Shame: The Insidious Love-Killer

by Jami and Marla Keller, Cofounders and Relationship Experts

This week we need to start by talking about shame. Yes, this is a really different kind of conversation for some of us. (Jami) Men, we benefit from knowing what shame is so that we are able to deal with it in our hearts and minds and defeat anger which allows us to be open about it with those we love. Sidenote: Anger turned inward is depression and outward is rage. To be clear, rage is NOT a healthy way to express your anger and there is a definite difference in how it’s done. We need to step up and teach our children and our communities to deal with shame in love and kindness. (Don’t worry, men. It’s not all on you but it is so important for you to understand and acknowledge. Marla addresses women below..)

In her book Daring Greatly she goes on to say,

“When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation. When it comes to parenting, the practice of framing mothers and fathers as good or bad is both rampant and corrosive—it turns parenting into a shame minefield. The real questions for parents should be: ‘Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?’ If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time.”

The truth is that I let my shame issues get in the way of my relationship with Marla in the ’90s, and recently I nearly lost it all. I thought I was above it. The truth is without a connected group of accountable and authentic men consistently in my life, I again let fear and isolation take me down an ugly road. It is so easy to believe the lie that if I share with even my best friends that I will lose something. Credibility? My career? My wife (a very real fear)? And maybe even my life? Yes, when we are accountable and connected in honest ways we only lose isolation, depression, fear, and hate. Sadly there is so much fear and hate coming from men these days and we must band together and find better ways! Please do not let the fear of being honest keep you down as I did. I got lucky and didn’t end up losing everything I love, especially the love of my life, Marla. She has stuck with me through thick and thin and I am forever grateful and a much better man because of her. 

(Marla) I am certainly not without my own shame web, and it has been a nasty, sticky web indeed. It was in 1995 that I  began to realize that I had been living a life based on my shame. Everything I said and did I carefully adjusted to make sure that I would not be disapproved of (can you relate, girlfriends?). My core shame created this belief in me that I was not enough, therefore I needed to perform, be perfect in all areas, and do it with such finesse that I would never be “found out” for the fraud I was. This was all very unconscious at the time, but as I began to embark on the journey of healing, I came face to face with my addictions. No, I was not addicted to drugs, alcohol, medications, sex, work or rage. I was addicted to approval. Ughh. I was addicted to perfectionism (creating the façade that everything around me was “perfect”). I was addicted to being right. More ugghhh. And I literally felt unsafe whenever I was wrong. These are the things I did to keep from being vulnerable; to keep from letting anyone know who I really was:

  • I kept my house spotless. You could have eaten off of the floors at any time, even though Kayla and Ariel were just little kiddos. My. House. Was. Perfect. If it wasn’t, I would break into crazy mode, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Following the girls and Jami picking up crumbs, toys, socks…You get the picture (and it’s certainly not a pretty one).
  • I was afraid of what people thought about me.
  • I dissociated. I checked out emotionally, but not as you might think. I checked out by being busy; by constantly thinking about the next thing on my calendar. Not. Even. Close to present.
  • I had a deep need for certainty. Translation: I was a control freak!
  • I constantly compared myself to others, especially my body. I had a love-hate relationship with my body, but mostly it was hate. “Never pretty enough” plagued me. 
  • Exhaustion was my status symbol. I was a fantastic martyr.
  • Productivity made me feel worthy, if but for a moment.
  • Anxiety and chaos were a lifestyle choice for me. Sometimes mine, but mostly everybody else’s anxiety and chaos. I had completely lost myself because my shame kept saying to me that I was unworthy unless I was the best wife, the best mother, the best daughter, the best sister, the best friend, etc., etc.
  • I was constantly “shoulding” on myself. “I should be thinner…I should be a better mom…I should have sex with my husband every day…I should never make a mistake…I should always look just right…I should always be in control…I should be cooler…” And on, and on, and on.

Ladies (and maybe most of you reading this) can you relate to any of these statements? If so, you are also struggling with your core shame. (And for those of you who can’t relate at all, you may need to read the definition of “denial” because, from what Brené Brown’s research says, we ALL have shame at our core. Men, as Jami mentioned above it may look a little differently for you. Something like “I should never be weak…I should always be strong…I should be a good provider…”) The cool, and hopeful, thing is that you can have healing and relief from this dangerous place. I have. I’m certainly not completely rid of my shame, but it continues to get better and better. I am more full of joy and peace today than anything else, but to be honest Jami’s struggle that he gives a nod to above just about killed me and sent me straight back to this core shame for a time. It was horrible, earthshattering, paradigm-shifting, heart-crushing and also allowed me another run at cleaning out this very deeply-seeded shame. For this I am grateful.

(Jami) Marla and I have developed the Feeling Wheel 5.0 to help all of us learn better strategies for relationships. Because…well…shame.

The core of the wheel has three feelings: Shame, Forgiveness, and Love. This is the center of all our conflicts. All our behaviors are related to how we deal with these three feelings. Think of Shame as the giant lie that you are not worthy of love. This is why Marla and I put Shame across from Love. It is because it is the only toxic feeling on the wheel, and it is, in fact, based on a lie; the lie when any person believes that they are a bad person. And because of the nature of Shame, it sticks to other feelings like Fear, Anger, Jealousy and even Peace (worry much?) and Joy (have sexual shame?). All feelings free from shame are healthy feelings. Feelings are raw information. Our brains are highly efficient at making connections with how events in our life make us feel. We then develop strategies and we repeat what gets us what we expect, which is not necessarily the best outcome.

Just outside the core of the wheel are six feelings that we reference as ”modes.” A mode is a pattern of behavior solidified to help us function and communicate. Think of it as an autopilot program that gets activated in certain situations, designed to protect your heart. Most often we don’t think much about doing these things, we just do them often without much conscious thought. These are often packages of behaviors that once served us well and helped us survive, but are now needing to be updated to serve us better.

The question this week is where does your life hurt? What do you avoid? Why? Can you find a pattern of your behavior that is contributing to the pain? Let’s talk about how we can help each other and get better results for our families and communities. Schedule your Free Discovery Session today HERE.