Relationship Counselling: Do You Know Your Shame Style?

Relationship Counselling: Do you know your shame style?

Shame is a humiliating push-pull response and is often present in couples counselling. We both feel a need and prepare ourselves for the hurt we may feel when that need is unlikely to be met. We all feel it, it is a normal part of being human. We all have different ways of protecting ourselves from feeling rejected, unworthy, sad or scared. How can we become more aware of what we often do out of awareness?

“shame is most importantly a felt sense of unworthiness to be in connection,”

(Jordan, 1989)

Fictional Case Study: Feeling shamed but not knowing how to respond.

Abigail and Janice have been together for 5 years. Initially, they functioned well, with Abigail being happy to switch to part-time hours and care for their children, while Janice developed her legal practice. They go to a work function and Janice ignores Abigail all night. When Abigail does try to join in, Janice introduces her as a ‘lady who lunches,’ and everyone laughs. This brings back feelings of being told she was ‘slow’ or ‘stupid’ at school. So how might Janet respond?

Appeases : Abigail swallows her initial sense of shame and instead works hard to do all she can to engage with and impress Janice’s work colleagues. She doesn’t talk about how she actually feels and is left with a sense of worthlessness and that she can never do enough to be accepted by Janice.

Withdraws: Abigail excuses herself, and disappears to the ladies, where she hopes no one can hear her crying. She feels so humiliated, she doesn’t talk to Janice all weekend. Janice has no idea what she’s done.

Attacks Others: Abigail picks a massive fight with Janice over something unrelated. She has swallowed her sadness and is instead expressing her anger.

Attacks Herself: Abigail berates herself internally for being “stupid” and “lazy.” She makes jokes at her own expense to mask her shame and maintain a connection with the group.