The use of shame as a motivator

It’s been over a year since I ended a 3 year relationship with a Taiwanese woman, but as I was riding my bike today I had a thought about something she would do that I really didn’t like.

When something in our immediate social situation was tense or complicated, and not likely to be easily resolved by something immediate that I could do or say, my way of dealing with it was generally to shrug it off. I didn’t pretend it wasn’t there, but I’d acknowledge it with a lighthearted comment and then change the subject to something more pleasant and unifying. In doing so I’d try to imply that it’s not the end of the world, isn’t something I need be overly concerned about (or get involved with at all, if it doesn’t directly involve me), and certainly isn’t something that’s going to keep me from having a good time here and now.

This approach rubbed my Taiwanese girlfriend very much the wrong way. It struck her as very callous. So she would then try to shame me, usually after the fact when we were in private, for not being sensitive enough to situations and others’ feelings.

I would typically see through her attempts to make me feel ashamed, no matter what the reason. I see more effective ways to express displeasure with people than piling on shame. But this only made matters worse. Because in my girlfriend’s mind, an inability on my part to feel shame or know when it’s my cue to bow my head means that I am selfish, almost to the point of being sociopathic, and deserving of the harshest nastiness she could muster, and certainly no respect.

Somebody here please play Sigmund Freud and deconstruct what was going on in these exchanges. Is this a common relational problem between Westerners and Chinese I experienced, or most likely something peculiar to she and I? I see my ability to become detached at a moment’s notice a gift that has saved my much stress and many needless conflicts, and have never been called “shameless” “selfish” or “insensitive” by my American friends for it.

It sounds stupid and childish to me.

At the risk of being pelted with rotten fruit, I’ll confess my suspicion that men are generally more capable of shrugging off minor issues such as dirt that was tracked across the floor, or the recycling box that has needed to be emptied for a month, or the stupid financial decision that was made but, oh well, it was already made so there’s nothing one can do about it now; whereas women are more likely to obsess on such issues, lament over them, and never let you forget them even though (a) they’re really trivial and insignificant and not worth stressing out over and (b) in the case of events that already occurred it won’t help to bitch about it because it’s already done.

It’s not that men are right and women are wrong; it’s just that they deal with such things differently. Men can shrug off such minor issues; women fixate on them.

But shaming ones SO publicly over such issues is another matter. It’s bad enough to harass the SO privately over the issues, but to shame him publicly is rude and inappropriate. I don’t know if its an Eastern way of doing things, but it would piss me off too. Sounds like you’re better off without her. Good luck upgrading on the next one.

My experience as a Canadian is we get shamed back home too. I hear, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, young man?” from parents talking to their kids all the time!

I know more people who use guilt than shame as a motivator. And guilt is not a Chinese thing. Pretty much anyone who wants things their way uses guilt–girlfriends, parents…Maybe cultures where the kids are expected to take care of their parents and have to pretend they really want to use guilt more freely…I’m not putting this very well, but I’m thinking of Chinese, Punjabi, Jewish, Italian, Greek families…I do know though that Jewish and Chinese parents are great at laying on the guilt.

There’s guilt, and there’s also humiliation. Or putting people down.

I met a foreign guy a while back who continually pointed out his girlfriend’s inadequacies. She went to the 7-11 to buy him some some ciggies and he told me that, while it was good that she did things like that, he did wish she would buy the right cigarettes and that it was essential to give her very precise instructions because she was a bit stupid. Then he blew smoke in her face. She didn’t smoke, by the way.

To some or other degree I see this behaviour a lot, especially from foreign men. A lot of guys will say things to other people about the wife/girlfriend’s cooking, driving, spending habits, hobbies, behaviour, clothing, etc., that really don’t need to be said. It’s worse when she does something ‘wrong’ and really doesn’t need to have it pointed out to her man’s friends. If there are two lanes of traffic, Lydia will always pick the slow one. We’re having burnt steak for dinner, but Annabelle forgot to get any sauce. Lisa can’t hold her drink, look, she’s only had two beers and she’s red in the face already. Now she’s going to start talking bollocks.

It’s made me more aware of how I speak to any young lady I happen to be with, and sometimes I surprise myself with how often I have to bite my tongue. It’s not just good-natured teasing, often it’s quite (unthinkingly) mean and unnecessary. I think it’s due to people being competitive in their relationships, and it’s something you have to consciously work on. Having a SO that won’t accept it is a good start.

Ah, not to put too fine a point on it, friend, but I’d say you should consider changing your circle of acquaintance.
If I were EVER to encounter somone in a social situation abusing their partner like that, why, I don’t know what I’d do…probably start by bitch-slapping the asshole in question and finish by never hanging out with them again.
Me and Mrs. the chief have been together since, well, you know me, suffice to say well in excess of a decade, and, by God, I would literally die before humiliating her like that.
And no, I can think of no other couple I know, here or at home, who would consider that kind of behaviour acceptable.

I met the dude in question quite randomly. We were both standing waiting for something somewhere. Some of the others… well, they’re people you sometimes can’t help meeting a lot.

I suspect that the one-upmanship between some western guys and their local girlfriends has a lot to do with the casualness they with which they view the relationships. It’s easy to get laid and you have no long-term commitment, so she’s not valued a great deal. Once you get into a meaningful relationship I imagine that things change, unless you take her for granted.

On the other hand, and I suppose this is off-topic, I think that generally men are more sensitive to the impact their comments have than seemed common back when I was a lad. What do the girls think? Are we doing better?

Getting back on-topic, if a girl tried to shame me - even in private - I expect I would be pretty combative in making her explain why what I done was wrong. So I caused your boss to lose face? Well, he was acting like a dick. Don’t give me a hard time because you choose to work for that arsehole. Get a better job and stop bitching. And give me a blowjob.