ShameShifting

We’ve talked about blame shifting before and how hurtful it is to a betrayed spouse. Unfortunately, blame shifting has a close cousin: shame shifting.

Shame shifting occurs, at my house, when I feel ashamed of my self for something that I’ve done wrong, or didn’t do right, and my wife calls attention to it. Not because she is trying to poke at my shame, but because my choices have affected her. Instead of owning it and being humble, I’ll instead shame her about something, usually related but tangential, in an effort to avoid dealing with my own insecurities.

I had a knack for doing this in the beginning of our journey. When something would happen and Shelley was triggered, she would share it with me. Sometimes calmly, sometimes not so much. Either way I was reminded that my poor choices and infidelity deeply hurt her. Enter shame. And guilt, which was healthy, but not the shame. Rather than practicing empathy, apologizing (again) and trying to be present in her pain I would pop-off calling out something I perceived her doing wrong. Statements like these, that I made,  are indicative of shame shifting:

“You’ve moved past sharing your pain; now you’re just being mean”

“My sin against you doesn’t give you the right to sin back”

“If you wouldn’t yell at me I wouldn’t get angry”

“Are we STILL not past this? We won’t get past it til you let it go”

For a few minutes it felt really good to put her in her place. Then, like a boomerang, the shame would come right back. Only now it was amplified, because not only had I hurt her by my past actions but now I’ve hurt her again by my response in the current conversation. That’s the problem with shame shifting: it always comes back worse than before.

A couple of suggestions should you find yourself shame shifting.

1 – Stop It!

2 – If only it were that easy. Try to recognize the thought patterns of shame shifting. If, when reminded of your sin, your thoughts quickly move to criticism of the person calling attention to it, you’re probably beginning to shift it.

3 – Own it. If you can’t seem to pull the ripcord and stop the words from coming out of your mouth, then when you do realize you said what you said, own it. “I just shamed you instead of owning my own junk. I’m sorry”.

4 – Many people can be the recipient of our shame shifting. For me, it was Shelley, my bosses, people in traffic, baristas, you name it. No matter who it is, we harm ourselves by shifting it. When we allow ourselves to bear the full burden of our sin, we give ourselves a chance to grasp the gravity of its impact on us and those around us. That will get us a step closer to hating our sin.

 

 

 

The Beach

Since we were in Orange County speaking at Voyager’s Church last weekend, Shelley and I went and walked along the beach together. (by the way, if you want to listen to our story you can do so here: Voyagers) I can’t remember the last time we were at the beach. This experience was definitely unlike any in the past.

Over the course of a half hour or so we talked, walked, and stopped periodically to take in the sights and sounds. People body-boarding, surfing, playing volleyball, and then, inevitably, women in skimpy bikinis. For a moment I felt uncomfortable. Not for my integrity but for Shelley’s security. Would it bring up old memories? Would it trigger body image issues for her? Would it remind her of a time when my eyes would wander and my mind would drift?

So I brought it up. beach

I was the one to say, “hey, I want you to know that my integrity is intact. It sure is nice to be at the beach and not be struggling to look at these women. I want you to know that I am not lusting, and while there has been some temptation, I’m thankful to being seeing people as people, not as objects and bodies.”

And it was so nerve-racking to bring it up! You just never know how a conversation like that is gonna go. It could go south before the first sentence is complete. It could ruin the whole day. And night. It could be a setback. Even 11 years later I still feel anxiety.

Or it could be the way forward.

Of course she was wondering. She was about to ask, in fact. Want to know what it gets built when the wife is thinking it but the husband is the first to bring it up? Yep, you guessed it: Trust. It gave us a sweet moment to reflect on where we’ve come from and what God has done in both our hearts and our relationship.

I encourage you, if you’re married, to talk about how you want conversations like this to go. As a wife, do you want your husband to bring it up and reassure you about his integrity, unprompted? As a husband, do you have fear and anxiety that you need to lean-in to and perhaps break through?

 

 

You, Me and Shame

There are moments when recovery from sexual addiction is a war against shame. That can be especially true in sexual intimacy.For a man in recovery, sexual intimacy with his wife can be a battle against old thoughts and shameful feelings. It can have an impact on his ability to stay engaged mentally, emotionally and even physically. In fact I’ve talked to 3 men in the last week who’ve lost an erection in the middle of sexual intimacy because their shame was so present. The guilt and shame associated with having previously committed adultery, for blowing up the family, for hurting his kids, for viewing outrageous pornography can be overwhelming.

For each of those men there is a wife who, sometimes equally, struggles with shame. The shame of insignificance and questioning if he’s thinking of the other woman. The shame of incompetency and wondering if she is being compared to women from the porn pictures. For some wives all the old messages come flashing back and the allegations are levied against herself: I’m not enough, I’m too old, I’m too young, I’m too prudish, If my body were different, if I didn’t have a checkered past, etc.

Here are a few tips to deal with shame as it pertains to sexual intimacy:

1) Pause – Stop the process and take a timeout. Many men, and women, will try to continue and just get the thoughts out of their head. They’ll try to ignore it, refocus, turn the lights on or off, change positions, say different things and so on. Don’t try to get around it; instead work through it.

2) Talk about it – Yes, it may ruin the mood. But the mood isn’t the most important thing! Your personal and marital healing are the most important thing. If you’re the husband, remind your wife that you love her enough to not have sex with her while another woman or pornographic thoughts are in your head. Talk about the pain it brings up, engage empathy and let your heart break for the situation. That conversation may not be pleasant. Here are 2 ways it could go:

“Honey, I’m stopping because I’ve got old memories in my head and I can’t get rid of them. I don’t want them, I wish I didn’t have them, I wish I had never done the horrible things I did. I am so sorry that even this sacred place in our relationship is ruined. I’m sorry.”

vs.

“Let’s stop. I’m thinking of how some of the women in porn seem to enjoy sex so much and you just don’t seem to enjoy it at all.”

Hopefully you see a difference. That second one is a direct quote from my someone in my office. As you might imagine, that conversation did not go well.

If you’re a wife, honor yourself enough to use your voice and share your pain and disappointment with your husband. You don’t have to shame in that moment, but you can express your hurt. And you can ask for reassurance. Give him a chance to assertively say that he is in fact NOT calling up old memories and is fully present with you.

NOTE: Guys, whatever you do, DON’T use pornographic thoughts or memories of a mistress to stay engaged in sex with your wife. This will only cause you more damage in that you are still not connecting in intimacy with your spouse, instead you are connecting with intensity via euphoric recall.

3) Don’t make sex the focus – Instead, make the focus intimacy. Make the point of your being together connection, vulnerability, security and reassurance. Sometimes we can experience that using our bodies, other times (especially in early recovery) we need to experience that with our words. If you’re having difficulty shifting the focus invite help from support folks or a counselor. 

Remember that recovery is about intimacy, not intensity.