There is something that will almost always sabotage any new love relationship, any promising Honeymoon Period – something which is acquired early in life and then, often unconsciously, carried into adulthood – and it’s the other “s” word – shame.
Shame is that awful feeling of low self-esteem, that overriding sense that one is somehow defective, broken, and worthless – “worth less”. It’s that terrible feeling of being damaged to the core, broken, not measuring up, dirty, just not good enough. When we’re shame-based, we just don’t think enough of ourselves to make things such as self-care much of a priority. We stay stuck in destructive patterns, like addictive behaviors, relentless fear, depression, or toxic apathy.
Now, it’s important to note that shame is different from guilt. Guilt says, “I DID something bad”. Shame says, “I AM bad”. Guilt is usually a feeling about some behavior. Shame operates at the soul level; it goes deep into the innate feelings about the self.
Shame-based people will typically adopt negative and non-life affirming attitudes like:
· What’s the use?
· Nobody cares about me.
· I’m no good.
· I’ll never make the grade.
· I’m rotten to the core.
· I wish I’d never been born.
And, if these ways of thinking aren’t bad enough, just look at these self-shaming statements:
· Nobody loves me.
· People will always disappoint me.
· It’s safer staying single.
· Getting close to anyone is dangerous.
· I’ll never be good enough for anyone.
· In the end, I’ll always get hurt.
Talk about self- sabotaging ways of thinking, especially if you’re truly wanting a healthy connection with that “special other”!
The really scary thing about shame is its dehumanizing quality and how it can eventually kill the soul. Over time, shame-based thinking can take over the whole self, making a person completely unavailable to love and be loved.
John Bradshaw, the great writer, lecturer, and consummate expert on the subject of shame, effectively sums up this ultimate and debilitating obstruction to intimacy:
“To have shame as an identity is to believe that one’s being is flawed, that one is defective as a human being. Once shame is transformed into an identity, it becomes toxic and dehumanizing.”
Now, at one point or another, most of us have had bouts with shame. Most of us have felt “less than” or not “good enough” at some time in our lives – it’s only normal. But when we enter into that free-falling, demoralizing “shame spiral,” when we really get down on ourselves and begin to feel like damaged goods, that’s when things get serious. That’s when we need to do something about it.
Usually, it means we have to take better care of ourselves – in all ways. For some of us, we might need to eat better or exercise more. We may want to draw our confidants, our friends and families, closer to us in order to talk it out. (Shame likes to stay hidden!) Knowing that shame underlies all addictions, some of us may need to address our addictive tendencies and attend 12-Step Recovery meetings. If that’s not working, getting professional help may be what’s needed, especially if this shame-based pattern has gone on for too long and never gets directly addressed.
However it comes about, or eventually worked through, shame needs to be changed, exposed, and transformed into true self-acceptance. Self-destructive beliefs need to be turned into self-loving beliefs.
One powerful way to do this, especially if you intend to connect with another (and yourself!) at the most intimate level possible, is through affirmations, positive self-statements like:
- Just for today, I am open to love.
- I deserve to be loved.
- I deserve a loving partnership.
- Just for today, I accept myself completely.
- I’m okay just the way I am.
- I’m taking care of myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Although it may feel a bit awkward at first (negative beliefs don’t change overnight!) saying these affirmations to yourself, out loud, will help to change the way you look at yourself for the better. Again, the idea is to transfer negative beliefs about self into more positive ones.
So if a successful and promising Honeymoon Period, free of anything that could get in the way of long-term intimacy, is what you’re after, consider looking at how you really see yourself, and do those things that will improve your self-image.
May you keep shame far, far, away – you deserve it!