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Shame Thrives in Secrecy

Shame is one of the most painful emotions humans can experience. Shame can break up otherwise solid relationships and marriages. This negative emotion has you turn against yourself, away from your partner and into hiding and secrecy. It can lead to isolating, numbing, distracting and disconnecting from other people and the world at large.

Shame is also a very common experience for people who have gone through trauma. If you or your partner experienced trauma, it is quite likely you have internalized messages about yourselves in order to make sense of what happened (I am bad, I am worthless, I am unlovable).

To heal shame, we need to first recognize it. It is an emotion and as such it is not an objective fact. The main antidote to shame is compassion. In order to build more compassion, and diminish distrust, isolation and resentment, I like to include the following steps in couples therapy:

1.     Create a safe space for open communication: It is essential for couples to feel that they can express themselves freely and honestly without fear of judgment or rejection. As a therapist, I encourage couples to create a safe space where they can talk openly about their feelings, including any shame or embarrassment they may be experiencing. This space should be free from distractions and interruptions, allowing both partners to fully engage with each other.

2.     Identify and acknowledge the source of shame: Couples need to identify the source of their shame and acknowledge it. This requires a willingness to be vulnerable and honest with oneself and one's partner. It is important to understand that shame is a common emotion and that everyone experiences it at some point in their lives.

3.     Reframe the negative narrative: Once the source of shame has been identified, couples can work together to reframe the negative narrative that is contributing to the shame. This involves challenging negative self-talk and replacing it with more positive, empowering messages.

4.     Practice self-compassion: Shame often arises from feelings of inadequacy, failure, or unworthiness. Couples can work on practicing self-compassion by treating themselves with the same kindness and understanding they would offer to a friend. This involves acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes and that self-improvement is a gradual process.

5. Work on building trust: Shame can erode trust in a relationship, so it is important to work on rebuilding trust. This involves being consistent, honest, and reliable in one's actions and words. Couples can also practice active listening and empathy to better understand each other's needs and concerns.

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