18: A Love Letter to Betrayers – Imagining Shame

Our inner voice is rarely neutral or dispassionate. Your thoughts are doing their job, which is to protect you. The key is to find the space between the thinker and the thought, the emotion, and the action. You own your thoughts. They don’t own you.

– Dr. Susan David

Hi My Friend,

I lived with an internal dialogue of self-shaming for a long time during my last relationship and several months afterward.

I realized the damage I did to myself with shame after my last Partner ended the relationship. I have been harassed and bullied by interlopers and rumormongers, projecting their ghost stories and opinions onto me and our relationship. Their abuse helped me recognize that entirely too many actions in my last Love were bound to the myths of shame as defined by preexisting trauma. My choices were unskillful responses to emotions I am avoiding.

Through therapy and mindful practice, I’ve come to recognize feelings of shame are not bad or wrong. These Shame responses are simply unskillful and often unconscious coping mechanisms intended to protect me from further wounding.

Does this justify the secret-keeping and escalating series of lies around having an affair?

Of course not.

Does knowing this “fix” or minimize the impact of my infidelity on other people?

No.

If I am serious about moving through this chapter, it is essential to stop allowing other people and my thoughts and opinions to define my options moving forward. As David writes, moving forward requires I own my thoughts and not allow them to hold my choices hostage.

If you betrayed your Love(s), life, and self let go of the shame and stories. Learn to look forward based on the experience and not forward while ignoring the it. Your infidelity is forever a part of your experience, and just as better decision making requires making space between the thinker and the thoughts, learning to make space between the act and the actor. Take the lessons from this experience to learn a new dialogue and write a new script to act on.

Your infidelity doesn’t make you fundamentally bad. It doesn’t mean you are pathological. Nothing you have done means you are unworthy of compassion or understanding. Infidelity, and the lies and secrets infidelity needs in order to persist, doesn’t make you untrustworthy in all areas of your life. It doesn’t automatically make you a bad partner or parent.

Let go of the stories and recognize them for what they are: stories. You aren’t Godzilla. This isn’t an episode of Breaking Bad. Your partner isn’t a damsel. Your partner isn’t a victim. They aren’t responsible for our choices, but also know our choices didn’t happen in a relationship vacuum.

For me, Shame announces, “I will cut them,” as I run people I love preemptively out of my life. It keeps the people that want to love me separate.

Shame says.

Let go of the ghost stories of shame announcing you are responsible for everything other people feel, believe, think, need, and want. Look inward, not outward for the lesson. The lesson will be different for you than for your Love(s).

Just as we chose infidelity for reasons that made sense in the moment, other people have the freedom to choose what happens next in their lives too. Every day is an opportunity to begin again.

They may choose to include you or not in their next chapter. Allow them them the space to do what they need to do to move forward but don’t allow the stories to define what you chose, and are choosing, to do next.

Just because shame says something doesn’t make it true. “Our feelings, are data not directives,” writes David. Use the data to inform your values as you write the next chapter in your story. Learn to let shame have its say, but learn to recognize what is under it’s story.

These truths about Shame free me from the ghost stories – mine and other peoples. These ghost stories are not based on the realities of my actions but simply imaginings of my intentions intended to slave me to the mast of someone else’s emotional shipwreck. Letting shame go will cut you from the mast and make you the captain of your own destiny.

Just a reminder, you are loved.

Fair winds to you my friend.


Shame urges you to look at yourself not as a human being who did a bad thing, but as a human being who is fundamentally bad.

– Dr. Susan David

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