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Fear & Shame Systems

Although it takes energy and direction to break away from the fear & shame systems, it seems to be the way to find something actually true, actually "you".

Even if you care nothing about the topic, stay with me. There are details of some of the pretty embarrassing mistakes that I choose to expose to explain the topic. Having had a few of the same type, I now derived an understanding of what I called a fear-and-shame system: a social construct that mainly relies on fear and shame to motivate its participants. Next, I will delve into my personal examples of interacting with fear & shame systems.


#1: Caught stealing stickers in middle school

Proposed punishment: Going to the director’s office.

Actual punishment: I felt scared out of my mind the entire week.

#2: Mid-term deficiency report. Professor saying “You need to meet with me!”

Proposed punishment: Failure in the class.

Actual punishment: The stress of embarrassment of thinking I am the worst in the class.

#3: Caught for lazy copying of cs code

Proposed punishment: Suspension/expulsion.

Actual punishment: The pain of bearing with the fluffy bs of Vandy Honor Council, imposed feeling of embarrassment.

#4: Email about the suspension of financial aid.

Proposed punishment: Loss of financial aid.

Actual punishment: The craziness of thinking I will go back home.

#5: Call from the SSN about potential arrest if I don't call back

Proposed punishment: Getting arrested if I don’t call.

Actual punishment: a nerve-wracking hour before my friends explained it's a scam😂.

Now that we have some background, let's delve into what exactly fear and shame are.


"unpleasant self-conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self"

"Shame is a social emotion that drives people to hide or deny their wrongdoings"

"Shame can be a painful emotion that is seen as a "...comparison of the self's action with the self's standards..."

"When people feel shame, the focus of their evaluation is on the self or identity.Shame is a self-punishing acknowledgment of something gone wrong."

"Notably, the person must be aware of having transgressed the norm. He or she must also view the norm as desirable and binding because only then can the transgression make one feel truly uncomfortable. It is not even always necessary for a disapproving person to be present; we need only imagine another’s judgment."


"Fear is an emotion induced by perceived danger or threat, which causes physiological changes and ultimately behavioral changes"

"The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to a confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight-or-flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis."

"Fear is closely related to the emotion anxiety, which occurs as the result of threats that are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable."


The examples I described initially are mostly reflective of my past school life: constant stress and fear of failure. Overall, I saw and see a lot of my classmates being stressed out. My examples are definitely on the wilder side but they serve as the outliers reflecting the common truth. The same was true of high school. I had extremely high expectations for a scholarship student: underperforming was seen as "a death", so every action was saving me from even slightly tarnishing that picture of myself. The reason for my deep hatred of fear-based systems is rooted in my previous extreme compliance with them.

I have noticed that school, in general, is a huge fear-based system that presents itself as being incentive-based. In fact, any large fixed system is going to be like this because it is way easier to control a mass of people placing fear checkers in place rather than designing motivators. More examples:

  • You will lose your job, instead of providing an actually rewarding incentive to work better.

  • You will not get a student status if you take less than 12 hours, instead of making me want to take more cool classes

  • You will fail this class, instead of giving me a reason to want to study

  • You will not get a job, instead of giving me a reason to care about doing what I want with people who are interesting

I chose to come to college because I was scared out of my shitz to be left out and not do this thing that is the expected next step. It feels like the fear of not doing something was greater than an actual intentional desire to do something specific. Surely there are people who come intentionally pursuing something, but there are too many who come out of fear of facing the void.

When I started diverting away from my classes last semester, I realized all of the work and education I found interesting and motivating was outside of school. However, I was still doing the work for classes. I asked myself:

- Why am I pursuing this without any benefits?

The answer is simple:

- I am scared of the structural punishment for falling out of the system. Why am I, as a young, intelligent, ambitious person, who invests in this institution financially and with my future reputation, being driven by fear?

So the primary motivator driving is not the incentive to get X but rather the fear of being punished with Y. Pushing away from Y, rather than being pulled to X. What are the downsides of fear? Firstly, fear causes stress. What is stress? Stress is just a state of the body that is ready to respond. We need to specify further by drawing a distinction between eustress and distress. Distress in the wrong amounts is destructive, unhealthy, and unproductive. It kills creativity and tramps the joy of life. In the right amounts at the right time, or what we call eustress, it should be a tool towards a specific goal. But when imposed upon us, it becomes chronic and makes us deeply unhappy from the side. The actual value of the school should be to provide the playground with resources and mentors to max out our strengths and natural tendencies. The value is creativity, deep work, and the quality of skills acquired.

Secondly, fear is a powerful tool that brings results. Fear is put in place exactly to: prevent people from stealing (fear of embarrassment), prevent people from carelessly copying (everyone copies and steals otherwise), prevent falling behind, and worsening the school stats. Most importantly, I need to realize that the stress caused by fear-based systems is benefitting those systems and not me; the triggers are designed to allow the system to achieve its goals. They are not designed to make me successful or happy or "me" (I discuss this concept in detail here)

With this post, I invite you to think and actively question the motivators that are being imposed on you by the systems that you function within. Although it takes energy and direction to break away from the fear & shame systems, as they are dominant and engineered by multiple people throughout sometimes multiple centuries, it seems to be the way to find something actually true, actually "you".

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