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by Geoff Laughton

QuarrelWhen you are looking at what makes your relationship(s) (oh hell…and life itself) challenging and difficult,  it will help to really examine the power and Modus Operandi of shame. It’s often been called the Master Emotion, and while it may not really be that for you, you sure can count on the fact that, to the degree you have it and don’t know how to work with it, it will become your Master and the insidious, stealth bomber on the well-being of your relationship(s).  It’s a huge topic, so today, I want to share about  just one facet of how shame can control you that is worth paying sober attention to.

When something happens to you that hurts your feelings, makes you mad, scares you, or proves to be very disappointing, shame is usually triggered.  How do you know that’s happened?  Well, are you hearing any of these in your head, followed by the sinking feeling of your stomach dropping down to your feet?

  • “I’m not enough”
  • “They don’t like me”
  • “They don’t know what they’re missing”
  • “I screwed up, and now I’m going to pay the price”
  • “I can’t really do it, so to hell with it”
  • “It’s his/her fault!”

Are any of those standard parts of your emotional response repertoire (as they can be for so many)?  If so, how do you tend to respond?  Are you even consciously aware of that being what’s happening when you suddenly slam on the brakes with your dreams, your ambitions, your passions, and/or your work?  Does procrastination set in, aided by its subtle – yet sneaky – helpmate, distraction?

If the answer is “yes” to any of those questions, then you can use that “state” as an indicator for you…an indicator that you’re in the midst of, or on the way towards, a Shame Attack, in which you are no longer present.  I don’t just mean not present in the room…I’m talking not even in 2011.  You aren’t really reacting to a current situation; instead, you’re feeling and acting (or not acting) from a very young part of yourself.  You’ve been triggered into a wound, or wounds, that go back decades.  To make it even stickier, if you don’t know you’re in a shame attack – or you do, but are unable to own it – it’s almost inevitable that the normal go-to response will be to project it onto someone else…particularly your partner.

When that happens, you will often respond from the same menu of responses that you first learned as a child, mostly from observing your parents’ relationship.  For example, if your Mom got disappointed a lot when you were growing up, and her stock response to that was to get mad or devastatingly hurt/depressed, you’ll likely find that you do the exact same thing without even thinking about it.  It was sobering for me to discover myself responding to being ticked off and/or disappointed by my wife in our early years together in the exact same way my Mother dealt with me when she was in those states.

ChoicesYou can outgrow adopting the particular habit of making your distress or upset with your partner be about “The Other,” if that’s where you most easily pin the blame for what you’re feeling about your partner.  However, in trying to do so, it can become easy for you to go radically to the other extreme, where it must ALWAYS be about you.  Either way, the egoic conceit and emotional hobbling that either side of the spectrum engenders ends up being crippling.  That is, of course, unless you’re paying attention, learning to discern the difference between healthy shame and self-flagellating shame, and can better master discerning between when you’re retreating towards healthy introspection or proverbially (and often literally) hanging your head in shame as you go into full retreat, decimated by shame and/or resignation.  It’s like the equivalent of going into an inner land of Oz, where you’d give your eye teeth to even KNOW where Home is, much less how to get back there.

One important way to begin “getting yourself back,” is to do whatever it takes to be in communication with someone (preferably your partner) besides the Hall of Mirrors in between your ears, to share what you’re feeling and thinking, so you can get a Reality Check.  Remember, if you’re in a Shame Attack, how you’re convinced things are – and why – isn’t likely to be very accurate.  It’s more likely you’re doing more projecting, in a way that’s reminiscent of how often you could feel that way when you were young, and you’ll respond, again, as if you were back there.  So, talking about it, and clearly communicating what will help you get back to the here and now, which will give you room to work with your partner in a more sober and empowered way.

I would really love to hear what you think and feel about this topic.  If you would be willing to share, and would want it to be anonymous, please email me at  If you’re willing to have your experiences be of more immediate use and support for others trying to figure all this stuff out too, I invite you to post a comment or a note, to my Living Your Spirit Now Facebook Fan Page.

– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.