17: Shame Trap

If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.

Dr. Brene Brown

Leah Marshall of LeapCast’s Facebook live stream, “The Science of Sexual Fantasies and Secret Desires,” included a quote about shame. It obviously caught my attention: shame cannot survive in secrecy.

My behavior related to my betrayal et al was coated in shame. I believe this is why my shame lost its power and I was able to engage in a solution once the secret of my betrayal came to light. I was finally able to ask for help.

I may not like the fact Beatrix called Painter, but I am grateful and excited to be free of the shame’s shackles. I felt as if I were shot from a cannon, and for the first time in years, I had nothing to hide. From that moment twelve months and 26 days ago to now, I have refused to be blackmailed, shamed, or humiliated. I have openly talked and written about my behavior, the consequences, and all the general shitheadery necessary to cover the behavior.

I’ve embraced the grieving.

Knowing what I did, I would have ended the relationship too. To move forward in any relationship I need to be able to answer, “If things get hard how will I know you won’t run back and fuck someone else again?”

Until I can answer that question, I wouldn’t take myself back either…and I would be hardpressed to start something new although I am trying.

However, I would argue that most of my behavior was built around shame motivators. Simply talking about my betrayal et al, and the patterns behind the behavior have allowed me to reclaim some of the power shame stole from my life.

As such, I am willing to take the risk, face the uncertainty, and be emotionally transparent – even in the face of judgments and condemnation from ill-informed, contempt-filled interlopers. Outsiders double down trying to re-energize the shame. They wanted me to go back into the box.

In reality, the problem doesn’t start when I am talking, the problem begins when I’m not. I will not be blackmailed into silence by shame again.

I think the assumption of some people is the secret-keeping and escalating series of lies are intended to keep the game going – I hear that a great deal. In reality, I think the secrets and lies have nothing to do with a game but are about hiding the shame. The secrecy gave shame the power to blackmail my options emotionally. While shame told me, I had to fix the damage before I was discovered. This required greater and more extravagant lies and bigger secrets, reinforcing the shame.

It was like trying to take a shortcut and, four hours later, still unable to admit I was lost, stop, or ask for help. I tried to shortcut integrity.

I think, and in my opinion, most men don’t feel good about what they are doing – hence the slide into secrecy and defensiveness – but they don’t have the tools, so shame seizes power over the decision-making process. We have to double down on the behavior less being discovered. Shame boxes us in, and without help, we become trapped.

Shame never wants to be discovered because once the secret is out, it loses its power to rule our decisions.

It is why there is such a dramatic shift in behaviors and personality once the secret is out: we are free to be ourselves again.

Shame is a trap. My friend and poet Miriam Dunn gave me a quote: “If it can be destroyed by the truth, let it be destroyed.”

When I first heard that, I thought it was about infidelity and relationships. What I realize now is the quote is about the shame behind infidelity et al. By telling the truth, shame is destroyed.