Shame is an emotion that reflects how you feel about yourself as a person
It may sound surprising, but the reason you have the emotion of shame is to help you get easier through life. This emotion works like a radar, which is true about all other emotions. The mildest forms of shame send a signal that what you are doing is unacceptable to the society or to certain people in it. For most people, shame is the same as embarrassment. However, shame can also be a signal that something about your behavior is not acceptable.
The problem starts when shame becomes one of the dominant emotions and you want to hide your “unacceptable” thoughts, feelings and ideas. You become afraid that if people learn about how you feel and what you think, they will reject you. This often leads to withdrawal from relationships and self-isolation.
The emotion of shame has a lot of power
In a marriage, shame can be a powerful disruptor of intimacy. This emotion can turn spouses away from each other and isolate them.
Think about a situation in your life when you were really embarrassed. Feel the emotion. If you do, here’s what you will notice: your eyes start looking down. Your shoulders shrug. In this position you can’t effectively connect with another human being, be it your spouse or somebody else.
The experience of shame can run in the background
If even one of the spouses is ashamed of something and is not communicating his or her feelings, the emotion can block awareness, presence and access to other emotions. Shame can serve as a blanket that covers other needs and wants and doesn’t let them out because if a person feels shame, it is very likely that he or she views a lot of other emotions in a very negative light. People often hide things, feelings and thoughts that they think are not acceptable. For this reason, the result of shame is often isolation of a person, even in a marriage.
Embarrassment can be seen as funny when shared
Often when two or more people find themselves in an embarrassing situation, they find it funny and start laughing. They feel a sense of belonging. This sense comes from the fact that every single person has done something embarrassing before in their life. The laughter that they share is a form of acceptance and validation of the common experience. This is why it is so important to communicate about shame in a marriage. If both partners know what is happening, the issue is more likely to go away. However, this is not an immediate response that most people have in the moment. The immediate response in an awkward or a shameful situation is to hide what has happened or what is happening.
The societal pressure and experiences often reinforce this kind of behavior. Many people see efforts to save face as more important than anything else.
Shame and guilt are two similar emotions
The emotion of guilt typically appears when a person breaks a moral rule or behaves in a way that is not accepted by society. The feeling of guilt can help change the behavior and address the situation that occurred. However, instead of behavior correction, many people start blaming themselves and let their guilt to turn into shame. This can happen in marriages, too.
Guilt and shame in marriages can get complicated because in addition to them partners can feel anxiety and fear of rejection by their partner.
Shame can be a result of other relationships and upbringing
If you often feel ashamed, look deeper into your relationship history. It is possible that you will find some experiences in your childhood that led to you feeling not accepted and not wanted. Parents can instill the feeling of shame into their children by often telling them that they are not good enough, weak or lazy (this happens especially frequently with parents of boys who play sports). Over time, these messages of shame in childhood turn into rejecting thoughts and feelings in the adulthood and influence many decisions and behaviors, including the ones in marriage.
Shame has a link to depression
Patterns of behavior when a person experiences large amounts of shame and guilt are very similar to the patterns of depression. The link is strong because shame is often a result of broken relationships that involve victimization and even abuse. Memories of these events can be very painful. The events themselves are often not socially acceptable, even though a person may have been involved in them as a victim. Keeping silent about these events and feelings helps avoid social shame, but leads to isolation.