The Insidiousness of Shame, Part 2

The Insidiousness of Shame

Shame: A Pervasive Cancer of the Soul
Shame: Beginning to Break Free

Facing my shame that has plagued me my whole life has been eye-opening for me. I am learning that past trauma that I had left unattended to created a place in my psyche for the pervasive destruction of shame to take hold, wreaking havoc on me and my marriage. I understand now that avoiding and ignoring my strong negative feelings did not make me strong or brave. My husband, like me, had no idea that my shame was the culprit for much of our disconnection through the years. I always felt guarded and unable to access a true sense of connection with my husband. I didn't let him truly see me, and kept secrets from him for years. Shame did not make me betray him, but it festered in me unattended, where I stuffed it down with my secrets. I erected a wall of falseness between us, a wall of pride, so that he would never know how truly bad I was. My unwillingness to be authentic kept us from true intimacy, leaving us both feeling like something was missing from our lives together.

Controlling shame has been a process for me - I had to first find the source of the shame and start to deal with it; I had to tear down my false image and learn who I truly was; I had to forgive myself and start to believe that I have worth. I educated myself on what shame truly is and how it affects me personally and in my relationships. A quick Google search defines shame as: "painful feelings or the emotional distress that is caused by the consciousness of wrong behavior, shortcomings, disgrace or disrepute." But what this general definition does not include is how these feelings and distress are processed and ingrained into our thought patterns and behaviors. To learn this, I read books on shame (many recommended by Affair Recovery). A common theme running through the literature that I picked up was the difference between guilt (I did something bad) and shame (I am bad). Also, guilt can be healthy in reformation and restitution, but there is never any good or constructive shame.

I started to discuss my feelings of shame with my therapist. I had been seeing my therapist for 10 years for anxiety and depression, but I never told her about the trauma from my youth, my betrayal of my husband or of other secrets that I was holding onto. My shame was so strong around these topics that I was going to take them to my grave and let therapy try and mend a much-guarded and groomed false self. Living within my false image had been harming my mental health, my husband, and my marriage. I was not being authentic or taking responsibility for who I truly was, or the real consequences of my actions. I was living superficially. I was allowing myself to engage in behaviors that weren't reflective of the good, principle-driven person I so longed to be. I was missing out on having true intimacy and a close connection with my husband, and I was depriving him of something that he had been wanting most desperately - the real me.

Why was I fighting so hard to protect this shame-fueled persona? Was the false image I so relentlessly clung to really the person I wanted to be? What was I gaining by exhausting myself trying to defend my behavior? When I took an honest look inside, all my lies, defenses, justifications, minimizations, and denials started to sour in my mouth and burn my own ears as I said them aloud. I no longer wanted to let shame dictate who I was or how I acted. I no longer wanted shame to negatively affect my husband and my marriage. I wanted to finally take responsibility for myself and the effects of my actions.

What eventually helped me the most was acknowledging and truly accepting that I am hurt and broken and in need of change. Once I did, I could hear my husband's feelings without falling into a spiral of self-hate. I could take responsibility for his anger and pain, because I caused it. He did not choose to have his world turned inside out. He did not choose to lose his belief in himself. He did not choose to lose his trust in me. I could stay in a place of empathy because I did this to him. I could put his best interest over my own - the opposite of when I put my interests and desires over his and betrayed him. The opposite of when he was calling out in despair for me in the ICU, and all I could hear was my own shameful self-loathing.

I am still on my journey, and though I don't have any easy answers, I do know that I must fight shame at every turn - it is so ingrained in me. Staring it down, not hiding from it, and taking control of my inner narrative helps. So does having someone around me who knows my true value. Recognizing shame and getting on top of it has been one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do - I still struggle with shameful feelings, and find it difficult to forgive myself for the destruction I have caused. I hurt that it has taken me so long to face my shame, and that it took the betrayal of my husband to bring it to light. However, my husband's inexhaustible support, love, and empathy, and his decision to stay in our marriage have shown me that despite my horrible wrongs, I am a worthwhile human being with much to give. I have learned to trust and believe in his opinion of me, which has never been as harsh and critical as my own. He reflects to me the truth - that though I have done some very bad acts, I am worthy and have the power to make amends and to change these flaws within myself. I don't have to hide from them or pretend they don't exist, because they do not define me. Having humility over who I am and what I have done, but also extending myself compassion, will be my way out of shame. I am confident that, one day, I will finally be able to step into self-truth and eventual redemption.

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I commend your courage, Vikki

As a betrayed spouse, I have learned so much from the (formerly) unfaithful spouses here on this platform that could not be replicated through other means. People like you who are brave enough to share your stories and reveal the innermost thoughts, fears, and distorted reality that led you to betray your spouse, and then into confession and recovery, are invaluable to people like me to better understand and grow my empathy for my husband.

Nothing will ever justify his infidelity, but I wanted you to know that your vulnerability in this space is deeply meaningful to me and others like me, toward my healing and the healing of our marriage.

Well done.


Thank you for your considerate words. I am so sorry for what you are going through. I know your road is so very dificult- the worst pain anyone could imagine. It been a journey for me to understand how I have harmed others with my selfish behavior and to see how I have affected the ones I love. I'm glad to share my recovery journey with you and hope it may help in some small way.

Thank you, Vikki

I honor your honesty and vulnerability. I find it is not always easy being a human being. Take care, from a betrayed partner. ☮️


It certainly isn't easy, and this journey has taught me that having empathy and acting in the service of others are what would make AR obsolete. Thank you for your comment and I wish you the best on your journey:)

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