triggers. Notice yourself ‘avoid’ thinking about things – learning about things – that trigger shame.”

Watch your own mind-shame. Watch it in the people around you. Watch it in the children you care about.  Mind-Shame is everywhere, let’s bring it out of the shadows and into the light. Talk about it with your family and colleagues. Help us spread the meme.

PLEASE… We can’t sustain our efforts without your help. If you think we are on the right track, or even one that should be given consideration, please help us. Please forward our posts as widely as you can. Please contribute whatever you can, $5, $10… whatever you can (see “Donation” button in sidebar). Arrange for us to work with your school or organization. Your help can make a big difference in whether our work succeeds. Thank you.

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