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.
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?
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?