Job Lopez
by Job Lopez, M.A., LPC Associate
Member, EMS Weekend Specialist

Manifestation of Shame Part 1: The Unfaithful

Keyword definitions:

Shame: a self-perception of being unacceptable that overwhelms the nervous system when triggered by emotional distress. Shame is associated with judgment, comparison, social isolation, impaired empathy, and self-harm.

Guilt: an experience of regret or remorse that can lead the individual to take reparative actions for their behavior. Guilt is associated with sadness, repair, and is relational by nature.

"I just want to talk about the affair, but you just get angry at me or dismiss what I am going through."

"I just want to talk about what I'm feeling, but it is like you aren't even here."

"Your voice sounds robotic, and it seems like you don't care."

These are a few examples of what my wife would say at times during our recovery, especially during the early phases. When we would talk about these cycles, our therapist would say things like, "It sounds like you're experiencing shame." For a long time, my therapist's words confused me because I thought shame meant that I am worthless, but this belief did not really resonate with me. I had accomplishments that made me think that I had value. I was accomplished in my career, I took care of myself, I worked hard, I was smart, and I did not physically abuse my wife or kids. Ultimately, I through I was a pretty good guy. I believed that the infidelity reflected a poor marriage, and our relationship problems were primarily due to my wife. However, my therapist's words (that he spoke more than once) stuck with me, so I set on a journey to understand shame. I spent years learning to understand shame and I can recommend Brené Brown's research and the work of Curt Thompson as resources for you.

Shame is an overwhelming feeling that we cannot tolerate a present circumstance or situation because in some sense, we do not feel acceptable. It is important to pull the definition apart because shame manifests in really different ways.

Research indicates that shame could be one of the most negatively overwhelming emotions a human can experience. Our nervous system becomes overwhelmed when we experience shame so it is important to learn to listen to our bodies. The shame experience causes us to emotionally flood and can take us into fight, flight, or freeze. In those moments, the unfaithful are unable to attune to the betrayed, show compassion, or empathize because their nervous systems are dysregulated. The part of our brain that is active when we experience empathy is a totally different region compared to when we feel shame. Less intense manifestations of shame could be to silver line the situation, deflect, or try to rationalize the affair or our reaction to the discovery. During early recovery, shame drove my inability to talk about the affair, tell the truth, and empathize with my wife. It hindered the healing of our relationship. Over the last eight years of working in recovery and with clients who are doing the same, I've found shame to be one of the most common roadblocks to healing.

An important aspect of shame is to understand how it manifests, because it can look like grandiosity, or it can look like worthlessness. When I first learned this, it was sobering because, unfortunately, if I'm honest, I fell into the grandiosity category. For me, grandiosity was a lot of image management. I would walk into a room and start comparing myself with every other guy. In social settings, I would compare myself to other men that I felt threatened with in order to figure out how I could one-up myself. I would think that I was doing "pretty good for my age" or that I was "at least smarter" than the guys that intimidated me physically. When I first got into recovery, I ranked myself against the other guys and judged them in order to justify that my affair was not as bad as what they did or must be doing. When I started to become honest with myself, I realized that at home I was an emotionally absent parent and partner. The image that I portrayed to the outside world was different than what was going on inside our home. With time and work on this, I realized that I was always trying to prove to myself that I had value because I had such a deep-seeded belief that I was unacceptable. If I could judge other guys and figure out a way to convince myself that I was superior, then I wouldn't have to face my own feelings of being unacceptable. I felt shame.

A great way to learn how to be honest with yourself and others is within the safety of Affair Recovery's 17-week online Hope for Healing course. Designed specifically for wayward spouses, Hope for Healing is a supportive, nonjudgmental environment for you to heal, develop empathy, and create a plan to stay safe for those you love and care about.

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The second way shame can manifest is worthlessness. With this manifestation of shame, the voices of condemnation are loud, and it is hard to run away from them. Shame can make us feel so unacceptable that we go into isolation, which can lead to anxiety or depression or both. Research indicates there is a frequent association of shame with self-harm. We can feel like a perpetual victim, whether it is at home, work, or in other relationships. It is also not uncommon for those in recovery that experience grandiosity to then transition to worthlessness when they can't keep up with it anymore or come to realize the different manifestations of shame. Regardless of how shame manifests, to paraphrase Brené Brown, when we are in shame, we are not fit for human consumption.

My hope is that this article will begin to help others understand the tactics of shame and how it can impair our ability to be relational and our ability to move forward in healing. I'll follow up in my next article with a better way for us to understand shame from the perspective of the betrayed spouses, an understanding of how shame developed in a client's story, and how we can all combat shame. I believe becoming aware and choosing to battle shame is key to a peaceful and complete life.

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Decision and Shame

A few years ago, neuroscientists made a groundbreaking discovery. 90% of decisions are made with emotion, not logic.

When it comes to decision-making, everyone seems to think that being logical is the best way to go. Yet people make about 90% of decisions using emotional reasoning. Often, people fool themselves into thinking they’re being logical because they justified their actions using logic.

If my side of the argument is logical, they figure, then the other side can’t argue with it and is bound to come around to my way of thinking. The problem is, you can’t assume that the other party will see things your way.

What the negotiator can and must do, however, is create a vision for the other side to bring about discovery and decision on their part.

Their ultimate decision is based on self-interest. That’s emotional. I want this. This is good for me and my side.

Where was the shame when they were having their affair’s?

All I’ve heard over and over again for 26 YEARS from my wife is “I’m not proud of what I did”. All the while STILL raging at me, being defensive, blaming me, and come to find out she was lying to for 24 years hiding more. The question I ask is which time amd which affair did you supposedly feel guilt and shame ? Because to me that’s not remorse or shame to enjoy it, hide it, and the. Do it again !
Can someone PLEASE ANYONE explain how someone can say these things about “Shame” when they had NONE while their engaging in their willful deliberate CHOICES of betrayal it is mind blowing ! Not one but 2 separate ones and then feel it ok to go on a cruise and flirt with her another man they’re attracted to ! It makes no sense .

Trust their actions, not their words. Guilt & Shame-not the same

I wrestled with this as well - for a long time. Here’s what I’ve learned… When they are guilty, they have a decision to make, feel remorse and work on doing better, admitting where they fall short, etc - basically take responsibility for their guilt. OR they can decide it’s “too much” and then blame shift, gaslight, coerce, manipulate, normalize wrongdoings - anything to hide the shame they now feel for the guilt they’ve held onto yet refuse to take responsibility for, and that’s where the pride and arrogance come in. They have to “be wonderful” in order to not feel the shame (including flirting) so the person they hurt Must be the problem - something they did or didn’t do to cause this, or it’s minimized, it’s “no big deal”. And they become Prideful to hide their shame. They can SAY they are guilty or ashamed all they want, but if they aren’t taking ACTION, they don’t feel true remorse and are not taking responsibility and WILL repeat or “act out” in some way or another - and excuse, blame, and lash out at you - because you just existing reminds them of their guilt, which is a problem if they don’t want to face it. It’s a vicious cycle that they have to decide to break - in the meantime you (and anyone in their path) will continue to face being abused as long as they continue to not heal. Hope this helps. The article/video on shame was good and I feel spot on, but there is So much more to learn on this. Learning and grieving has helped me so much. It’s all very painful, but allows you to heal and move forward regardless of a spouses hurtful decisions. Bringing validity and sanity and the ability to help any children or others that have been hurt through this as well. BUT your healing can either help them See/Want reality or they may decide not to face it. Prayers for you.

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