When a person feels shame in their life, they can have a tendency to “attack the self”. This is something people use as a way of coping with the direct experiences of shame.
“Rather than suffer the internal experience of being humiliated or abandoned by their partner, they beat them to the punch and reject their partner”( De Young 2015: 61)
People carrying a lot of shame have a tendency to take negative feelings out on themselves and to give themselves a hard time by being extremely self-blaming.
When a child experiences their mother or father projecting their anxiety onto them, they react by shutting down or avoiding interactions. This can affect a relationship by one partner being avoidant as a way of protecting themselves. This can be seen by their partner as not caring any more or that they have done something wrong.
A client may learn that avoiding closeness in relationships means they wouldn’t have to go through the pain of needing something they could never have, and so avoid feeling the unbearable longing by keeping themselves disconnected.
“Clients put up relational barriers to protect themselves from getting hurt”(De Young 2003:71).
My work as a couple’s therapist is to slowly and gently offer the couple a space in which they can begin to reconnect with each other in a relationship and allow previously disowned parts of the self to emerge in a safe and attuned environment.
Working therapeutically with couples who experience shame requires patience and trust in their own process, as many clients have experienced decades of feeling inadequate and unworthy. However, over time, a person can start to reduce their shame and let their partner in on an intimate level.
The painful effects of shame can be reduced and healing can begin when we start by bringing our fears and shameful feelings into the open- when we keep them to ourselves our distress is increased, and we feel even more alone.
The problem with shame is that it’s often harder to talk about than other emotions. This is because of its hidden nature and the defences that clients use to protect themselves from feeling it.
Through working with clients, I have learnt that underlying shame cannot be addressed until a secure and trusting relationship has first developed between the client and therapist.