Unraveling Shame

Unraveling Shame with Jess Kovic


What is Shame?

Shame is a feeling of embarrassment or guilt that arises when someone believes they have done something wrong or violated social norms. It’s a powerful emotion that can make individuals want to hide or avoid others. People may experience shame when they perceive their actions or behaviors as unacceptable or when they fear judgment from others. This emotion often involves a sense of inadequacy or unworthiness. In essence, shame is a complex emotional response linked to our sense of morality and societal expectations, influencing how we view ourselves in relation to others.

Why Does Betrayal Trauma Bring Shame?

We feel shame when someone betrays us because betrayal directly attacks our self-worth. When a partner cheats or lies, it causes us to question if we are good enough. We wonder what is so wrong with us that our partner would hurt us like that. Even when we logically know their betrayal is about their own issues, we still feel deeply insecure and exposed. We may blame ourselves, thinking if only we had been better somehow, the betrayal would not have happened. The intimate nature of the relationship makes their betrayal feel like a statement about our value. So shame fills the empty spaces where our self-confidence used to be before it was shattered. This betrayal trauma and shame can be very hard to overcome.

Those who experience betrayal trauma often take on the shame and blame that belongs to others due to the vulnerable state they find themselves in. This type of trauma can occur when individuals feel betrayed by someone they trust, leading to profound emotional distress. In the aftermath of such betrayal, victims may internalize feelings of guilt and responsibility, even when they are not at fault. This tendency to shoulder undeserved shame can have lasting effects on their self-esteem and mental well-being. It highlights the complex interplay between trust, betrayal, and the emotional toll it takes on those who endure such challenging experiences.

Why Is Shame So Insidious?

Shame often originates from the secrecy and silence surrounding the betrayal trauma. This breeds layers of shame before healing even begins. When individuals face betrayal, the tendency to keep the experience hidden or unspoken contributes to a sense of isolation and self-blame. The silence shrouding the traumatic event allows shame to fester and multiply, creating a complex emotional burden. The layers of shame can hinder the healing process, as the individual grapples not only with the betrayal itself but also with the weight of unspoken emotions. Breaking the cycle of silence and addressing the roots of shame is crucial for fostering a path toward recovery and rebuilding trust in oneself and others.

How Is Perfectionism a Manifestation of Shame?

Perfectionism can be seen as a manifestation of shame because it often stems from an underlying fear of not being “good enough” or fear of being criticized or rejected by others. Individuals who struggle with perfectionism set unrealistically high standards for themselves, aiming for flawlessness in their actions, appearance, or achievements. This constant pursuit of perfection is driven by a desire to avoid feelings of inadequacy and shame. The fear of making mistakes or falling short becomes so overwhelming that individuals may engage in rigid, all-or-nothing thinking. Any perceived imperfection can trigger a deep sense of shame, reinforcing the belief that their self-worth is tied to meeting unattainable standards. In this way, perfectionism becomes a coping mechanism to shield oneself from the shame that arises from perceived shortcomings or failures.

Shame If You Stay; Shame If You Go

The societal shame placed on individuals facing relationship challenges is a complex phenomenon that manifests in different ways. Those who choose to stay in a relationship and work towards healing may face judgment and criticism from society, which often questions their decision to persevere through difficulties. On the other hand, those who decide to end a relationship may encounter societal stigma, with judgments about their commitment, endurance, or ability to make relationships work. These societal narratives can be restrictive and contribute to feelings of shame, as individuals grapple with the perceived expectations and opinions of others.

The key to overcoming this societal shame lies in rejecting these predefined narratives and instead writing one’s own story. Each relationship is unique, and the dynamics involved are known only to those directly involved. Recognizing that societal expectations do not dictate the worth or validity of personal choices empowers individuals to make decisions based on their own values, needs, and circumstances. It involves embracing the complexity of relationships and understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Choosing to stay and work on a relationship or deciding to leave are both valid paths, and individuals should be free to navigate these choices without undue societal pressure. By prioritizing personal well-being and authenticity over societal expectations, individuals can redefine their narratives and find a path that aligns with their own values and aspirations. Ultimately, breaking free from societal shame allows for the possibility of genuine self-discovery, growth, and the creation of relationships that align with one’s authentic self.

How to Overcome Shame After a Betrayal

There are many strategies you can employ as you learn how to overcome shame, especially after a betrayal. 

1 – Talk About It

Do not bottle up shame. It grows in darkness and silence. Open up to safe people about what you are feeling. Marriage counseling after infidelity can be a good way for couples to safely express their feelings while learning new tools for healing.

2 – Write Down Your Self Talk

Journal all the negative thoughts and self blame running through your mind. Do not hold back. Get it all down. Then go back and underline what thoughts are true facts vs. thoughts with no proof. You will likely find most are just thoughts, not facts.

3 – Challenge Your Inner Critic

Ask yourself “Who says this? Why am I so sure it is true?” The voice in your head putting you down often stems from past hurts or false lessons. Talk back to your inner critic when they pipe up.

4 – Forgive Yourself

You have been through trauma! Of course you will not handle everything perfectly. Do not expect to. Extend yourself compassion and lobby against unrealisticly high expectations. They set you up for shame.

5 – Make New Rules

Just because others say “You should have…” or “You should leave/stay” does not mean you have to listen! What others think is okay for them may not work for you. Make decisions from your own wisdom.

6 – Control Comparisons

When you compare yourself to others impacted by betrayal, shame can take over fast. Limit comparisons. Stay focused on your unique path and don’t measure yourself against others.

7 – Expect Some Shame

Shame is human. With big trauma, some shame hangs on for a while. But with work, you can get relief for the most part and be resilient when it hits. Healing is not perfect. Keep going.

Marriage Counseling After Infidelity

If you and your partner stay together after betrayal, you may find wonderful growth through marriage counseling or coaching. You likely both feel shame. Good counseling creates a safe space to:

  • Talk openly and really hear each other without freaking out
  • Understand reasons for the cheating so you can heal hurts
  • Discuss changes needed to rebuild broken trust
  • Share feelings of shame, anger and sorrow
  • Learn skills to communicate better going forward
  • Decide if staying together is healthy or right

Not all couples should stay together after infidelity. But finding a therapist, counselor, or coach can help you assess what is best. Working through shame together with a counselor’s assistance often allows feelings to pass quicker. Partners must commit to self work too. Marriage counseling after infidelity will help you and your partner learn to relate to each other in healthy ways without stirring up more shame.In the end, overcoming shame means being kind to yourself first and foremost. Expecting perfection will backfire. Look inward for approval, not outward. Then make decisions that feel true for you. If you are looking for help in overcoming shame caused by infidelity or betrayal trauma, contact us at Choose Recovery Services. Our team of dedicated coaches knows how to help you overcome shame, and will walk with you every step of the way along your healing journey.

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