It serves an evolutionary purpose to help us survive by maintaining a certain level of cooperation among humans, but if it goes unchecked, it can be a relationship poison.
What am I talking about?
You know the feeling.
Let’s do a little exercise in case you don’t.
(because there’s nothing quite like getting in touch with shame)
Stand up, point your toes inward, slouch down and bow your head. Cave in.
And unless you’re sociopathic, you’ve undoubtedly experienced it.
If you’re like most of us, shame makes you want to run and hide, pull the covers up over your head and call it a day.
Real, deep, pure awful shame makes you want to be as far from others as possible.
That’s why it can be so toxic to your relationship.
Shame exists to regulate social behavior and comes online when we fail to cooperate with the group.
Shame tells us we’re bad, and that we don’t deserve to connect with anyone, much less our partners.
So when we’re ashamed, we hide.
Go back into your shame stance for a few seconds.
Standing like that, is it even possible for you to connect with others?
Absolutely not. Your head’s turned down, you are slouched over, and you can’t even move because your feet are turned inward. You are caving into yourself.
Shame breaks down the opportunity to connect with another.
And shame can be tricky, very tricky.
It is such an awful feeling that we try to protect ourselves from it.
We numb out, take pills, booze, smoke or eat ourselves away from it.
But it doesn’t go away.
It sits there inside of us. And it makes us want to create as much distance as possible from it, even though it’s our experience.
When we are out of touch with our experience, we lose touch with ourselves. Our partners then have no way of connecting to us, nor us to them.
So it’s crucial to practice self-awareness and be present.
Mindfulness meditation works great.
But then what?
What happens when you get in touch with your shame?
You feel horrible.
You recognize your feet are turned in, you’re slumped down staring at the floor and you start getting a back ache.
Yep, that’s shame. And it is awful.
But be careful.
I’m telling you not to numb yourself out, but don’t dive into your shame too deep or else you’ll be consumed by it.
I realize I’m being a little self-contradictory here: Feel your shame, but not too much.
By its nature, shame cuts us off from others.
When we feel shame too intensely, we get sucked down into a shame-hole.
The fastest way out of shame is with the help of another.
But that becomes tricky, because remember:
Shame, by its nature, cuts us off from others.
If you can see your shame, know it’s there, feel it to a slight degree and be open to it, that’s great. But don’t let it consume you.
It’s not easy, but here’s what you have to do:
Ask yourself, what are you ashamed of?
If you really did something you regret, allow yourself to feel badly about it. Tell yourself that you were an idiot. Or that you really made a grave mistake.
Do whatever you can do, if even possible, to make it right.
But recognize your imperfection as a human.
None of us ever get it right all of the time.
Offer yourself forgiveness.
But own it.
Own what you’ve done, your experience, and own your shame.
And if it’s about something you did wrong in your relationship, let your partner know.
Invite them into that place where no one is allowed. Allow yourself to touch the edge of that shame and show it to your partner.
Turn your feet out for a second and stand up right.
Remember, shame is important.
It’s there for a reason and it comes with a lesson.
But make sure not to drown in it, as it can be that powerful. When it consumes you, it becomes a relationship poison.
Don’t let something that’s supposed to help your relationship be a poison to it.
In other words, to get the most from shame, practice self-awareness and don’t let it sneak up from you. Learn your lesson and own up to your mistakes and your experience. Try to make things right.
Most importantly, let your partner see you, shame and all.
When you are seen, especially with something as isolating as shame, your connection to your partner will grow that much stronger.
Therein lies your antidote to what could be a relationship poison.
Cheers to your best relationship,