Do you struggle with feelings of chronic shame? Are you constantly concerned about dealing with rejection from your peers or those you care about due to a failure in meeting obligations? If you answered yes, to all these questions, then there is a high likelihood that you are being deceived.
Relationships are about give and take, where both parties work together towards mutual benefaction. When shame comes into the picture in any relationship, it means that the person experiencing the shame is being deceived. When a person experiences shame, he or she experiences feelings of low self worth accompanied by a strong belief that he or she does not bring anything of value into the relationship. This leads the person to actually work harder towards contributing his or her share of value into the relationship. A thoroughly shamed person affords others who interact with him or her relief from actually putting in significant effort into the relationship. This is because the shamed person is too busy nursing his or her shame to recognize the unfairness.
Shaming occurs on all levels, from marco/organizational levels to micro/familial levels. As a former soldier, while training for a deployment to Afghanistan, our instructors would use suggestive shaming language to describe soldiers who had experienced the misfortune of driving over an IED. They strongly suggested that they (the wounded and dead drivers) had failed to follow the techniques that they were teaching us. The reality I soon learned, was that there weren’t any techniques that could proof you from driving over an IED or surviving an IED blast. It mostly came down to visibility, the strength of the bomb and the strength of your vehicle’s armor. In essence, luck. So in order to avoid being ridiculed/ having our courage and masculinity questioned, not one of us dared to question our instructors.
As a therapist, I have worked with individuals and couples where one party was filled with grief and shame for not living up to the expectations of his or her spouse, while the other person was putting little to no effort towards addressing the relationship. The bottom line is that if you find yourself experiencing shame, you are most likely being deceived.
Put it this way, if you find yourself in a professional or personal relationship where you are not fulfilling your end of the agreement, the other party will bring the relationship to an end. So if as a solider, I couldn’t cut it, I would have been promptly discharged. I actually witnessed this happen to other soldiers on a number of occasions. The same goes for personal romantic relationships. There is no point in evoking feelings of shame in someone who produces nothing of benefit for you.
When it comes to feelings, shame is a false negative. It does nothing positive to your character as a human being and it reinforces the falsehood that you as a human being are unworthy. In reality, the ability for a human being to recognize when he or she is not meeting agreed upon expectations, with a resolve to change things for the better comes from a mindset of unconditional self acceptance.
When you accept yourself unconditionally, you actually have the agency to take ownership for wrong doing and make amends. To reiterate, feelings of worthlessness is a strong sign that you are being manipulated.
So what do you do if you recognize that your chronic feelings of shame are unhealthy for you? The answer is that you seek the services of a psychotherapist. Chances are, that you had been preconditioned through your early life experiences to become easily manipulated by shame.
A good therapist will work with you towards addressing your triggers for shame and developing new beliefs and behaviors towards responding differently towards those identified triggers.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.