In response to another member, I thought I would take a few minutes to write about the Shame Spiral. As the enormity of it all falls around us, the combination of regret and remorse tends to generate immerse feelings of shame and guilt that threaten to overwhelm the WS.
I would think that most of us have BTDT. Its a normal reaction but its not always a healthy and healing reaction.
If your finding that you have to constantly and continually deal with overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt, then perhaps you should consider that you may be falling into a shame spiral. Itís a common reaction as you face up to the consequences of the affair and finally come to grips that the devastation is your fault. If you let it, it can literally drive you to your knees, crying and sobbing. For others, the overwhelming strength of these emotions are too powerful to face and so, you slam the door shut and try to stuff the feelings. But that's not healthy either.
Quotes from Various Posters - I am suffering from my own depression and severe anxiety for what I have done... I'd rather not talk about it, deal with it, because if I do, it only digs me deeper in the hole I am in and creates anger and feelings of worthlessness..... Do you ever get out of despicable me land? ... I've been feeling so ashamed for so long, itís hard to not fall back to into it...I am just trying to figure out how you reconcile the good with the bad..... Nothing I do is right... I am just feeling a little depressed and like I just want to close the door to my office and cry... As a WS, how do you being to reconcile the unbelievable shame? I can't stop crying... I feel like giving it up. Iím just so tired... I hate myself so much for what I have done to my BS...I know itís entirely my fault...My selfish choices ... I have a hard time keeping tears back thinking the damage from my stupid choices can never be undone... I am ashamed of my past, and ashamed of whom I have become.
Even now, 6 years into healing, I find reading these words brings forth an emotional swell. Those are hurtful words to read and yet, I feel they are part of the healing cycle. It is difficult to imagine how anyone can heal themselves if they are feeling this much self-inflicted pain and hurt and yet, it happens. It does seem to be a natural state of ďbeingĒ that all remorseful WSís find themselves having to experience but IMHO, the key thing to remember is to only dip your toe into this ugly pit of emotion briefly and then move beyond.
Why do we feel shame? Well, the easy answer is that those feeling are a natural outcome of the WS finally facing up to the reality that our actions are not consistent with your words. In medical terms, itís called cognitive dissonance.
As we see that disconnect and come to a fuller understanding of our failures, our reaction to our personal failure and our responsibility for this mess results in feeling shame. Unless youíre a sociopath, there is no escaping these feelings as you gaze into the eyes of your spouse as they cry their hearts out in a sea of anger and hurt.
Shame is a deep and debilitating emotion. Its roots are complex and may be related as much to FOO issues as it is related to the affair. Its cousins are guilt, humiliation, demoralization, degradation and remorse. Shame leaves one crying helplessly, with waves of sadness and pain at the core of their being, wishing only that you can curl up in a ball and die. In this regard, shame is good. Itís the expression of our getting it. But there is a dark side to shame and guilt.
After experiencing any traumatic event and maybe especially after a betrayal of an affair, shame can haunt victims in a powerful and often unrecognized manner which impairs the healing and recovery process.
Allowing oneself to dwell and indulge in the feelings of shame may result in you becoming shame bound, a state of being where the continuing expression of guilt builds upon the feeling of shame and worthlessness in a downward spiral. An excellent book on this would be John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You.
Bradshaw defines the shame spiral as a internalized, self-reinforcing sequence of shame events which leaves us in a state of being shame bound. In other words, we are stuck in the mud of being shameful and full of self-loathing and guilt and pain and we simply canít find ourselves able to move onward and thus, the continuing expression of guilt builds upon the feeling of shame and worthlessness in a downward spiral.
To avoid this, you have to break free of the pity party, or at the least, be able to limit the time spend in self-pity and guilt to short periods of time.
Sometimes, without a lot of healing effort, the WS is never able to progressís beyond this point and that causes the WS to stay frozen, unable to forgive themselves and unable to move forward in healing.
For proper healing, it is important that shame be acknowledged and expressed so that some form of state of self-forgiveness is reached. Only when we are letting go of the self-destructive cycle of shame and guilt can we eventually reach a place where honour returns.
You can choose to stay here drowning in guilt and shame. You can punish yourself for your bad choices forever. You can nail yourself to a cross everyday and all night long. The cycle of beating yourself up over your mistakes and failures produces nothing but self-loathing. Staying in this self-perpetuating cycle of shame and guilt does nothing to promote healing.
But you can also decide to take control insofar as you also have the power to forgive yourself and move on. You can accept and move onward to further self-healing. I think that addressing the guilt and shame is needed to move onward to self-forgiveness and for some people, a certain degree of self-forgiveness is crucial to getting beyond the guilt and shame spiral.
The kicker of course is that you can only do one of these things. You cannot choose to indulge in self-hatred and heal. You cannot heal yourself when you let yourself spiral into self-blame. You need to choose and commit to one path. The choice is yours alone. You are the only one who can decide today to start doing the work to get past this but once your decision is made, you can find support and help from your support circle including your BS, SI and your IC.
According to Suzie Johnson, the key starting point is letting go of the self-punishment. You have to let go of the belief that you have to suffer to pay for your mistakes. Itís not a matter of not taking responsibility for your actions, it just a matter of letting go of the punishment part of guilt and holding on to the need for positive change so it wonít happen again. You also have to stop living in the past, donít worry about the future and stay focused on the present. In other words, live for what you are doing now and not what you did last year.
One of the most powerful ways to deal with shame is to express those feelings to a qualified IC. IF IC or MC just isnít available, other trusted friends can sometimes substitute but itís a common belief that in order for this to work, you need to talk to someone in order to release the shame. While journaling may be therapeutic, nothing works as well as someone listening to you. And yes, your BS just could be that person too.
Healing tip # 1 - when you think of your mistakes, remember "why" you did it instead of why you wish you hadn't done it. Knowing why is a proactive and positive step forward, whereas wishing that you didn't do it is just a way of dwelling on the negatives of your life, your life choices and of yourself. Strive for being positive.
As you release your feeling and thoughts on your shame and guilt, you may find yourself facing more questions. For example, a facet of the shame that you face may be that at one level, you truly do miss the attention that the AP provided. Youíre guilty that you enjoyed that time with the AP. How can you confess having these feelings without reminding yourself of your guilt and shame? On one hand, you have to express these thoughts and yet, on the other hand, itís hard to express them because they remind you of your actions and your affair.
It seems like a catch 22 situation and it is. But there is no way past this other than going through the process. Not facing the issue of your guilt will mean that you can never forgive yourself. Deciding to never dealing with the shame means that you are not facing the demons inside of yourself. Youíre merely hiding them and the sad truth is that they will come back and bite you in the arse at one time or the other if you donít.
Facing your shame and guilt head on is not an easy thing to do. For some WSís, this pit of shame and guilt fits into other problems that they already have regarding emotional maturity. If youíre depressive, if you are naturally uncommunicative, if you have a whole host of issues, then this shame cycle can multiple the down cycle. That of course makes it even more crucial that you have to break free. For those that have a martyr complex, feeling guilt and shame is a natural part of their core being and thus they embrace these feelings instead of fighting them.
Similar to the process of R, healing from shame is usually not something that you can just decide to do and get over within a single time and place. While it shouldn't take 5 years to get beyond the shame and guilt cycle, it still will take some time for healing to occur. As you work through the roots of your ďwhyí and face up to your feelings of guilt and shame, you will find yourself reaching answers that only create new questions which sometimes results in having to pick away at the process, one step at a time. There is no magic bullet and no sounding of trumpets to herald your decision to fight the shame cycle. Itís just another decision among many that you may have to make as you heal but this one is important. This one may be the secret behind healing or being mired in an unhealthy life because you canít let go.
Personally, when Iím triggered and feeling shame or guilt over my affair, I work hard at reminding myself that I am not defined by a single mistake. Yes, itís hard to convince yourself of this but positive mental attitude (PMA) does more for reconciliation than sorrow ever did.
So, what did you do when the shame and guilt threatened to overwhelm you? Who did you seek out to talk to? What advice was given? Do you just stuff these feelings and hope they go away? Share your stories, if you can, after all, the strength of SI is in the sharing of our stories.