Tell me about it: We all experience shame and know its damaging effects on us
PROBLEM: I am in my mid 60s, retired, my husband and I are happy together and have no money worries. We both worked in Dublin and built a retirement home in my home county, with a view to eventually settling there.
It is now six years on and the permanent move has not been made. My emotional well-being has been greatly and negatively impacted over those years because, I suppose, it’s not easy to slip back to your roots and original family.
However, the good has always outweighed the bad and I absolutely loved being back in a small rural community and near siblings and extended family. However, recently one close member of my family has hurt me with words and feelings that have rocked me and, perhaps, even shocked me. I am truly incredulous that he could hold these views. Up to this we had a good, honest and sometimes turbulent relationship – but his affection and love for me I never doubted. I confronted him and words like “sorry” were uttered, but – and I am normally accepting of that – but, this time, no, the wound is too deep. Nonetheless, I said, “Let’s try and put this behind us.”
My husband is a kind, supportive man. We have decided to move back to Dublin and the second house is on the market. I’m wondering was this the jolt we needed to make a decision about where we should settle. We have no children, so we are more free in the path we choose to take. We know we are fortunate that we are comfortable and have a second house to go to. My issue is how can I continue in my relationship with my brother and truly forgive and forget. The smallest memory of what he said to me saddens me greatly.
I have only spoken to my husband because, strangely, I am ashamed of what was said to me and I know, because my brother is so well thought of, that it may be felt I brought it on myself or that I misunderstood.
ADVICE: You do not say what was said by your brother, only that you are ashamed and hurt by it, so much so that you are prepared to give up your dream of living in the country. Shame is something that we all experience and have knowledge of its damaging effects on us. For example, many of us remember with vivid clarity what a teacher may have said about us even though it was decades ago. Shame has such power that we relive the exact emotions over and over again – including blushing or cringing at the remembrance. In fact, we often feel shame for other people’s actions, for not standing up for ourselves or for absorbing another’s opinion. This is the power of it – it stays live and powerful in us even though we may not have been responsible for the cause of it.
It is the silence and avoidance that gives shame its position in our lives and the only way to be free of it is to face it
When we subject ourselves to shame, our usual response is to withdraw into ourselves, to cover it in a veil of silence and try and block the memory of the event. Clearly this does not work as many of our actions and decisions are governed by the event in question. The lasting effect is that it becomes a huge block to our freedom of choice plus it becomes a barrier in our close relationships.
It is the silence and avoidance that gives shame its position in our lives and the only way to be free of it is to face it, bring it out into the open and refuse its hold over us. Of course this is incredibly difficult but you are living proof of the impact of not doing this – your choice of where to live, your giving up of your extended family and your hopes for retirement are all bound up in this shameful exchange with our brother.
Your brother has apologised, but clearly you feel that this is not very deep so he may need the chance to demonstrate his sincerity
The risk is judgment by those that hear the story, and of course it has within its core your belief that your extended family will be critical and prejudicial towards you, so you too are judging them harshly. Is it possible that you can allow them the possibility of understanding and compassion and risk telling them of your sorrow and sadness plus perhaps speaking of your willingness to hear and repair any rift that exists.
It is because you care so much about your home place and people that you are in this predicament, but should we not have some faith in those we love, that they might be gracious and experienced enough to accept us in all our expressions, both good and bad. Your husband still loves and supports you, even though he has heard the full story and maybe he is not the exception that you think but rather an example of the power of love and reason. Of course, there will be small-minded people or those with petty vindictiveness in all our lives, but we should not run our lives with those in mind, but rather reach for those who can accept and stretch us.
Your brother has apologised, but clearly you feel that this is not very deep so he may need the chance to demonstrate his sincerity. It is very difficult to forgive when you continue to feel that it is not genuine, so more talking and engaging needs to be done for both your sakes. Do not limit these conversations to just the two of you – the extended family are bearing the brunt of this restriction, so take the risk of opening up before making your final decision on your future.