Shame is the unseen driver behind many challenges couples experience in their relationship. In my previous blog, Shame Part 1, I mentioned that shame can be difficult to identify. I explained how shame can work in secret when we do not know what it is or where it comes from. We call shame by other names like self-worth, identity, sadness, isolation, loneliness, even feeling self-conscious or shy, or ‘they do not love me’ are feelings of shame.
Any time we feel like we are “not enough” we are feeling shame. Not smart enough, not good looking enough, do not make enough, do not do enough, not good enough as a parent or spouse. There’s a ‘not enough’ statement out there for everyone as we all feel shame somewhere.
What’s lurking in the dark?
Recently I was on vacation at the beach with my family. One evening, I went to the kitchen for a late-night snack. When I turned on the light I found I was not alone. I saw a large, VERY LARGE, cockroach scurry across the floor. It was so big I thought it would be easy to find and relocate to a new home. Nope, I looked all over the kitchen but never saw the monster again. My next thought was whether or not I should tell my wife. If she was made aware of the situation, she would immediately pack her bags and head straight home. Then I found myself wondering, “How does something so big remain unseen other than a few seconds during our stay?” The cockroach was really good at hiding. Guess what else is good at hiding. Shame.
There is no emotion that likes to hide more than shame. And may I suggest shame does more damage to more people, especially in marriages, than large creepy looking insects. Writers use words like “infectious” to describe how shame spreads to all relationships and parts of our lives. Shame tells lies, passes judgment and condemns. It points out and amplifies ways we fall short. We don’t like the feelings associated with shame. So, we don’t like to think about or talk about it. But shame is a force that works against us so we must push back by identifying where it hides and impacts our lives.
Have you no shame?
In a recent conversation I asked a client if they felt any shame. They quickly said “NO!” Then they went on to describe how they felt: feeling unimportant, that they did not matter to loved ones and were very unappreciated at work. Since they felt devalued in their relationships, they felt like they fell short of all the expectations of others. Feeling small, they wanted to run and hide. They felt like they were ‘not enough’. Everything this client described was a feeling of shame.
One of the best tools we can acquire to help us minimize detrimental emotions and to grow and develop beneficial emotions is to identify and name what we feel. This is true of shame. Detrimental feelings, like shame, hate exposure and try to hide. They are like the cockroach who wanted to run and hide when I turned on the light in a dark room on vacation. In my Shame blog Part 1, I recommended five things you can do to identify and push back against shame.
4 Ways to Identify Shame:
- Get help.
- Grow in personal awareness.
- Practice learning to “trace and replace” the underlying thoughts that cause you to feel shame.
- Watch out for and stop, challenge, and choose to end all shaming self-talk.
- Check out these helpful resources:
Now that you are able to better identify shame, you can work toward minimizing shame’s impact on how you feel about yourself and how you interact with others. Here are four helpful tools to battle shame.
4 Ways to Battle Shame:
- Choose to minimize time spent with people that shame you or other people. Even if you don’t think shaming talk is a big deal, just hearing someone insult and belittle others is harmful for you. We need to avoid shame spreaders as much as possible. Research about “Emotional Contagion” explains why. You will become like them. So be careful with whom you spend your time.
- Increase time spent with people who respect, appreciate, and build you up.
- Build others up. You need affirmation and encouragement, but don’t other people?
- Check your words, attitudes, and actions towards others to make sure you are not spreading shame. Even if it is a “joke.” Humor that causes shame is not funny. I recognize I have people I need to apologize to in this area.
- Make a lengthy list of things that are good and that you value about your spouse (or other loved ones). Make the list as long as you can and look at it often. Use it to tell your spouse how you value them and the good you see in them. Do this frequently throughout your day and on a daily basis. As you discover more attributes in which to praise your spouse, add them to the list. As you continue this process, you will find your list becoming a living document that fills your heart and flows out of your mouth. One couple after another has shared with me that this one simple habit has been a major turning point in battling shame and transforming their marriage.
Smashing the ‘Shame’ Bug
I know this is a heavy blog. I write about shame because I too have been unaware of this silent force in my life. It’s hard work, but I have pushed against my own shame and have been amazed to see how it has changed my life and my marriage. In counseling, I hear and see shame undermining so many marriages. Let me encourage you. If you do the messy work to smash this bug called shame in your life, you will free yourself from those continuous feelings of sadness, isolation, loneliness and thinking you’re not ‘not enough’. It will make all the difference in your marriage and improve your relationship more than you ever could imagine.
Jeff is a guest blog writer for Married Life Counseling. Through his own experience as a husband, and many years of counseling couples as a pastor, Jeff has developed a passion for marriage and helping to restore relationships. Jeff has been married to his wife, Joyce, for 39 years. Together they have continued to grow a healthy and flourishing marriage.