The concept of shame is ignored in almost all of dating and relationships advice community. After all, it isn’t exactly ‘good game’ to be talking about your childhood issues as compared to writing lay reports or comparing kiss close ratios. Over the years, forward thinking dating and life coaches have related their dating issues to shame and my personal belief is that it’s helpful to look at the concept of shame for both men and women struggling with these issues.
Introduction to The Psychology of Shame
Shame is the belief that you’re fundamentally flawed as a human being. It is different from the feeling of guilt. Shame means: if you don’t something bad, it means that you’re a bad person. If you feel guilty, there’s no judgment on yourself.
Shame often leads to emotional discomfort and the gnawing belief that one is inherently flawed, defective and unworthy of love.
Shame is formed in childhood and is the result of early trauma, emotional abuse and negative experiences. This can come in the form of sexual abuse, coming from a neglected family background, growing up in dire economic conditions and etc.
It defines our emotional maps, and how we experience relationships and intimacy.
Let’s take the example of neglect, abuse or over pampering from parents, which is a common problem in the modern world. Their parent’s actions cause the child to internalise that he or she fundamentally isn’t worthy of love as an individual. That he or she is only worth of love from his actions or achievements, and not as a human being. The child has to learn that he can not be perfect or even good at something, and still be worthy of love and still not be defective.
Trauma triggers a fight or flight response. This cause anxiety or avoidance. You either react by being hyper aroused (anxiety) or you shut down from the stimuli (avoidance). Trauma also causes us to disconnect from pleasure or comfort. Being traumatized is not just as issue of being stuck in the past, it is just as much a problem of not being fully alive in the present. The apprehension about being hijacked by uncomfortable sensations keeps the body frozen and the mind numbed.
Or perhaps you’ve been there yourself. You’re hanging out with the partner of your dreams, and you either get to excited, or you either numb yourself out. Either way, you fail horribly. This is because these experiences rub against our emotional maps.
Shame based individuals didn’t receive the nurturance, unconditional love and their needs fulfilled when they’re a child.
They then seek to fulfil these needs in adult pursuits through accomplishments, relationships, sex, financial goals and more. This leads an ever fluctuation of self esteem and mood, because the external world is always changing, and your self esteem is going to be dependent on the reactions of others.
Ultimately, these unmet childhood needs through external pursuits. They are band aid solutions.
So, in order the avoid these negative feelings, some of the common coping measures<[iv]of people inflicted with shame are:
- Sexual fantasy, pornography and excessive masturbation
- Hyper vigilance
These actions not only aren’t helpful, but they also exacerbate pre-existing shame. They create a deeper sense of emotional discomfort and a more powerful need/desire to escape and dissociate.
Then there’s the concept of sexual shame. When it comes to sexual shame, you’re dealing with issues specifically with your relationship with the opposite sex. Sexual shame is a subcategory of shame. However, both of them have similar underlying principles.
The Effects of Shame
- Self Criticism
One of the effects of shame is self criticism.
The amygdala is designed to detect threats in the environment, when we experience a threatening situation, the fight or flight response is triggered and the amygdala sends signals that increase blood pressure, adrenaline and cortisol.
This system was designed to deal with physical attacks and is activated just as readily by emotional attacks. From ourselves and others. Over time, increased cortisol levels lead to depression by depleting various neurotransmitters involved in the ability to experience pleasure. It leads to a lot of unneeded daily mental stress, as if you’re constantly in fight or flight mode.
Shame based individuals self handicap themselves a lot. This can play out in academic pursuits, in business projects, in your relationships.
This is because they perceive every rejection or failure as a judgment about their identity.
It’s the guy who doesn’t studies and goes into the examinations. If he failed, it would be an easy excuse to say: well, I didn’t study after all. If he did alright: he’ll be able to say that he could have done better if he had studied. It’s much easier to go in half assed, and not put his identity on his line, rather than give it his best and put himself up for failure or rejection.
- The Sub human/ Super human Dichotomy
Shame based individuals may also have trouble integrating worldviews. This is also known as the subhuman and superhuman dichotomy. Everything is all or nothing, black or white, one extreme or another. Everyone’s your best friend or your enemy, every pursuit is your life purpose or a waste of time, everyone girl you date is either your soul mate or a time sink.
Shame based individuals cannot see a situation or a human for it’s good and bad, and understand that it can both occur at the same time.
Understanding The Inferiority Gap
How people react to an insecurity (shame) is to either avoid, surrender or to overcompensate around that insecurity.
If you’re overcompensating in any area of your, it’s feeds further into that insecurity. For Eg. If you’re insecure about your sexuality around women, attempting to overcompensate and sleeping with a hundred girls is still feeding that insecurity.
This is why you get serial players from the pick up artist community, and years after, they still don’t feel much different about their self worth when it comes to women. The way to get comfortable with your sexuality isn’t trying to have sex with the whole planet, but to find that middle ground of not overcompensate or avoiding that insecurity.
The route of healing shame isn’t willpower or pure discipline. If you’re getting a 6 pac, going out to pick up girls 6 times a week just to get laid, just to prove to yourself your worth of female attention, you’re still insecure around that area
- Cultivating Mindfulness
Shame often leads us to be disembodied, removed from our physical experiences and often unable to experience the pleasure that we would normally experience if not for all the layers of shame.
Learning to locate tense body parts and progressively relax them in anxiety-provoking scenarios (real or imagined) allows us to re-experience our bodies in non-shaming ways. This way, you Nudge yourself to explore our sexualities in new, safe and pleasurable manners, you can chip at your emotional habits.
One of the techniques I found helpful over the years was to be aware of how I was feeling of my body. This is to simply focus on the sensations in your body when you’re in different social situations.
You can yourself questions like: why does that part of your body feel stuck when I’m talking to this person. Was I repressing a certain emotion? It’s basically mind body awareness.
Meditation can also help by observing our thoughts, emotions throughout our day. By being aware of our beliefs, you can test out new beliefs and find new evidence to support new beliefs.
In my case, my core belief is that I’m not ‘useful’, ‘smart’ or ‘hardworking’ if I don’t have a ‘practical’ degree. The counter argument for that would be: I’ve consulted two businesses in their digital marketing campaigns and achieved results for them, there’s no reason why I’m not ‘useful’, ‘smart’ or ‘hardworking’.
You can also try to figure out where did these old beliefs came from. These beliefs probably came from past experiences in your life. This may come in the form of overbearing, critical parents, past trauma from past experiences. For EG. If you had been constantly turned down by your parents when you’re in need for affection, you’ll may constantly feel unworthy of love or attention.
Mindfulness puts us in touch with the transitory nature of our feelings, beliefs and perceptions. Simply noticing our annoyance, nervousness, anxiety, helps shift our perspective and opens up new options other than automatic, habitual reactions.
You can recognize the ebb and flows in your emotions, and ultimately have more control over them.
- Self Compassion
Through the last few years, researchers have taken an increased interest in the subject of compassion. There’s been research done between shame and self compassion.
Research also suggests that self compassion is significantly associated with positive mental health benefits and adaptive function.[vii]
When I first started bettering my social skillsets, the primary motivation was to attract women, and influence others.
There were many instances where I ended up feeling empty inside at times. It’s almost as if I was trying to please others, or become someone else in order to win their approval. I felt like I could understand them, but they couldn’t understand me.
It’s not enough to be understanding or empathetic to your world around you. You got to extend it to yourself.[viii]
- Social Support, Safe Relationships and Communal Rhythms
Social support and safe relationships are one of the key factors when getting better with trauma. I find safe relationships important for the healing process. You need to find someone who is emotionally mature enough to talk to and express your hurt and anger without giving you biased advice or judgment.
Caveat: It may be difficult to express grief in modern society. Family members or friends around you might feel impatient if you’re stuck in your grief or hurt. This is why I highly recommend hiring a therapist and letting him or her do the heavy work for you.
I also recommend keeping a community of friends around you and taking part in social activities. Socializing is a helpful activity to find a sense of connection.
There’s research that goes to show that music and rhythms can help with trauma. This can come in the form of aikido, kickboxing classes, tango dancing and other forms of communal rhythm.
This helps with helping people with shame reconnect with their bodies. Traumatized people are afraid to feel, remember? When you play together, you feel physically attuned and experience a sense of connection.
I practiced martial arts through my teens and early twenties. Till date, I credit martials arts as one of the establishing factors in my day to day confidence, especially when I’m travelling abroad alone.
- Psychotherapy and EMDR
So far, I’ve discussed methods that are self generated. However, as with everything done by your own, it has limitations.
One of the most helpful ways to get a third person’s perspective is the hire a professional psychologist. You’re dealing with someone who you can openly talk about your shame, who is capable of not only listen to it, but help you with it.
They are emotional blind spots that I had no awareness of until I consulted psychologist.
There are many forms of therapy that can help with resolving trauma and shame ranging from cognitive behavioural therapy to EMDR.
Taking Action: The Way Forward on How to Overcome Shame
If you’re always suppressing emotions, you are at war with yourself. Hiding your core feelings take a huge amount of energy. It saps motivation and willpower to pursue worthwhile goals. Meanwhile, you’re going to accumulate stress hormones, leaving you emptied out, with headaches, migraines, problems with bowels and sexual functions.
It’s only after you identify the root of these responses that you can start using your feelings as a signal of problems that require your urgent attention.
You cannot put traumatic events behind until they are able to acknowledge what has happened and start to recognize the invisible narratives you’re struggling with.
The simplest form of action you can take in overcoming shame in your day to day lives is vulnerability.
This ties in with what I encourage on my site, in bettering your dating and relationship lives through authenticity. Firstly, this displays true confidence and secondly, by being more forthright about your thoughts, feelings and desires to yourself and others, you’re closer expressing your shame, expressing parts of yourself you were embarrassed about.
Human beings are driven by unconscious and subconscious drives and some times, circumstances that are out of our control. Our minds are really smart at building up defence mechanism, and you and I end up mortgaging short term comforts for long term happiness.
You may find yourself in temporary frustration of the surroundings around you, upset at how little you expected out of yourself in the past, upset at all the decisions made out of shame.
Nonetheless, the only way is through and the self responsibility of healing growth and change.
Jeff Greenberg; Sander L. Koole; Tom Pyszczynski (2013). Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology. Guilford Publications. p. 159.
Bradshaw, John (2005) Healing the Shame That Binds You (2nd edition)
D., B. V. The Body Keeps the Score.
Wurmser L, Shame, the veiled companion of narcissism, in The Many Faces of Shame, edited by Nathanson DL. New York, Guilford, 1987, pp. 64–92.
Kaufman, Gershen. The psychology of shame: theory and treatment of shame-based syndromes. 2 ed. New York: Springer Pub. Co., 1996. xvi. Print.
Girlbert, P., Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate Mind Training for People with High Shame and Self-Criticism: Overview and Pilot Study of a Group Therapy Approach. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 353-379.
Neff, K. (2004). Self Compassion and Psychological Well Being. Constructivism in the Human Sciences, 9, 27-37.
Quote from The Buddha