One of the reasons that I focused on shame this week is because of how amazed I have been at its capacity to suck emotion, thoughts and visceral feelings into an abyss. At the heart of good enough emotional functioning is a kind of relatedness with oneself that allows for a fluidity of internal and external perception. These are not fixed states of course, meaning, we all move in and out of attunement with ourselves and others. The reason that shame can be such a killer in relationships is that it will act as a firewall to being able to express helplessness and to ask for comfort.
The logic is quite simple actually. If I do not feel that I deserve empathy, I will not be able to ask for it. Furthermore, if one notices that I need help and they try to comfort me, I will reject it because the opening of the emotional doors will expose the shame that I have been trying hard to contain. That is why it is not enough to have simple conversations in mental health about caring for people, trying to be there for someone may actually make them feel worse. That is why naming shame can be so powerful, the person experiencing it may not have known that that was why they were shutting down their emotions.
Lastly, the silence piece is crucial. We have a tendency to project our own stories when there is silence. Even when there isn’t silence it can be hard to temper our narratives which is why truly connecting with another person is a fleeting experience, we need our own psychic skin to go through the world and that involves rigid ideas that we have formulated throughout a lifetime. Silence can amplify these stories, so when someone is not communicating how they feel, ones ideas about them can snowball and this phenomenon is rampant in relationships. How many times has a couple walked through my door and said “We have to work on our communication?”. Organizing and sorting through our own emotional landscapes and trying to uncover whether we are carrying unconscious shame can be a very productive exercise and make it easier to tame misunderstanding in many aspects of our lives.