Experiencing Shame: Women vs Men

“Will you stop guilt tripping me?!” exclaims Peter. His wife Linda, sitting across from him, stops with surprise on her face. “I am not trying to make you feel guilty. I am just trying to get through to you. I want to see changes…” Her voice trails off. Peter has shut down. His body language indicates that what he is actually feeling right now is not guilt but shame.

Even though Peter feels that Linda is trying to control him by making him feel guilty, the emotion that is actually triggered for him is shame. Guilt and shame are related, yet they have different directions and are dissimilar emotions. We experience guilt when we feel that we have done something bad, we have made a mistake or not the strongest choice in a certain situation. We are able to apologize and let the other person know we will make a different choice next time. The focus is on the behaviour and we are separate from our behaviour. Shame is way more debilitating. It is the experience of being bad, of feeling that there is something profoundly or deeply wrong with who we are. Shame is directed at the person themselves. What is most devastating about this emotion is that we believe we deserve our shame. Shame corrodes the parts in us that believe that we can do better.

Shame is highly correlated with depression, rage, suicide, addictions, and eating disorders. Guilt, on the other hand, is inversely related to these experiences because the more we are able to separate ourselves from our actions, behaviours or choices, the less we are pulled into self-loathing or the feeling of worthlessness which leads to depression and addictions. We are able to see that we did something that was not in line with our values but we do not experience being fundamentally bad.

Most of us grew up with being shamed by our care-givers. As parents, we need to make clear distinctions between who our child is and what they did. A sentence like “You are a bad girl/bad boy” instead of “you are a good girl/boy but you didn’t make a good choice”, teaches us to feel ashamed. We carry this shame into our adult life and it gets triggered by similar situations and events.

In my last article, we explored the Inner Critic voice more and talked about how to cultivate an Inner Champion that helps us to not get caught up in shame and instead to feel good enough. The more shame we carry inside, the easier it is for our Inner Critic to make us feel flawed and lacking.

Brené Brown has researched how men and women experience shame differently and that there are gender specific shame issues. If we want to help our partner to not be activated into experiencing shame, we need to understand more about this emotion and how it affects us all.

Most of us, like Peter, are unaware that we are even experiencing shame. We will substitute the word shame with guilt. It is part of our culture that it is shaming in itself to admit to feeling shame. The assumption is if I am acknowledging shame, or like Brené Brown says “claiming shame”, it means I am somebody who should be ashamed. The same can apply to fear or anger. There is a stigma to feeling these emotions, so we are not even able to recognize them correctly. Anger can often cover up fear or shame.

Brené Brown points out that shame is the birthplace of perfectionism and anger. She says, “in my experience, men have two switches when it comes to shame: pissed off and shut down.” Peter in our example shuts down and has shut down many times before in his interactions with his wife. Linda is unaware of how she triggers shame for him and is unable to help him out of that experience of shame.

It starts with recognizing and acknowledging the emotion of shame. “If we don’t claim shame, it claims us” (Brené Brown). It corrodes all our relationships and we might give up on them because we can just not stand the feeling of not being good enough anymore. When we claim this emotion as what it really is, we can work with those younger parts in us which we have exiled because they were shamed by somebody in the past. Working through shame gives us the gift to live a life without playing small. It’s the opportunity to step into who we truly are, and to build the respectful loving relationships we really want.

According to Brené Brown’s research, shame is different for women and men. The women she interviewed told her that shame is “being rejected, not being able to do it all and most of all shame is people seeing you are struggling or failing”. Linda feels most ashamed when she feels she didn’t manage to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect daughter and perfect career woman. Peter can trigger her shame when he shares with their common friends or his mother that Linda had a fight with her own mother or yelled at their daughter. She feels deeply ashamed when what she says is “private” is revealed without her consent. These are the areas she feels vulnerable and exposed in and Peter has a hard time understanding that being exposed and seen as flawed triggers the experience of shame for his wife.

One woman in Brené Browns studies said, “You work hard to keep up appearance and shame is when the mask is being pulled off and the unlikable parts of you are seen. It feels unbearable to be seen.” Shame for women is often also being an outsider and not belonging. Not getting “a seat at the table with the pretty popular girls”.

The shame experience that comes up for a lot for women is when others see that we are not holding it all together. Life for women is often about making sure no one ever sees how hard you are working to hold it all together. Not only is it shaming to not be able to keep all the balls in the air, but it’s shaming when people see us struggle.

Shame is also connected to what we as women believe to be feminine qualities. According to Jim Mihalik’s Research from Boston College, that is “being thin, nice, modest, and using all our resources in the pursuit of looking better”. So there is shame attached to not having the perfect body or not looking perfect at all times. Being caught in our pajamas or not having the perfect slim and trim body that the media have brain washed us into believing we need to have. PSYCH-K® or the belief change technique from Shadow Energetics can help reprogram our gender stereotypical subconscious beliefs.

For men, shame is “failure, at work, on the football field, in marriage, in bed, with money, with your family, with your children, it doesn’t matter.” Shame is being wrong as opposed to doing something wrong. Shame is a sense of being defective. Shame occurs when people think you are soft or afraid. Shame for men is connected to being perceived as weak. And shame is being criticized or being ridiculed. Peter feels when Linda criticizes him that he is defective and a failure as a husband, a father and as the provider of the family.

How can Linda and Peter get out of this dynamic of triggering each others shame and either of them shutting down, or getting angry in response?

As a first step, they both need to learn to become aware when shame is being triggered for either of them and have empathy for each other. Present day interactions bring up our conscious and subconscious childhood memories. With IFS (Internal Family Systems), Linda and Peter can rescue and unburden the inner children which have experienced shame in the past. As they heal these parts in themselves with self-compassion and empathy, shame loses its power over them. As they both work individually on their own childhood experiences related to shame, they are activated less and less into this emotion. They are able to communicate differently and problem solve better without this incapacitating emotion taking over.

Let me finish with another quote by Brené Brown:

“Show me a woman who can sit with a man in vulnerability

and really hold space for him,

I show you a woman who has really done her work.

If you show me a man who can be with a woman in struggle,

who is in pain, and he can just hear her and validate her,

without trying to fix it or make it better,

I show you a man who has done his work.”

 

If you are curious about finding out more about working with your parts in general or the emotion of shame specifically, contact me for a free phone consultation. I offer sessions for individuals and couples.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

 

 

What Would Your Inner Champion Say?

Listen to the blog article as an extended version on my podcast, or read it below!

In my article “Inner Critic – Friend or Foe?”, I gave you some ways of achieving separation from the Inner Critic voice we all have inside of us. In this article, I want to elaborate more and offer you a meditation to develop a loving inner voice.

Let’s first of all examine how we usually react to the Critic. Responses that don’t work very well are to ignore it, argue with it or try to banish it. We cannot get rid of a part of our psyche. Even if it goes underground for a bit, it will come back up again, and most likely with more power. In its own distorted way, our Inner Critic is actually trying to help us. Instead of battling with it, we can discover what it is trying to do for us and make a positive connection with it. We can begin to appreciate its efforts and as it begins to trust us, we can create a cooperative relationship with it and transform it into a valuable resource.

Some of the motivations the Inner Critic has are protecting us from judgment or rejection, trying to get approval for us, preventing damage, keeping us safe from attack or keeping us from acting like a parent who didn’t take care of us well.

Images by Jay Earley & Bonnie Weiss

 

Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss distinguish between 7 types of Inner Critics:

  1. The Perfectionist Inner Critic tries to get us to do everything perfectly. This can make it difficult to finish projects or to even get started on them.
  2. The Inner Controller tries to control impulsive behaviour such as overeating, drinking, or getting enraged.
  3. The Taskmaster teams up with our Inner Pusher and tries to get us to work hard by telling us that we are lazy, stupid or incompetent. It often battles with another part that procrastinates.
  4. The Underminer tries to undermine our self-confidence and self esteem so that we won’t take risks that might end in failure. It might prevent us from getting too big, powerful or visible in order to avoid rejection or attack.
  5. The Destroyer attacks our fundamental self-worth. It is deeply shaming and tells us we shouldn’t exist.
  6. The Guilt Tripper attacks us for specific actions we took or didn’t take. It makes us feel bad and is unforgiving. It might also make us feel guilty for what it considers to be unacceptable behaviours.
  7. The Molder tries to get us to fit a certain mold or act in a certain way that is based on the values of your family or society. It might tell us we need to be outgoing, caring, intellectual, polite, a sweet little girl or a tough guy.

All our Inner Critics are unique. You might have an Inner Critic that has characteristics of two of the described types or wants to be a called a different name.

A powerful antidote to the harsh and shaming Inner Critic voice is to develop an Inner Champion. The Champion does not try to argue or fight with the Critic, or try to get rid of it. It supports us in being ourselves and in feeling good about ourselves. The Inner Champion is the ideal supportive parent. It helps us to see the positive truth about ourselves. It nurtures and cares for us. The Inner Champion helps us by setting boundaries with the Inner Critic, nurturing, providing guidance and planning actions.

Images by Jay Earley & Bonnie Weiss

 

In response to the seven types of Critics, there are also seven types of Inner Champions:

  1. The Perfectionist

In the face of the Perfectionist Critic, the Inner Champion can support us by pointing out that most jobs just need to be done well enough, not to perfection. It has the wisdom to know that it is also important to go with the flow and let things evolve rather than trying to get everything perfect. It allows us to be a learner who doesn’t need to know everything from the start. It understands what a rough draft is. It reminds us that it’s human to make mistakes and that it’s okay when things are imperfect. It supports us to create balance in our life, to rest and enjoy life.

  1. The Inner Controller

In response to the Inner Controller Critic, our Inner Champion reminds us that our feelings and needs matter and to explore what is actually going on underneath the addictive behaviour. What are we distracting ourselves from and what is it that we really need? Like a yoga teacher, it supports us to be centred and in touch with our body so we can follow our body’s signals, which naturally brings more moderation. It supports our need for healthy pleasure and sensuality in life.

  1. The Taskmaster

When we have a strong Taskmaster Critic, our Inner Champion will help us to work efficiently and accomplish something but without expecting that we need to overwork. It recognizes that we are just perfect the way we are, independent of our accomplishments. It believe that we are Superman or Superwoman and that we can easily achieve what we set out to. It recognizes our strengths and special qualities and gives us self-confidence.

  1. The Underminer

The job of the Champion in the face of the Underminer critic is to discern when there is real danger and when there isn’t. It becomes our cheerleader to venture out and succeed. It understands that we have many more inner and outer resources than when we were a child. It recognizes that we can handle being large or visible. It holds a vision of us being smart, creative and able to make a mark on the world.

  1. The Destroyer

In answer to the Destroyer Critic, our Inner Champion affirms that we have the right to exist, to feel what we feel, to set limits, and to be powerful. The Inner Champion nurtures us, it loves us and cares for us. It has great compassion and wants us to feel good and whole. It holds us close and tells us how precious we are. Sometimes the Destroyer Inner Critic has turned anger or aggression inward. The Champion redirects that anger toward where it belongs. It reminds us that we have the right to be angry when others have hurt or neglected us.

  1. The Guilt Tripper

In the face of the Guilt Tripper Inner Critic, our Inner Champion supports us in feeling good about ourselves and our decisions or actions. It puts things into perspective and shines a light on your intentions and motivations. It reminds us that our intentions were good or that we acted from the knowledge and wisdom we had at a given time. It might remind us that we are a good person at heart and that our past behaviour is separate from who we are.

  1. The Molder

In response to the Molder Critic, the Champion helps us to see that the molder values are not the only way to live your life. It supports us in determining our own choices and ways of being. It reminds us that we are a good person even if we choose to live our life in a way that goes against our upbringing and culture. It supports us in being ourselves and living according to our values and our calling.

The above descriptions and images by Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss are only meant as an inspiration. The Inner Champion might emerge in whatever way is unique and helpful to you. Your Inner Champion is often modeled by supportive or inspiring people from your past or current life, or by well-known people from the present or from history that you don’t know personally but admire, or even by figures of literature, TV or movies.

Join me for a MEDITATION TO AWAKEN YOUR INNER CRITIC by clicking on the link below.

Join me on Sunday, August 12 for a workshop in Mississauga from 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. You will learn how to work with your Inner Critic and develop an Inner Champion. For more information or to register, please call me.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!