I have always wondered at the power of shame to shape our worlds. So much so, that when I began my six month counseling internship at a rehab hospital, I knew within weeks that my M.A. thesis would be about shame. We have so much shame in our culture around aging and disability!
In my thesis I explain the Chinese word for I’m sorry: 对不起, which means literally “I cannot look up at you.” That’s exactly what shame feels like.
A large section of my book “How To Believe In Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust and Your Own Inner Wisdom” is devoted to the study of shame, because shame is often a culprit in our inability to risk finding love again. Here’s a short excerpt:
“Many early “love” relationships that begin in high school and college are, for the most part, total disasters, marked with constant broke ups and then that glorious feeling of making up.
This is the time when we play at love, testing out our egos and power over others. It is not uncommon for our earliest relationships to include much shaming and blaming as well as some emotional, if not physical abuse. We generally have no idea what we are doing, and with little impulse control or understanding of what we are experiencing, cruelty is common and mistakes are made.
Only by entering into more mature, loving relationships much later, do we realize the low quality of our earliest attempts at bonding with others. But even then, it can be difficult to end the destructive cycle created by early shaming experiences, which lead to future dysfunctional relationship patterns.
Love has come to be defined as a challenging, shameful, painful struggle. First loves may be painful or even abusive, and that is how we come to define relationships. That becomes the familiar pattern, so much so that it may feel strange and even suspicious when love is given freely with no apparent strings attached.”
Want to learn more about how early shaming experiences may be negatively impacting how you approach love today?