Shame: A Contagious Emotion

In an earlier post, I introduced a meditation on shame. The subsequent post focused on shame as a concealed emotion. In this post I want to focus on shame as a contagious emotion. Like the previous post, this discussion will draw on the work of Mary C. Lamia, my own experience and previous blog posts that I have written. In exploring shame contagion, I will discuss its effects on intimate partners, parents, children and peers.

Shame contagion in intimate relationships

Shame becomes contagious when a person in a relationship takes on a sense of diminished self-worth as a result of the projections of their partner who is attempting to deflect attention from their own “devalued sense of self”. If you value your partner and their opinion and are emotionally dependent on their opinion, you can be strongly influenced by their denigrating remarks and disrespectful behaviour. Your own shame response, reflected in a lower sense of self-worth, can reward their projecting behaviour and create a vicious circle of ever-diminishing self-esteem. The partner’s projection of their shame, whether used consciously or unconsciously, constitutes a form of “emotional abuse“.

Shame contagion in children and parents

A child who experiences distress early in life through the divorce of their parents can take on the shame that rightly belongs to one or both parents. The child can view themselves as the cause of the breakup because they have been “bad”. They can develop an ingrained sense of not being loved or lovable.

Children can also experience shame when their parents engage in what they consider to be shameful behaviour; parents, too, can feel ashamed when their child’s behaviour is criticised by others implying that the parents have failed in their parenting role.

Shame contagion from one person to their peers

Parents can engage, consciously or unconsciously, in shame-inducing behaviour towards their children. An example of this parental behaviour came to light in a workshop group I was facilitating. . The workshop group was continually disrupted by the trenchant criticism by one young woman of everything that was said by anyone else. She was highly analytical and considerably articulate.

In the first break at morning tea, I spoke to her privately and asked what was going on for her when she engaged in this destructive behaviour. She explained that her parents were academics and that even when she was a very young child, she was expected to contribute intelligently to the dinner table conversation. If one or other parent considered that she had said something they considered “stupid”, the parent placed a donkey figure in front of her (implying that she was a “dunce”). In the workshop, the young female participant was projecting her shame from her childhood experiences onto others in the group by making demeaning comments about their lack of intelligence and understanding.

Shame as a contagious emotion

It can be seen from the foregoing discussion that shame can spread across interdependent people or even people who have a low level of interdependence (such as peers). Partners can induce shame in their companions through projection, parents can contribute to feelings of shame when they belittle their children (because they do not measure up to the parent’s expectations), and peers can experience denigration from the shame-deflecting behaviour of another.

So, the contagion of shame can spread across multiple people, generate self-defeating cycles of behaviour and be sustained over several generations. As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and other mindfulness practices, we can become more conscious of our own shame, how it plays out in our lives and how it impacts others with whom we come into contact. The starting point to eliminating shame contagion is the development of self-awareness through progressive self-exploration. This, however, will require being still and engaging in self-inquiry which is often deferred because of the busyness of our daily lives.

____________________________________________

Image source: courtesy of KFrei on Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Developing Relational Mindfulness

Terry Real, in his podcast interview with Tami Simon of Sounds True, introduced the concept of “relational mindfulness”.  He described this as a skill that we can develop through meditation and reflection.  It entails being able to be in-the-moment in your interactions within your close relationships and to respond from your “adult prefrontal cortex”, while being conscious of the potential, automatic and harmful response of your wounded child.

Relational mindfulness requires recognising that your close relationship is your “biosphere” – it is integral to your ecology.  Terry suggests that “thinking relationally is synonymous with thinking ecologically”.  This, in turn, requires humility – recognition of the mutuality of the relationship, moving beyond the hurt of your wounded child and acknowledging your mistakes and the hurt of the other person.  It also entails being conscious enough to avoid triggering a negative response from the wounded child of the other person in the relationship.

It takes a lot of self-monitoring and self-management developed through meditation and reflection to achieve the requisite humility.  If you can develop self-regulation, you are better able to access your considered, adult response rather than be at the mercy of your compulsive wounded child.

Taking a break to recover and commit to the welfare of the relationship

If, however, despite your best efforts, you are flooded emotionally when you are triggered by the actions or words of your partner, you can withdraw from the interaction.  Terry suggests that the adult, considerate way to do this is to state three things:

  1. your need to take a break to deal with your own emotions around the issue under discussion
  2. your desire to re-engage in a reasonable time, e.g. in an hour
  3. your willingness to think about how the needs of both of you can be met.

It is critical to see the conflicted interaction not as an opportunity to win or prove your partner wrong, but as a chance to take care of your partner (as well as gain increased self-awareness).  Taking care of your partner may mean apologising (this is where humility helps) and asking what you can do to help your partner or to make good their “hurt”.  Accusations targeted at the other’s wounded child only inflame the situation.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection we can develop relational mindfulness in our everyday interactions within our close relationships.   Meditation practice and reflection on our interactions will help us build a relational mindset and develop adult responses in situations that trigger our wounded child.  This relational mindfulness, then, will enrich and sustain our close relationships.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of cocoparisienne on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

You Will Have Fewer Regrets

Invariably, our regrets flow from times when we have not been mindful.  There are many situations in life where this can occur.  Our regrets typically have to do with things we should not have said, actions we should not have taken, or things that we omitted to say or do that we should have said or done.

Situation: The job interview

When going for a job interview, for example, you may have been so nervous and panicky, that you did not present yourself in the best light.  You may have been “not with it” or unfocused.  Without a clear mind, you would not have understood the interviewer’s questions or responded in an appropriate manner.  You probably had not worked out “where they were  coming from” or what they intended by their questions.

Nor would have you picked up any emotions behind the interviewer’s questions such as concern, anxiety or even fear.  You could have come away thinking, “I just blew it” and realising that you left important things unsaid and did not “put your best foot forward” in terms of demonstrating your expertise.  In failing to remain calm, you missed the opportunity to convince the interviewer that you could handle stress well.  Mindful practice, in contrast, enables you to display calmness and clarify of mind.

Situation: Interaction with your partner

You may have had a recent interaction with your partner where you came away thinking, “I did not handle that well”.  Your partner may have complained that you were not listening or that your mind was elsewhere.  You may have become defensive, interrupted their sentences and talked over them – leading to frustration and anger on their part. In short, you may have failed to engage in active listening.  Mindful practice helps you to be fully present to the other person and listen for understanding, rather than to mount a self-defence.

Situation: Coversation with a friend or colleague

Your friend could have engaged you in conversation only to find that you were just interested in talking about yourself and your accomplishments – in other words not being present to them.  Alternatively, a colleague or staff member may have started talking about an issue or concern they had, and you quickly diverted or terminated the conversation because of your unease with the emotional content of their information.  You were not able to listen empathetically to what they had to say, because you were so preoccupied with your own emotions.   Mindful practice enables us to be empathetic listeners and to show people and their emotions the respect they deserve.

Situation: Conflict with a colleague, partner or friend  

You may have “lost your cool” or over-reacted in a conflict situation when you encountered a negative trigger – something that was said or done (your pet hate) that set you off.   You may not have developed self-management through mindful practice or learned to employ the SBNRR approach discussed previously.  This approach enables you to stop, breathe, notice, reflect and respond – in that sequence.

As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able manage the stressors in different situations – to listen effectively and empathetically and to self-manage by keeping our emotions and reactions under control.  If we achieve this, we will have fewer regrets about our words, actions or omissions.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of quinntheislander on Pixabay