Shame, Guilt and Self-sabotage

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 12:00
Posted in category Ask Rickhead
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Post written by Rick Doyle

Shame, Guilt and Self-sabotage

Dear Ask Rickhead: (This week Ask Rickhead decided to examine why so many people either go back and forth with bad relationships or who get beat up in one form or another yet keep engaging in unhealthy abusive relationships.  At its core you will find shame, guilt and self-sabotage).

Are these familiar lines to you or some you know? Has this question ever entered your mind: Why do nice girls (and guys) stay in the most abusive relationships or after months and years of abuse finally break away only to get into another abusive relationship?  Why did the prettiest, smartest girl in high school end up with a cheating husband and 5 dirty kids in a old trailer? Why did the burglar all but get away only to be caught because he left his drivers’ license at the scene of the crime?  Why does this guy at work keep getting passed over at promotion time?  Is it because he does really well at his job but 2 weeks before review he suddenly shows up late every day, fails to finish his work on time, etc, but the other 5 ½ months he is flawless?

The answer to these questions could go on forever. However, most of the answers would have several things in common.

In almost every case of abusive relationships, relationship addiction, co‑dependent or counter dependent relationships, you will find deep seated roots of shame, fear, self-sabotage and a history of the same connected to an incident or growing up in an abusive environment. The individual who engages as the abused in these relationships is often referred to as having a Shame‑based Victimized Personality. Many of the key traits of a SBVP are nearly identical to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder also referred to as PTSD.

A person who operates out of a base of shame usually does so to validate their feelings of, “See, I’m no good.” In other words, what has happened to them is that they have been abused either emotionally (verbally, spiritually. withholding love or attention, etc.), physically (beatings,’ sexual abuse, slapping, rape. etc.), psychologically (abusive to victim’s pets, friends/family, breaking personal items, etc.) or any other way, either so severely or so chronically that the person begins to believe and feel that the way they’re being treated is what they deserve.  Living in chronic pain can actually become the norm.

Sometimes, they will feel this relationship is the best they can do or that someone, even someone abusive, is better than not having a relationship at all. As the abuse continues, so the individual’s self esteem, self worth, self image and confidence are whittled away until they become so Shame‑based that the option or capacity to break the cycle becomes overwhelming impossible. In other words, you become accustomed to living in pain and numb to the point where it feels easier or acceptable to live a life sentence of hopelessness and servitude to misery. Besides you know the old saying, “you made your bed now lay in it”.

As if that is not enough, a second question enters the picture: Why, after being in an abusive relationship, would anyone get right back into another, or be attracted to another, or continue to go back to the original bad unhealthy situation?

The answer to this appears to be two fold.

First, these women and men are not stupid, they are victims. It is not because they make poor choices, announcing subconsciously, “hey where can I get a good beating” as a first choice when entering into new relationships, either. It is because their past abuse has molded their personality and their basic character. As a result, they will then continue to seek out abusive situations either externally (pick an abuser) or internally (self-sabotage) to validate their feelings as victims. Frequently, individuals will seek out new unhealthy or abusive relationships externally or will sabotage healthy relationships that exist without the abuse they have become accustomed to or that was happening in the previous relationship.

In some cases, shame‑based people, in the event of not engaging in a repeat of external abuse, will decide to continue the abuse internally by beating themselves up in one way or another. Examples of this self-sabotage are isolation, chemical abuse/dependency, overeating or eating disorders, workaholism, compulsive spending and many other forms self-punishment and self-destruction.

The second reason may lie in the fact that victims are often victims of a systemic as well as an individual nature. Society often offers little real assistance (or at easily accessible and affordable assistance) to victims and, unfortunately, depending on what part of the country they live the right and most appropriate qualified help to victims. It is also not uncommon that these individuals come from abusive families and friends who support the denial and delusion which may exist for people with a shame‑based victimization personality. Employers are also quite guilty of this as well. Don’t feel guilty, most systemic contributors to victims denial or delusion can come from compassion or simply ignorance because they don’t want to “hurt or confront” someone.  Cosigning the condition or assisted self-sabotage though is not good either.

To briefly describe the difference between Shame and Guilt: Guilt is usually a mistake or error which is or can be correctable and can be learned from. Shame, on the other hand, tends to be a feeling of “I’m no good” or “I’m never good enough” and is chronically based out of a person’s character and not necessarily real or proportionate to the experience or event. There is a huge difference between “I made a mistake and I am a mistake”, the later being Shame the former being Guilt.

I also mentioned fear earlier. Fear is a topic all by itself. However, I will say just a few things about it. It has been my experience that abusers and victims tend to operate out of two primary fears. The first is they are afraid they are not going to get something they want. The second fear is they are going to lose something they have. There is also a very strong connection between guilt, fear and shame. Often, people wrongly confuse guilt with shame. Fear can also be False Evidence Appearing Real.  Faith and conscious decisions to proceed with living in the solution can often seem overwhelming and greater than the problem. One step at a time one habit will lead to one solution and so on.  It is a process to recover, NOT an event. In other parts of Topic Island you will find posts regarding everything from “Choosing a Therapist” to “Self Help Tips” and many thoughts on where to go to start the process of change and recovery. The more you learn about the origins of a problem, the cause, the less comfortable it will be to live in the problem. The solutions are usually 90 degrees opposite, NOT 180 degrees, but that topic is another post altogether (defining healthy, normal, unhealthy and sick). We cover many of those subjects in the category “Date Smart” in great detail.

My advice is that if you or someone near you is feeling like a knife is being stuck into you as you read this article, chances are you or they could use some help. The more you open up and talk about both the past and solutions (with healthy people), the more likely you are to eventually change those old patterns. This is only a brief overview, subject to the reader’s interpretation. I’m sure that those of you who have been on both sides of these feelings and behaviors will want to share your solutions and your problems as we hope this will begin a dialog that all can connect with to help each other.

To Ask Rickhead a question, please email: askrickhead [at] topicisland [dot] com

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15 Responses to “Shame, Guilt and Self-sabotage”

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