Have you experienced the shame of an emotionally abusive relationship?

29 Oct 2013

 Have you experienced the shame of an emotionally abusive relationship?

ashamedwomansmallOne of the core emotions of an emotionally abusive relationship is shame.  All emotionally abusive partners are past-masters at manipulating shame, to their own advantage.  From an emotionally abusive husband’s point of view shame is a wonderfully effective tool, which fits perfectly with the dynamic of the emotionally abusive relationship. 

It’s a tool, alright.

But in order to understand a little more about it, let’s cast Shame in a different light, as a game, commonly played by 2 or more, more or less consenting players.

The rules of the game are fairly simple:


  • One player – or a specific group  –  has all the power
  • One player – or a designated group – has NO power
  • These roles are fixed, and absolutely NOT reversible, for the duration of the game.
  • The player/group with the power can exercise their power however they please.  They can progress around the board however they choose.
  • The player without the power has to keep throwing the dice, moving slowly round the board, and working through an endless series of challenges.
  • It is a foregone conclusion that the powerful player(s) will accumulate more points, and win.
  • The game only ends when one, or both, players walk away from the game.

The powerful player is exquisitely good at the game.  He knows how to wield all the trump cards like judgement, humiliation, and punishment, to maximum effect.  He has no intention of walking away from a game that he loves, and wins.

The powerless player is too busy trying to understand the rules of the game to think about anything more than just staying in the game.  Sadly, because the powerless player can’t bring herself to believe that the rules she is experiencing are The Rules, she just keeps going, waiting for the game to be magically transformed into a more enjoyable sort of game.

Does this sound familiar?  Does it remind you, at all, of the dynamic of your emotionally abusive relationship?

Shame stinks.

Shame is toxic, and pointless.  We’ve all been there, and nearly drowned in it.    

The fact that you’re bothering to read this now means that you have had a long, destructive experience of shame.

My mother always used to tell me: “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I was a good kid.  I was desperate to please, and get things right, so I was ashamed of myself.  A lot of the time.  For any number of things.  That’s why I say shame is so pointless. 

Shame doesn’t help you to learn from your mistakes.

Shame doesn’t help you to do better next time.

Shame doesn’t even help you to make sense of a situation.

Shame simply teaches you to feel bad about yourself.

Feeling bad about yourself serves one useful purpose: it keeps you stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship.  It keeps you in the power of an emotionally abusive partner – whether or not you’re still living with him.

This week, shame has been very much on my radar.  I’ve been dealing with some very old family issues –  so old they should have been dead and buried long before most of our current pop sensations were ever born.  Since the family game of choice is Shame, I’ve been  not so much invitedas ordered  to resume my role as The Powerless One. 

And I’m not playing, any more.  I walked away from that game a long time ago, and I’m not walking back into it.  It’s not a game I like, or see the point of. This has left the other players with a problem.  How they solve it is up to them, of course.

The Demon drinkssmallThe other thing that stands out for me is a woman I know slightly.  She’s lost her livelihood,  her driving licence, her home, and been struck of the register of her professional association.  She doesn’t have a partner, and she is currently battling an alcohol problem.  She goes on to say:

“Everyone has a ‘I slept in my car’ story as a Speaker….I don’t have a car!!  2014 will bring on blog, book, speaking, singing, and freedom from ‘stuff’.” 

She has lost pretty much everything.  But she has no intention of giving up, and going down.  Instead, she’s going to get out there, and share her experiences with the World. 

Why not?

Because she is not a victim of The Demon Shame. 

She’ll talk about her alcohol problems, and the mistakes she’s made.  She knows that they don’t define her.  She knows her human worth is not diminished because she has messed up.

Will she come back from where she is now?


She won’t come back because her circumstances were easier than some.  She’ll come back because she won’t let herself be humiliated, defeated, and marginalized day after day, by Shame. 

There’s a learning in there – I believe – for all of us.  If you’re struggling right now – and there are many, many ways to struggle – there’s no point fighting your circumstances.  There’s even less point fighting your shame. 

The way through is simply by changing your mind-set.  When you set aside the Shame, you open the door to your vast – untapped – potential.  You just have to stop thinking like an emotionally abused woman.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: “Having messed up is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is.”


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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