On Shame

19 Jan 2007

A bright, funny, professional woman I know struggled with a personal dilemma
she could hardly bear to name. She was paralysed by shame. There were new
directions that she wanted to pursue in her professional life, but she felt she
could not because it would have meant owning the skeleton in her cupboard. That
skeleton was a bad relationship.

Hers wasn’t a monumentally awful relationship, her physically safety was not
at risk, nor was she subjected to public humiliation, but still it was bad enough
to erode her sense of self. She had her reasons for not leaving for a while

Now, while I would like to see every woman leave an abusive relationship
yesterday, I will never judge them. It’s not for anyone outside the
relationship to judge. Still, I do care passionately about their life, their
safety and their health.

This woman was ashamed to admit publicly that the relationship was bad
because she was still in it.

Now this brings up all sorts of paradoxes in our society. We’re very good at
telling other people to ‘put up or shut up’, yet we tend to voice at least some
of our complaints relentlessly. Just a few months ago the world was exposed to
the edifying spectacle of the England football team weeping shamelessly like 6
year olds when they dropped out of the World Cup, after a lacklustre
performance … and young men and boys weeping on The X Factor seems almost de

It is – for me at least, crabby person that I am – an extraordinary example
of the self-indulgence that characterizes society… Far from being ashamed to
show the world their weepy side, our gallant English footballers and other
hopefuls expect to meet with understanding and sympathy. Theirs is a burden of
distress for the nation to shoulder with them.

The woman I was speaking to felt obliged to shoulder her burden alone. She
had learned to live around the difficult situation in her personal life. At
this point in her life it seems to her the least bad option. The problem is
that it leaves a hollowness at the heart of her life. It leaves her, like the
Bee Gees, with a ‘hole in her soul’; a hole that will not be filled until she is
prepared to reject the shame and own the failure of the relationship.

I believe there is a place for shame; it relates to wrongdoing, the things
that we do that harm another person or society.

I do not believe that shame ever attaches to someone who lives with an
abusive partner. What need can you possibly have to punish yourself when your
partner is already doing it so effectively for you?

We all make the best decisions we can at the time, for the best reasons we
have at the time. Whatever decision we make requires tremendous courage. There
are no easy options in an abusive relationship. The question is: how can you
best protect yourself from further psychological damage?

There is no place for shame in abuse recovery. Whenever you feel shame know
that that is the abuser’s burden you are shouldering and embrace the feelings
that lie beneath the stranglehold of shame. What you fight will persist, what
you embrace will pass.

There may be immense sadness to being where you are – that’s perfectly
normal. Without the anchor of shame to keep it in place, it will pass must
faster than you probably think.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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