An illustration of how shame can play out can be found in the following scenario. Letâ€™s say the wife has complained about something that her husband has done. His reaction might be like this: â€śIâ€™m just a terrible person. I never do anything right. I should have never married.â€ť Then there is the display of pouting accompanied with the silent treatment. There is the closing down and the hurt feelings. The wife may respond, â€śIâ€™m not saying you are a bad husband. You do a lot of good things.â€ť Now it is no longer about her, but him. The focus is about how she has wounded him and how he is the victim of her sharing the problem. It is almost like he is saying, â€śLook what you did to me. Donâ€™t you feel bad?â€ť We call this maneuver â€śmerging.â€ť Merging happens when one partner moves the focus to himself by playing the victim. He has stopped her from talking about something that was important to her and now she is dealing with his feelings and his â€śdamaged self-image.â€ť
There is a difference between shame and guilt. Shame is feeling bad about ourselves. We feel like we are damaged or defective. So if we feel shame, the focus is on how we failed again. Shame is like having within us an internal critical voice that continues to remind us that we are a failure and defective. Guilt is about what we do, not who we are.
do not let the mistake say who you are,
but only what you did.
We can change what we did.
For some of us, beating ourselves up is used as a substitute for changing behavior. Our partner would rather for us to admit our mistake and make the change that needs to be made than feel bad about ourselves. Besides, beating ourselves up does not change the infraction.
It is important to remember that our partner wants us to understand how our actions have hurt her. Our partner would like to be able to share how our action upset her without our pouting or shutting down or feeling bad about ourselves. We need to focus on her to understand how our action has impacted her.
Some of the things to remember are:
â€˘ When we make a mistake, do not let the mistake say who you are, but only what you did. We can change what we did.
â€˘ When we hurt someone, focus on that person so we understand his or her hurt.
â€˘ When we berate ourselves, it doesnâ€™t address the problem. It simply diverts attention from the real problem. Focus on the issue at hand.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700
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