Shame  (SHām/)


A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

We rarely talk about that of which we are ashamed; dealing with the, painful realities of life is something very few of us can stomach. The practice of hazing is on of those very things. The harmful psychological effects of hazing are becoming harder and harder to deny. More often than not, perpetrators and victims alike–many fall into both categories since hazing is a repetitive cycle–justify, gloss over, or even idealize their experiences. As if personal experience wasn’t enough, shame researchers like Brene Brown and others, are demonstrating just how destructive shame can be. David Hawkins, PhD and ND, categorized levels of human consciousness using the science of kinesiology; shame ranked at the very bottom of the scale–20 out of 1000.

“Shame is used as a tool of cruelty,” he said in his book Transcending the Levels of Consciousness, “and its victims often become cruel. Shamed children are cruel to animals and each other. The behavior of people whose consciousness is only in the 20s is dangerous.” (2006, p. 33) Hawkins work demonstrates that individuals whose consciousness is below a certain level are prone to use force as a means of getting their way, while those above 200 (the level of courage) exert power in a more benevolent manner. Some of the emotional states that fall below 200 are shame, guilt, apathy, fear, anger, and pride.

Shame is used as a tool in hazing in a variety of ways, a few of which are listed below:

  • Demeaning nicknames for the newest members, individually or as a group
  • Suggesting that those who don’t participate or can’t take it are weak
  • Reminders that everyone else has gone though this, and not doing it makes one less than a complete member who has earned his/her place
  • Reliance upon fear in psychological mind games
  • Pitting members against each other by taking one’s “failings” out on the rest
  • Using the fear of looking bad as a motivation for members to participate in behaviors that are harmful or dangerous
  • Telling members how “useless” they are or how poorly they’re performing

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, PhD, explains why this approach doesn’t work. “In an organizational culture where respect and the dignity of individuals are held as the highest values, shame and blame don’t work as management styles. There is no leading by fear. Empathy is a valued asset, accountability is an expectation rather than an exception, and the primal human need for belonging is not used as leverage and social control.” She goes on to suggest, “We can’t control the behavior of individuals; however, we can cultivate organizational cultures where behaviors are not tolerated and people are held accountable for protecting what matters most: human beings.”

Hazing, like shame as a management tactic, is going the way of the dinosaur. As Michael Colfield, a hazing victim himself, said, “Life itself is a hazing process, so it should not take another human being to do what life is already going to/has done to an individual.” Except perhaps in the case of military training, there is no reason to create artificial difficulties for people to overcome. They will face enough on their own. In a news culture rife with stories of violence, cruelty, economic hardship, and environmental destruction, our organizations can and should be safe havens of support and development where individuals can grown and thrive in an atmosphere of kindness and respect.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy
and understanding, shame can’t survive.” – Brene Brown.

Running HazingPrevention.Org put me in a position of trust, leading many people shared their stories with me. Parents called when they didn’t know where else to turn to help their children who were being hazed; friends of victims called to ask how and where to seek help before someone got hurt; and many victims themselves called to seek advice during active hazing or just to share their story, often years afterward. I was privileged to hear these stories and help people heal in whatever way I could. I feel an obligation now to be their voice and to share what I have learned from them with others.

I have written about the destructive power of shame before in a National Hazing Prevention Week (NHPW) resource guide; a longer, more detailed look at the issue will be published in Hank Nuwer’s upcoming book on hazing due out next year. I am honored to listen to the stories of the impact of hazing, and will always respond with empathy and understanding to anyone courageous enough to share them. (

I will also keep telling those stories to my audiences to help them better understand how much hazing hurts, and I will do it without shaming them either. In order to heal this problem, it is important to understand that all of us are doing the best we can with the information we have at the time. As we raise our own consciousness, we can do better and help others too. That is why I do what I do, and I thank you for doing what you do in your community. Whether it is observing NHPW, hosting a book discussion, creating a poster series, bringing a speaker to campus, participating in the #40Anwers campaign, writing an article, making a documentary, donating to support the efforts of HazingPrevention.Org or telling your story.

Every little bit makes a difference.


Credit // Author: Tracy Maxwell

Tracy Maxwell is a speaker and author, sharing her powerful messages of inspiration and hope across the country in an effort to curb hazing behavior on college campuses. Learn more about Tracy and her keynotes at You can also follow her on Twitter at@TracyMax.