Monthly Archives: May 2011

More on Shame

I think I’ve already shared my favorite quote about shame: “Shame is like mold. It grows the best in the dark.” I usually add – “exposure to the light is the only way out”.

What does it mean to expose it to the light?

Shame’s most important objective is to NOT be exposed. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of our truth – and to be willing to share it – if we want to be healthier. In the program, we often say “we’re only as sick as our secrets.”

If we can allow ourselves to acknowledge our own vulnerabilities, we begin to shed the light. The next step is to share those with someone else – someone who can be trusted to meet us where we are and not judge us. (So be careful who you choose. If you don’t trust your ability to choose someone healthy enough, it might be wise to find a therapist or minister or a sponsor in a 12 Step program, etc). Once we’ve opened up to someone else – and realized that they didn’t fall over because of what we have been so shameful about – we feel the light stream in. (Very often, in fact, we discover they may have had very similar experiences or feelings).

All of us carry shame. It’s a part of the human condition. It’s passed down from generation to generation. Until someone decides to stop the cycle, we carry our ancestors’ shame and pass it on to our own children.

Most people who are shame-based don’t even know it, though, because shame is often disguised as what it’s not: indifference, an overwhelming need to control, depression, obsession to use/drink/act out, perfectionism, numbness, the need to run, ect. . . .

So shame feels vulnerable and threatened.

It’s the opposite of

People in healthier families learn to deal with the shortcomings we all have as humans. Their sense of well-being comes from accepting themselves for NOT being perfect.

In a chemically dependent or otherwise unbalanced family, we couldn’t afford to be imperfect. So when you’re around someone who can’t admit they make mistakes, or who aren’t able to allow their vulnerabilities to show occasionally, be aware that the person is carrying a lot of shame. While it’s difficult to be around someone like this, maybe we can silently send them love and hope that they will someday be able to forgive themselves and find some peace.


The topic of forgiveness comes up quite a bit in my office. I’ve found that when people begin to discuss something they are finding it difficult to forgive, they take on a sense of entitlement about the issue – as if they (as the “wronged”) have the right to determine whether the other person should be let off the hook or to dictate what that person is allowed to do-or not do.

I found this passage in a little book titled, LOVE IS LETTING GO OF FEAR:

Forgiveness does not mean assuming a position of superiority and putting up with or tolerating behavior in another person that we do not like. Forgiveness means correcting our misperception that the other person harmed us.

The unforgiving mind, contrasted with the forgiving mind, is confused, afraid and full of fear. It is certain of the interpretation it places on its perceptions of others. It is certain of the justification of its anger and the correctness of its condemning judgment. The unforgiving mind rigidly sees the past and future as the same and is resistant to change. It does not want the future to be different from the past. The unforgiving mind sees itself as innocent and others as guilty. It thrives on conflict and on being right, and it sees inner peace as its enemy. It perceives everything as separate.

Whenever I see someone else as guilty, I am reinforcing my own sense of guilt and unworthiness. I cannot forgive myself unless I am willing to forgive others. It does not matter what I think anyone has done to me in the past or what I think I may have done. Only through forgiveness can my release from guilt and fear be complete.

I Love You Enough . . . To Never Tolerate Unacceptable Behavior . .

I love you enough to . . .never tolerate unacceptable behavior. . .

To tolerate is to degrade!

I choose not to tolerate anything about you because I love and respect you too much for that.

There are times when your behavior is totally unacceptable to me.

. . . I am learning to detach myself from those actions. . .

Hopefully there will be a time when I will be able to forgive you – because forgiveness is a gift to myself.

-from I LOVE YOU ENOUGH . . .TO LET YOU GO by Jim McGregor

Dealing with Resentments

Gospel According to Patti: Resentments are hardened chunks of anger (anger you’ve carried around so long it becomes hard and difficult to chip away). I’ve never known a resentment that was truly justified. We try to rationalize it, but the reality is that when we resent someone or something, it only hurts us. (An old-timer in the program once told me, “If you find yourself living with a resentment towards another person, drive by their house at 3:00 am to see if they’re up worrying about it.”)

Anger is often a “smokescreen” emotion, meaning it’s sometimes used to cover up other emotions that make us feel more vulnerable, such as hurt, fear, embarrassment, shame or guilt.

I don’t believe any emotion is negative, but of those that suck to feel, anger is a little more socially acceptable to express (at least more so than the others), because it doesn’t make us feel vulnerable.

Anger gives us a powerful rush of adrenaline. It can feel empowering. But it usually stems from a sense of victimization or inequity – or it comes from someone or something not meeting our expectations.

At the psychological level anger, resentment and blame can also be used as defenses to ward off those feelings of vulnerability – which we perceive as weakness.

Giving up our anger can feel like giving up a piece of ourselves or a piece of our perceived powerfulness. We can experience it as a loss of self – if so much of us is invested in it that it’s become a part of our identity.

And if we felt deeply wounded, it can feel like our anger, resentment and blame are all we have that’s ours to hold onto – to keep us from falling apart – to protect us from possible future attacks.

I’ve sometimes encouraged individual clients to visualize their resentments as an invisible bullet-proof vest they wear. When they come into therapy, I ask them to take off that vest for the duration of the session, so we can talk about – and allow ourselves to feel the anger or the emotions under the anger. Then they can put it on again as they leave to protect themselves if they need it. Eventually, they need the vest less and less, as they get in touch with the human/vulnerable parts of themselves.

Expectations vs Trust

I don’t believe we have the right to expect anything from anyone. Some people have difficulty with that concept – especially in intimate relationships. They get confused with the difference between expectations and trust.

An expectation is a strong belief that something will happen or will be the case in the future or a belief that someone will or should do something. If we apply that to any relationship, it sets us up for failure. Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

Trust, on the other hand is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. I liken trust to faith. It’s accepted without the need for evidence or investigation. However, in a healthy relationship, trust is built slowly. A pattern is developed over time that shows one that the other is trustworthy. Those who trust too much, too soon are either confusing trust with expectations, or they are afraid to let the relationship take its normal course. Either way, they find themselves in a lot of pain they could probably avoid if they could learn to be patient and allow the relationship to evolve.

When trust is broken, it can be rebuilt, but it takes long-term, consistent effort – sometimes extreme effort – to prove trustworthiness again. Once that process has begun, then the other side must eventually begin to trust again – a little at a time. Both parties must be diligent in rebuilding trust. When that’s done, the relationship will never be the same – but it is often better.