Being Selfish With Your Shame

At the EMS Weekend we attended, Rick talked about the unfaithful spouse being “selfish with their shame.” It’s an interesting concept, which essentially refers the unfaithful spouse continually making it about them instead of the ones they’ve hurt or betrayed. It’s continuing to wallow in their shame, or continuing to focus on what their choices have cost themselves, and not their spouse. It’s being more concerned with how much of a failure they may appear to themselves and to you, than how concerned they truly are with how hard of a time you, the betrayed spouse, is having due to their choices.

To say it’s dysfunctional is an understatement.

Shame is that way: self-absorbent. It makes the issue about me and not the ones who are suffering. Shame says, “I AM something bad.” Grief, conviction, or as some may call Godly sorrow, says “I’ve done something bad.” There’s a world of difference between the two, and until we can be unselfish with our shame, I’m not sure we’ll ever be free, or much worse, ever help our spouse (or victims) get free.

Shame in many ways contributes to narcissism and continues to engulf the unfaithful spouse in ways that seem or appear as though they are humble, contrite, or sorry for their choices. The problem is that as long as we are focused on ourselves we can never be free and never help those we’ve hurt get free. We also make it next to impossible for our betrayed spouse to forgive us as we don’t appear safe at all.

Shame does all it can to get us to focus on our own pain, our own feelings, and our own struggles.

One of the most freeing things that happened to me was when I was able to see how self-absorbed I truly was.  I wasn’t able to focus on what Samantha was dealing with, and her pain and her triggers and her reminders, as I was overwhelmed with my own pain.

I don’t mean to justify the plight of those overwhelmed with shame, however I do mean to give context. It really is a tough, if not excruciating, place to be. It’s a bit of a vice grip to be honest. We’re faced with great loss, our double life has become exposed, we feel like a complete failure, and we have no idea how to get out of the mess we are in. This mess by the way, is a mess that WE have created. Much worse, we’ve justified our affair time and time again, blamed you for it internally in order to keep it going, and now we’re torn as we can’t really see clearly now at all. We’re lost, and the only constant in our life is deception and in many ways, we have no clue how to act normal and be honest. Everyone but our affair partner is our enemy, and we’re not sure how to come out of the clouds and find truth. In short, we’re a mess, and until we get help, we will continue to be a wrecking ball that picks up speed. 

The only thing that could be worse, the only person that could be in worse shape, would be the one’s we’ve hurt and betrayed. The one’s we’ve lied to, deceived, blamed, and now violated by our choice to cheat, are the only ones more in pain than we are, and when we see you reveal any of that pain, we immediately think of ourselves more than we empathize with you.

We have no idea how to get free, and we truly have no clue how to help you heal. Quite frankly, we’re even more lost on how to help ourselves, regardless of what we say.

I don’t mean to leave you lost and in pain, but I will leave you with what helped me: an expert. At an EMS Weekend, the lights came on for me in a way that I had never known before. To this day, one of my strengths NOW is to allow Samantha to emote about life, kids, financial issues, and identify with what SHE is feeling first.

There is hope friends, there truly is. 

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I find shame to be an enormous roadblock to this whole process. it's nice to know there is hope as my spouse is overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment. it's been a public failure and it's made him out to be a complete idiot to many people. it sounds as though you've been through you're own embarrassment and shame. I can see how the shame caters to him being so self absorbed. how long will it take you think, for him to start to gain ground? its been 3 months and i've seen little change to his self absorption and his inability to focus on my pain and my hurt. i'm hopeful, but finding it hard to see any light in this whole dark mess.

Shame blinds

My husband is unrecognizable to me because of his total self absorption, blame deflecting and attempts to escape what he's done to his family. Our recovery seemed hopeful for two months. Then he lost all contact with his AP. Our recovery fell apart as he grieved the loss and convinced himself my love and I are worthless compared to the euphoria of his affair. He has become a monster with no care for his children or I. We are currently working through custody and splitting assets. He is unstable and impossible to reason with. His self pity is nauseating. Where is the man I loved and chose to father my children?

So helpful for the betrayer

Shame is what I think keeps us stuck. Our situation seems unique. Maybe it’s not. I was unfaithful when my wife and I were still dating. This was 27 years ago. I cheated on her when she was my girlfriend, became a Christian and confessed that I had been unfaithful(with bare minimum details), after we were engaged to be married. Then, I boxed the whole thing up and we never talked about it for almost 30 years. I had a totally warped view of what forgiveness, repentance and restitution were. Neither of us had any clue what betrayal trauma was. I never let my wife process the pain of betrayal that I had caused her. She was a good Christian wife, who raised for amazing kids and supported me through everything. Now, this year, it’s finally all coming out and we’re actually processing it. She’s amazing and is doing so much work to try to get through it. I’m still the problem, letting my shame hijack us all the time. We start to talk about another aspect of my sexual integrity issues and I will often get to the point where I just can’t handle it and I start hating on myself and freaking out with sadness and anger and I want to run away. Then I hate myself for freaking out and wanting to run away because I love my wife and I want this to work.

We are both in counseling and we discussed the EMS weekend and other intensives but we haven’t done one together yet. Is that our only way through this? The shame seems to lay dormant for weeks and then pounce on me when I least expect it and take our good conversations about healing completely off course and ruin entire weekends that could be spent connecting and growing our intimacy.

We are so weary with the cycle and want it to stop. We’re trying so hard and I’m definitely not a victim but I know I need help to break this cycle that I keep falling into.

Any insight is truly appreciated. AR has already helped us so much with all of the articles and videos. Thank you

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