Guilt and shame are
Well, certainly no one wants to feel either. Some of us, especially therapists, seem to be "guilt magnets" and "shame prone". We cringe at the slightest sign that we may have hurt or offended someone and spend hours thinking about it afterwards. We may even avoid that person in the future for fear that
they are upset with us even though they never explicitly said so.
Psychology has long made a distinction, however, between guilt and shame. Guilt is actually considered to be a desirable emotion as far as society is concerned. Guilt is defined as feeling bad for something you have DONE. That is different from shame, which is feeling bad for WHO YOU ARE. Consider this-- if we lived in a world where no one ever felt guilty, i.e. never felt bad for hurting someone or cheating or stealing-- then what would keep people from doing whatever they wanted? If you knew that whatever you were going to do would not upset anyone in the slightest then why not do whatever you want?
So if guilt has a function, then what about shame? While I am not an anthropologist, my personal theory is that shame is just overshooting the mark of guilt. I think that Mother Nature gave us the capacity to feel guilt for the reasons stated above, but sometimes that feeling grows too large and instead of being just about our behavior it becomes about our identity, about who we are. Shame does not serve any positive function. While guilt makes us want to move towards people in order to repair the damage, shame makes us feel so bad that we isolate and move away. As shame researcher Brenee Brown puts it "shame corrodes the part of us that thinks we can do better [and therefore is willing to go and say we are sorry]". Shame leads to self destructive behaviors and isolating from others. Shame is toxic.
So what are we to do if we find that, like many patients who come to my practice, we seem to be "shame prone"? What if we tend to feel shame about even small things? Working on shame resilience is an excellent goal for therapy. Shame can only survive in secrecy and shadow. If you share your shame with someone, almost always you will find that the feeling diminishes. When we can see that the other person does not run screaming out of the room after we make our "confession", we don't feel so bad. And sometimes we are even lucky enough to talk to someone who reciprocates our shame tale with one of their own. Hearing someone say "oh, I've done that too" or "I did something else that made me feel the same way" we feel tremendous relief. We feel that we are not alone and perhaps we are not the worst person on the plant.
Psychotherapy provides a regular opportunity to talk about shameful experiences and feelings. It gives us the opportunity to shine a light of objectivity and neutrality on the shame-drenched sludge that we have been harboring in the deeper recesses of ourselves. And in that light of objectivity and through the compassion of another person we find that the shame shrivels and retreats, growing smaller and less powerful. Keeping the secret of shame is what keeps it alive. Sharing the secret of shame is the antidote.
Researcher Dr. Brene Brown has written several Ted Talks and written several books about shame. She notes that "shame happens between people and needs to be healed between people". I could not agree more. Fortunately for us Dr. Brown has made a career about researching shame and has come up with four common characteristics of people who are "shame resilient":
If you are interested in learning more about shame I recommend any of Dr. Brene Brown's work on shame and shame resiliency. Another great resource is work on self-compassion, which is another way to fight shame. For more information on self-compassion see Dr. Kristin Neff's website on the subject. She has links to her Ted Talk as well as information about self-compassion and even a self-quiz you can use to see how you rank on self-compassion.
One of the services I offer in my work is to assess your level of "shame-proneness" with a paper and pencil test developed by shame researchers. This test can be administered and feedback given all within a 45-minute appointment.
If you are interested in talking to me more about shame please feel free to send me an email using the form below or call me at 512-293-3807
Loving the Wrong Person
We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us.
But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong.
Why is this?
Because you yourself are wrong in some way,
and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way.
But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn't until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems--the ones that make you truly who you are--that we're ready to find a lifelong mate. Only then do you finally know what you're looking for. You're looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person:
the right wrong person--someone you lovingly gaze upon and think,
"This is the problem I want to have."
I will find that special person who is wrong for me
in just the right way.
Let our scars fall in love."
*Emphasis and spacing added by Dr. Jordan
David Richo's book How To Be An Adult In Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving is a very worthwhile read. The main hypothesis for this book is based on what he calls “The Five A’s”. These are:
· being Allowed the freedom to live “in accordance with our deepest needs and wishes”
According to Richo these are the basic ingredients needed to grow healthy self-esteem. I agree that these are all very valuable things and that without them we are likely not to feel loved or cared for. And I absolutely believe that humans have an innate need to feel connected to others, preferably in a way that feels loving and positive. Although if that is not available we will make due with connection through negativity rather than none at all.
According to Richo, we come into the world needing the 5 A's from our parents. And, he argues, in adulthood we need these same “5 A’s” from our romantic partners. More profoundly he states that these are also the things we seek to have in our spiritual practice/relationship with our higher power. He feels that through a spiritual practice one can cultivate the 5 A’s in a way that brings these essential elements into our lives through a spiritual plane.
Whether or not you are spiritual I do think these 5 A’s are worth thinking about. According to Richo, “our work is not to renounce our childhood needs but to take them into account, work on them, and enlist our partner to help us do this, if s/he is willing…to unite with a partner who can join us in our work.” I wholeheartedly agree with this. These deep, basic childhood needs never go away. We crave our lover’s attention, their acceptance, their appreciation and their affection. And we thrive when they allow us to “live in accordance with our deepest needs and wishes.” A partner who can help us heal any wounding in these areas is a most precious and prized gift. They deserve our deepest loyalty, respect, care and cherishing. Treating them in this way is also a natural outflowing of having these childhood needs nourished. This is true, mature and lasting love.
According to Richo there are also 5 “mindsets” that tend to interfere with providing the Five A’s to our partners. These are:
Richo believes that these mindsets interfere with our authentic experience of the present moment. He states that “Each is a minimization that imposes our personal dramas upon reality and makes fair witnessing impossible.” Or in other words, these are states of mind that will keep you from being able to see your partner clearly and convey a sense of understanding to them such that they feel truly connected to you. They become the interference in the radio signal such that a beautiful melody sounds like a cacophony of static and notes.
As you have probably already surmised, Richo’s book covers a lot of ground. He explains how the Five A’s manifest differently in relationships with introverts versus extroverts. He talks about how to handle complex emotions like fear, grief and anger. He has an excellent chapter on whether or not committed partnerships are actually “for you”. He contrasts romance and addiction. He gives numerous suggestions on how to work through un-grieved losses and become one's own parent. All this in little more than 250 pages!
In addition to all of these topics we might expect given the title of his book, Richo touches on a very bizarre phenomenon common to human relationships. He notes that if we have some wounding or deficits in these 5 A’s we are likely to be very sensitive to that area in our romantic relationships. That makes sense. But where things get tricky is when we seek to re-enact the deficits, wounds and deprivations of our childhood with our current partners. You may be familiar with the idea that a child of an alcoholic is likely to (unconsciously) marry an alcoholic (or someone otherwise addicted—sex, drugs, work, food, etc.). From the outside this seems “crazy”. Why would you set yourself up for this type of familiar pain? Richo states that we unconsciously try to revive our earliest unmet needs in an effort to see if our partner can help us heal them. So if I was emotionally abused as a child I may gravitate towards that dynamic in my adult relationships in an attempt to “revive my earliest unmet needs”. In some way I am hoping that my partner can save me from the dynamic that I have co-created with him/her. Or, as a former supervisor of mine used to say, “we either marry our parents or we marry someone who is not like our parents but we unconsciously coach them to act like our parents. Or we marry someone who is not like our parents and stubbornly resists being coached to act like them, so we project our parents onto them, believing they are like our parents despite evidence to the contrary.” While this is not a very flattering portrayal of human nature, I have to say that in 20 years as a therapist I have seen this pattern played out numerous times in astoundingly creative ways.
Ultimately we want to be healed. We often don’t really know the ways we have been hurt, having grown in in the only environment we knew. As the expression goes, the fish does not notice the water. But as an adult we can take stock and look back to evaluate “what was missing?” Which of these 5 A’s do we need to work on in our adult life? And how can we do that? Richo would seem to answer that we can do that through a spiritual practice as well as our love relationships. Being a psychotherapist I try not to advise on spiritual matters! But I can absolutely endorse the idea that not only can your primary relationship heal these wounds but you will TRY to set things up to work them out whether you realize it or not. I would argue it behooves all of us to figure out our wounds and/or areas of neglect so that we can look for how we are re-creating them in our current romantic partnerships.
All in all I think that Richo has some great wisdom in his book. I would encourage anyone interested in creating more healthy patterns in their love lives to take a look at it. While it is clear that he is devoted to mindfulness as a discipline and drinks deeply from that well, his ideas are useful even if you don’t ascribe to the eastern-philosophy threads that run throughout.
As always wishing you health and happiness in your connection to others--
Okay the truth is a you can't really "read" this and I listened to it over a year ago. But I should have posted about it then so I am trying to make up for that now. This is Dr. Stan Tatkin's masterful audio program explaining the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy, or PACT. I have been using this approach with couples for the past 6 years and cannot offer enough endorsement of it's principles and techniques. PACT has helped me help countless couples of all races, religions, sexual orientations, economic classes and with every problem you could imagine. The best explanation I can give about PACT is that it addresses the "bios" level of programming (patterns) in our hard-drives (brains) so that everything we do in relationships runs more smoothly. For those of you who are technophobic (which I am but I just happen to have had the "bios" thingy explained to me once), the bios level of your computer is the level you are almost never aware of. It is operating all the time in the background, quietly running the show. If it gets messed up though, look out. None of your other programs will run. The whole computer will seize up. So that's the level that you need to make sure is running smoothly or else the rest of it doesn't even matter. PACT hits the bios level.
A couple I finished working with not too long ago proved by "bios" theory beautifully. They came in one day and said "we've been thinking it might be time to stop seeing you regularly". They went on to say that they both looked at the lists that they had made before seeking me out. These lists were the things that they both wanted to see change in the relationship. The amazing thing to me was that now they said "we looked at the lists and realized that all of those things are either fixed or no longer important to us but we don't remember discussing them in here with you!". Ah, bios. See, we fixed the deeper problems that were quietly running their relationship amok but that they did not know were there. They were so stuck on fixing the "I hate it when you don't do your share of housework" programs/patterns that they did not realize that there was a deeper level that was driving the rest of the mess. When we worked on that everything else miraculously (or really not so miraculously!) shifted. The rest of the stuff either got fixed without my help or they no longer cared about it because they were so thrilled about the rest of the relationship that those things seemed trivial now.
To me, that's the elegance of PACT. It gets right to the underlying issues without getting stuck in the daily "who left the cap off the dang toothpaste" stuff. It's surgical. Which makes is not only more effective but so much faster than other theories I have been exposed to. And as much as I love doing therapy, no one wants to be in therapy forever.
So there you go. Buy it. Listen to it. If you are a therapist it will improve your work. If you are in a couple it will improve your relationship. If you aren't currently in a couple it will give you some great stuff to think about before you get into the next relationship. The whole download takes about 5 hours, which sounds like a lot but I found that if I just played it while I was driving back and forth to work each day that I had listened to the whole thing in less than a week. So don't let the length intimidate you. Also don't let the idea that it has some neuroscience intimidate you. As much as I love the brain that was NOT my best class in graduate school. Dr. Tatkin is gifted at making difficult stuff easy to understand so that even those of us who could not currently pass a high school chemistry class can still understand his work.
I hope you give it a try.
Krista Jordan, Ph.D.
Dr. Jordan has been in private practice for 20 years in Texas. She is passionate about helping people to overcome hurts and obstacles from their past to find more happiness and health in their current lives.