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Shame--Why We Push Those Who Love Us Away

There’s one sad truth in life I’ve found
While journeying east and west –
The only folks we really wound
Are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow,
To those who love us best.
— Unknown

There is unfortunately too much true in this little rhyme. My observations, both of myself and my clients, have led me to conclude that we are not great at negotiating to have our needs met. We also have these insecurities that seem to get triggered more easily by those we love. Once our insecurities are triggered our behavior can become less than stellar.

Why do we respond the way we do? Our behavior does little to help us get our needs met. We get sucked into the drama, rather than finding solutions. The answer is that we do what we do because it takes incredible courage to choose to be vulnerable rather than defensive. And our default position is to protect ourselves.

None of us make it out of childhood without some emotional scars. We all, in varying ways, have self-doubts and insecurities. We all have trigger points or buttons that can get pushed. And the fascinating thing is that we seem to pick a partner who is an expert at pushing our buttons and bringing out our defensiveness.

In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown states, “When I talk to couples, I can see how shame creates one of the dynamics most lethal to a relationship. Women, who feel shame when they don’t feel heard or validated, often resort to pushing and provoking with criticism (“Why don’t you ever do enough?” or “You never get it right.”) Men, in turn, who feel shame when they feel criticized for being inadequate, either shut down (leading women to poke and provoke more) or come back with anger.”

This shame and fear that we are somehow defective or inadequate can lead us to respond in unhealthy ways to each other. It also makes it difficult for us to feel the love when our partner is offering it.

It is helpful to consider what was it that you needed most as a child and were not able to get from your parents? Was it attention, space to be you, to feel loved, accepted, wanted, or needed? Whatever that unmet need was, chances are incredibly good that you are still looking for your partner to fill that need today. The problem is that although you want them to help you feel wanted, loved, or beautiful; at the same time you are brushing aside or rejecting their attempts to do so. All the time probably blaming them because you continue to feel unloved, stupid or not enough.

Choosing to be defensive and go to blame and shame leads to disconnection. Choosing to be open and venerable can lead to increased connection. We can make small choices each day to help us to pull together rather than apart. It helps to understand that there has always been a good intention behind our pushing away behavior—that of protecting ourselves. Recognizing that our defensiveness probably has it’s root in unmet childhood needs can help us become better at meeting those needs ourselves and allowing our partner to help us.

Once we become aware that we are allowing shame to control us and we are choosing the defensive response; we can start to consciously make a new choice. We can greatly improve our ability to self-sooth. We can hang on to ourselves when we feel like being suspicious and distrustful when our partner is kind or generous to us. We can hang on even tighter when we feel the urge to be critical of our partner. We can choose to bring their compliments inside of us and breathe deep while we enjoy those warm feelings. We can choose to stop pushing away those who love us.