Shame in relationships

Welcome to a 3 part series on: insecurities, shame and judgement.

Shame is generally defined as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of guilt or disgrace which causes people to hide or deny something they feel or have been told is wrong.

Most of us would agree that, despite the change in the moral climate in the United States, many things related to sexuality in our society are still deemed unacceptable. We’ve only recently become more accepting of homosexuality in our society, yet it seems this is only the tip of the sexual iceberg. Being in a consensual non-monogomous relationship might bring with it lots of shame and guilt. I know we’ve had shameful thoughts like “What if someone found out?” or “My parents would flip if they knew we were swingers!” These thoughts cause lots of stress and anxiety that could drive us into a deep, dark place of hiding from being our true authentic selves that we so long to become, especially around the people we love so much.

We reached out to Heather Shannon, LCPC and supervisor of The Lotus Center in Chicago. Heather’s main clinical interests are sex and relationships that include dating anxiety, exploring attachment styles, exploring monogamy and non-monogamy, sexual trauma, etc. She gave us her top 3 suggestions on how to deal with shame:

1. Shine the light of day on it.
Shame likes to live in the dark corners of our minds, tucked away in a closet and locked and barricaded away.  By speaking our shame to someone safe–a partner, a friend, a therapist–we are taking that shame out of the dark recesses of our mind and shining some light on it.  When we get an accepting response from the safe person, we see that we are not so unacceptable after all and that there is another lens through which we can view ourselves–a kinder one.  This is where having a sex-positive, respectful, supportive community can come in very handy!

2. We can ask our shame some questions!
Usually, when we are dealing with painful emotions, we resist them and try to push them away as fast as possible.  This almost never works, especially in the long-run!   I recommend the opposite approach. See if you can bring a sense of curiosity to the part of you that is experiencing shame and get to know it a little bit better.  This tip comes from the IFS (Internal Family Systems) approach in which we understand ourselves as having many parts that try to manage our lives and protect us (sometimes not so successfully).  What if we were to bring a mindfulness lens to this “Shame Part” and ask it a few questions:
-What do you want me to know?
-What are you trying to do for me?  What is your role?
-Where did you learn to be shameful?

By being more curious and accepting of even our most difficult emotions (shame can be one of the most difficult!), we gain the opportunity to learn and heal.  To go more in depth with this approach, seek out a therapist with IFS training.

3. Check to see if your behavior is in alignment with your values. 
To make sure this is coming from your true values and not outside influences, check to see what the energy behind it is:  Are you feeling reactive, driven, angry, righteous, etc?  If so, that probably means the values aren’t really coming from your best self.  On the other hand, if you feel a quiet confidence and get calm and clear on what feels right for you–then you’ll know your true values. I find that meditating, time in nature and journaling can help us get into the right frame of mind to tap into our true values.  Once you find them, I would encourage you to write them down so you have them to refer back to when you’re questioning yourself.
If your behavior lines up with your values, see if there are some external influences that are creating a sense of guilt or shame and trying writing them down.  This might range from things your parents said to messages you got from your religious upbringing to unfavorably comparing yourself with others.  Once you’re clear that you’re in alignment with your own values, remind yourself that’s all that matters seek out people who support you on your path.  Simply acknowledge the external inlfuences for what they are when they pop up in your head
If you realize your behavior is truly out of alignment with your own values, check to see where you first deviated.  When you do go against your true values, it’s a huge growth opportunity!
All is not lost.  Take this opportunity to get real with yourself and ask yourself what support you need to stay on track the next time around.  We all make mistakes and it does not make you unacceptable.  Again, getting support is a great option here!
This post is sponsored by:
Spark Erotic: Authentic Cinematic Sexuality!