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.