Undoing Shame

There is a powerful force at work in many of our lives and it brings damage to many relationships. Shame. If you are living life through a lens of shame it WILL negatively impact your relationship!

Let’s define it in really practical terms, then look at how it affects our partnerships.

Shame is the thinking and feeling that we have when we see ourselves as ‘less than’ or inadequate in some way. It is usually comparative - ‘I am less than my brother - he is smarter than me’. Insecurity may be obvious or we may compensate and appear arrogant or superior.

Let’s take a closer look at what it is and where we get the shame lens from.

Where do we get it?

  • Parents and grandparents sometimes make us feel bad about our performance or behavior, thinking that this will motivate us to be or do better
  • Teachers may dish out doses of shame in order to try to encourage performance
  • Society uses shame - via advertising, media, social media, etc. to make sure we know where the lines are and that there are consequences for coloring outside the lines or with the “wrong” colors
  • Workplaces sometimes both subtly and overtly use shaming to increase engagement and productivity

How do shame messages get sent?

When we are being taught to feel shame it comes through outright physical, psychological and spiritual abuse. It comes through sarcasm, negative body language messages and by not having our opinion taken seriously. We can learn shame from authority figures who withdraw emotionally from us or use the ‘silent treatment’. This list is endless - any time when we are not taken seriously or made fun of is an opportunity ripe for us to draw shame-based conclusions about our self.

What are the symptoms?

Shame is not always obvious. It can show up as:

  • jealousy
  • competitiveness
  • possessiveness
  • easily giving up
  • not trying when there is a fear of failing
  • negative self-talk
  • blaming and criticizing others
  • shaming other people
  • lack of trust

How does shame affect a relationship?

Imagine living with someone who is exhibiting this list of symptoms. There can be a lot of energy in a relationship trying to convince, prove and reassure the person who uses the shame lens.

When one of both partners live with significant levels of shame it is hard for trust to grow. This is because one or both people do not realize that they are truly worthy of being loved. In an attempt to make sure we don’t get abandoned we use behaviors that have the opposite affect. Our need to control in order to feel safer ends up pushing people away.

In order to truly be loved we have to let go of manipulative patterns and be vulnerable.

How can we fix it?

The flip side of shame is self-compassion. It is forgiving ourself, accepting our humanity and letting go of the need to be “perfect” or measure up to some unrealistic arbitrary standard.

If shame is part of your reality you likely learned to think that way when you were quite young. Some of your core thinking about your value and worth is off. Possibly way off. At your core you are not convinced that you are worthy of being loved just as you are.

Your path to wellness and freedom requires changing your thinking. First it is thinking about yourself but you will see that this immediately means changing your thinking about the people in your life too.

The following are 3 great resources, a few of my absolute favorites. They help us understand the path to freedom and happiness.

One listen doesn’t undo years of faulty thinking. Listening often and learning to make a habit of self-compassion meditation will go a long way to get you on the journey to freedom!

Shawn Achor - https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work

Brene Brown - https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame

Kristen Neff - http://self-compassion.org/guided-self-compassion-meditations-mp3-2/

Until next time,

Marilyn Orr

The Luv Life Coach


Marilyn Orr is a relationship coach with Luv Life Coaching, passionate about equipping couples with the tools for real and lasting intimacy.

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