Dealing With Shame When It Affects Your Relationship
Shame is a painful emotion hard to talk about because we feel others will judge or reject us. It is one of the most challenging emotions that affect relationships. It leaves a person feeling unworthy, embarrassed, humiliated, or damaged. The feeling makes you want to run away, tense up, or be defensive toward others. Shame is more profound when feeling vulnerable. It makes receiving love or acceptance from others more difficult. Acknowledging why you feel shame is an important step to understanding why and how it affects a relationship.
Talking about Shame Isn't Easy
Something that causes you to feel fearful of what others will think, say, or do is shameful. You may think the person you care about will abandon you, laugh, or insult you if they learn what is behind your vulnerability. Some confuse shame with guilt. When you feel guilty about something, you look to make things right. It is like admitting to a mistake and wanting to correct the situation. Shame makes it difficult to accept responsibility for our actions. It can get worse, reoccurring later in life when it gets harder to admit we did something unacceptable.
Shame affects people differently. Someone may feel shame for something another person may not. Shame may be associated with beliefs from earlier in life related to actions that define a person as good or bad or worthy and unworthy. People can have an ideal perspective of themselves and feel shameful when personal expectations are not met. A person may have expectations for themselves or describe themselves as independent, intelligent, and on top of things. But a situation may change their perspective when they feel exposed or unsafe emotionally, such as in a relationship.
Shame Creates Disconnect of Emotions
Talking to others when feeling shameful seems impossible. A person feels detached from others when they try to talk about it. Just the effort of trying to talk about it triggers shame creating a disconnection from others. Emotional connections become weak or damaged when shame is in the picture. It can impair relations between partners because emotions will vary from one person to another. It affects the level of connection a relationship can have. When an emotional disconnect occurs, it becomes a threat to the relationship.
While shame creates an emotional disconnect in relationships, it is a fundamental emotion to acknowledge because it influences a person's actions. Some may not view shame as a bad thing but as a way to help partners establish and maintain their individuality. Some couples are so caught up in each other they become codependent. Sometimes miscommunications may result, making it difficult to reconcile. Sometimes a person has difficulty dealing with shame because they fear it. It makes establishing limitations or boundaries challenging because of emotional barriers.
The Importance of Empathy
When you feel down, it is hard to admit your feelings. It is vital to learn how to be open with your feelings and emotions. Self-disclosure is a productive way of dealing with shame. It sets an example for others and shows it is okay. Others can relate to the same feelings, but many hold them back out of fear of what others will say about them. Shame can keep a person from admitting they were wrong or made a mistake, but making such an admission helps you feel better. Self-disclosure lessens feelings of shame and makes forgiveness more comfortable to achieve.
Studies show that men and women react to shame differently in specific situations. The perspective is connected to how men and women are triggered by shame. Women feel shame when they don't meet the expectations of being a mother, wife, sister, or breadwinner. Many women don't want to appear weak to their partners. Women often blame themselves while men commonly blame others for their shame. Men tend to be upset, angry, or uneasy when feeling ashamed.
How Shame Affects Relationships
People commonly hide their shame, but it undermines relationships because it affects our actions. It creates physical effects that affect how you respond. When people feel ashamed, they keep their heads down, avoid eye contact, blush, or force a smile. Emotionally, they may show annoyance, denial, or irritability. The effects of shame make thinking clearly a challenge. Some experience their mind going blank, a state of confusion, or have no words. If you've done something wrong that hurt your partner's feelings, it won't be easy to admit it or apologize for it. Shame can make you feel uncomfortable but also create a false perception that you're not good enough.
Shame may be an underlying cause for relationship problems couples may not realize. It is common for couples to experience disagreements when it comes to things like money or intimacy. Each partner may have issues within an issue that affect their shame. For example, money causes problems when partners are not happy about how it is spent. A man may see the money spent on things as unnecessary, but he is upset and feels unimportant underneath his views. A woman may spend more just because she feels unworthy or alone. With intimacy, a partner may not want to have sex. Their excuse is because they are tired or not in the mood, but they could feel unattractive or think they are lousy in bed.
What Happens If You Don't Confront Shame?
Shame can lead to unintentional actions, activities, or emotions that may affect your well-being as well as your relationship. When avoiding shame, people may turn to unhealthy actions such as addiction. They allow their minds to be fixated on things such as food, drugs, alcohol, or work when feelings go numb. A person may feel they are not good enough. They try to avoid criticism or blame while trying to prove themselves. A person may experience anxiety while trying to handle everything and act as if things are okay. A person may become depressed or undeserving when feeling helpless.
Partners may have shame that originated elsewhere before they entered into a relationship with each other. It affects who you are as an individual. Shame may also result from something that occurred during your relationship, such as a critical remark. Such shame may result from an abusive relationship causing loss of emotional confidence.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
Tips on How to Deal with Shame
Shame brings discomfort no one wants to deal with, but it gets difficult pretending it doesn't exist. It is a personal feeling of pain and humiliation that affects how you make choices in your life and a relationship. Putting it out there is the last thing you want to do, but it may be essential to helping your relationship get to a better place. Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:
- Learn how to pay attention to one's feelings. It takes courage to explore your feelings, but being open and honest about them will help you understand them from another perspective. Please take note of your reaction to things and how it affects the actions of your partner.
- Establish an environment that encourages partners to be patient and transparent with each other. It will also make forgiveness easier. Part of this includes working on communication and being open with each other. Being comfortable with your feelings sets the tone for each partner to create a foundation or starting point to acknowledge their shame.
- Know how to show support. Be respectful of each other as your thoughts and emotions. Treat your partner the way you want to be treated. Show the comfort you wish to receive. Let them know it is okay to their feelings, and you want to understand their position. If they are willing to make a change or take on an effort to do better, let them know you have their back.
- Learn how to deal with your shame. There are proactive ways to deal with shame, such as talking about it with someone you trust, learning to acknowledge feelings associated with your shame, and writing about your emotions to increase self-awareness. You can also work with a relationship expert for professional guidance.
- Be truthful about your feelings. Avoid denying or defending who you are, how you feel, where you've been, and what you want. Focus on what you feel at this moment. The more you about your emotions, the better your partner understands your position. It helps achieve acceptance of each other along with workable solutions for a favorable result.
- Accept your partner the way you want to be accepted. When partners are truthful and willing to see each other eye to eye, you can accept each other honestly and respectfully.
Hope for Dealing with Shame in Relationships
It is okay to talk about shame. It is important because it helps uncover the root cause and identify feelings that cause it. Talking about it helps understand how it impacts relationships. You'll learn how to confront shame and how to omit unhealthy thoughts of not being good enough. Many couples have found couples counseling helpful when exploring ways to heal from shame. Get answers to questions you have and express your concerns so that both partners can grow productively in the relationship.
Shame affects relationships in different ways. It affects emotions, thoughts, and feelings that influence key parts of a relationship. It is essential to deal with shame when it affects relationships because it may lead to unintentional results. A healthy, loving relationship is possible when you learn productive ways to deal with shame.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the signs of shame?
Feelings of shame can come in many different forms because the emotion is complex. However, the signs and symptoms aren’t always easy to spot. So, here’s what you need to look out for:
#1. Fantasies about Disappearing
One of the most common signs of shame is the desire to run away or disappear. Shameful emotions often cause a person to disconnect from others and isolate themselves while they nurse their wounds. This might include avoiding phone calls, canceling plans, or making excuses for being antisocial.
#2. Anger or Rage
Anger is another symptom, and it’s typically brought on by a person’s inability to accept the realities of their situation. Oftentimes, it’s easier to blame others for our mistakes. However, anger works as a mask for our true emotions and is a major sign that we carry shame.
#3. Blame (of Self)
Self-blame happens a lot when you feel shameful. Imagine, for example, someone getting feedback from an instructor. If that student responds with “Why am I so incompetent,” they most likely carry shame that hasn’t been addressed properly.
#4. Sadness or Anxiety
Shame can make it difficult to enjoy a healthy relationship because it can cause depression and/or anxiety. This is especially true for people who feel shameful about something that pertained to their love life or social circle.
Those who feel shame often seek solace in drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or other addictive things. Substances and distractions are then used to numb painful emotions, creating a dangerous snowball effect that may cause even bigger problems over time.
Look for these signs to = stay vigilant about your mental health. To heal from shame, begin your negative emotions and self-critical thought with a counselor or talk to someone you trust.
How do you deal with a hurt husband?
Dealing with a hurt spouse can be tough because the emotions are raw, and there’s a lot at stake. However, it’s worth working toward to happy solution if you want to save your marriage. So, if your significant other is upset about something, here’s what you should do:
- Find out what caused the hurt. This requires lots of active listening and an open heart that doesn’t judge. So, be kind and try to hear what your spouse is saying.
- Ask if there’s something you could do or change. As long as it’s not a drastic shift in your fundamental personality, it’s fair to adjust for the sake of your relationship.
- Be forgiving and empathetic. Remember, there’s not much to learn from resentment and little to gain from coldness. So, be honest but allow your spouse to have their feelings naturally.
- Offer something in return. Give your spouse a meaningful gift to say sorry or make a conscientious change to prevent the hurt from happening again.
- Seek professional help if you need it. Don’t be afraid to reach out for expert marriage advice, especially if the hurt is too deep or the healing process is too slow.
Try not to let emotional withdrawal take its toll on your marriage. Intimate relationships require empathy, patience, and hard work. So, let these positive, uplifting, and compassionate approaches help you heal before the problems get out of hand.
How do I treat my husband responsibly?
Healthy relationships start with happy partners and end where that happiness stops. However, it’s hard for a spouse to be happy when their partner isn’t treating them responsibly. At the same time, responsible spouses are defined by several different factors, including but not limited to these:
- Cultural norms
- Religious dogmas
- Social practices
- Personal preferences
- Pre-nuptial agreements
- Marital vows
- Mid-marriage promises
Based on those things, a spouse’s duties can and will vary greatly. Still, 10 basic behaviors span across most cultures and societies:
#1. Don’t be bitter or resentful.
Angry, indignant partners can make it virtually impossible to have a happy relationship.
#2. Give him the reins.
Allow the dominant partner to operate in their most natural state to show love and trust.
#3. Try not to nag.
Give your partner feedback but leave plenty of room for organic growth without harsh words.
#4. Have lots of respect.
Understand that your spouse is a lovable human being with unique life experiences that deserve the honor.
#5. Be patient and kind.
No two people behave the same, so try to keep your partner’s good intentions in mind by being kind.
#6. Practice forgiveness.
Allow your spouse to make minor mistakes without turning them into major problems.
#7. Take care of yourself.
Stay primed to show your spouse that you truly care about their opinion and public image.
#8. Be good to your in-laws.
Try not to show disrespect or resentment to the people your spouse loves because that’s painful.
#9. Don’t bring him public shame.
Never discuss personal matters outside of the family home unless you’re talking to a counselor.
#10. Stay faithful.
Cheating is one of the most disrespectful things a spouse can do to their partner, it is a sign of disrespect in a relationship, so don’t.
For more help with treating your spouse responsibly or determining whether it’s time to start a new relationship, talk to a marriage therapist as soon as possible.
What is core shame?
Every person on Earth has or will experience shame at some point in their lives. However, core shame is something different because it originates from a more primitive place in our brains. Human beings are visceral creatures with animalistic instincts. In general, the species wants to be constantly revered and win every prize. But reality paints a different picture that ultimately contributes to foundational feelings of shamefulness and regret.
For example, dutiful guardians teach children to be respectful, hard-working, and well-mannered despite those natural urges to the contrary. If everything works out, the child’s primitive narcissistic instincts will shrink instead of a healthier sense of self. Alternatively, if things don’t work out, that child could reach adolescence with a deep sense of core shame for not properly understanding the confines of reality or for placing blame on themselves.
What is the root cause of shame?
It can be hard to feel happy or make a relationship work when you feel shame, so it’s important to understand the root cause. In general, shameful emotions emerge in childhood. Based on the contrary or hurtful messages you received as a youngster, you could develop a negative self-image as a result. Oftentimes, that shame persists as we self-evaluate with an overly critical eye, especially about situations over which we had little to no control. More specifically, shame may stem from the architecture of evolved disease avoidance. In other words, it may be caused by revulsion and guilt being reflected on one’s self - i.e., viewing the self as the root cause of the mental or emotional defect.
Where is shame held in the body?
Shame can affect many parts of the brain and body, but it most often causes stomach pains and/or body language changes. For example, we commonly feel shameful emotions in the pits of our stomachs. Or we begin to walk, talk, and move differently due to our negative mental state. However, shame can also affect the entire anatomy as we search for a haven from judgmental eyes.
What part of the brain controls shame?
The neuroscience of shame is fascinating, although there’s still much to be discovered. So far, neuroscientists understand that shame typically originates in the frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe controls cognition, emotion, memory, judgment, and even our sexual tendencies. It’s essentially the “motherboard” of our brains - the medial and inferior frontal gyrus that dictates our personalities and perceptions of reality.
Interestingly, guilt and shame usually go hand-in-hand. However, guilt is processed in a different part of the brain. According to research, emotion is controlled by the brain’s amygdala and insula. This tells us that both shame and guilt are activated by the emotion-processing centers of our brains - most notably the ventral striatum and bilateral dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for self-evaluation. If you don't know how to cope with guilt or shame, considering the help of professionals can be a good option.