In his book To Be A Man, Robert Augustus Masters, PHD, spends a lot of time explaining how shame is the most powerful emotional roadblock for men.
Masters also believes that shame is the most hidden, neglected, and overlooked emotion in men bar none.
And in my personal experience (mostly through the inner dialogue I have with myself), I think Masters is right on the money when it comes to shame and men, especially married men.
The better we know our shame, the more likely it is that we’ll handle it.
Shame is something that is conditioned into us as children, starting with our parents at home and persisting throughout our educational careers and into our professional lives as adults.
Conjoined to our own masculinity (or an idea of our masculinity) we begin to experience, as men, the power of our shame.
Most of this is done at a subconscious level, seldom recognized, let alone articulated by the time we are married with children … “living the dream.”
Even when shame is discovered or named, it is usually tagged with negative connotations, as if it’s wrong to have the emotion; thus leading to more shame about having shame.
Within the context of marriage, shame can be debilitating and toxic – but it can also be a very powerful (and even healthy) element throughout the process of our own maturation, as married men.
Shame is only healthy for you when it is directed at a specific action and not you as a person. Your action may be shameful and if you can realize that and deal with it, shame is healthy.
If you are shameful of yourself as a person, shame in your life is destructive.
But exactly what is shame?
According to Masters, shame is …
“The painfully self-conscious sense of our behavior – or self – being exposed as defective, with the immediate result that we are halted in our tracks, for better or for worse.
In other words, it’s that feeling we get that convinces us we aren’t “good enough.”
Masters also says about shame …
“Vulnerable emotions like sadness or grief may be difficult to access and fully express for many men, but aversion to them usually isn’t as compelling as is aversion to shame. ‘Man up!’ or ‘Be a man!’ are just two of the many shaming admonitions that men are subjected to, whether directly or indirectly.”
He proposes the idea that pubic condemnation (in a felt sense, even if our own audience is our Inner Critic), is central to shame; and shame itself is admittedly unpleasant and comes with an unmistakable loss of face and status, which emasculates a man, reducing his self-worth and esteem.
Below is a short shame list from Masters’s book that I personally found insightful, in my own life, as a husband.
If you experience any of these seven shame characteristics, shame exists in your life.
You look down and don’t want to look up, compelled to avoid holding eye contact.
Someone questions your competency, and you quickly withdraw or get aggressive with that person.
You fall short of a standard that you or others have set, and feel a strong loss of power and presence, internally collapsing and shrinking.
You get defensive when you are not actually under any sort of attack.
You are very hard on yourself, constantly beating yourself up.
Your physiology is slumping, even though you aren’t tired.
Unexplored shame in your life blocks the way to healthy attributes such as vulnerability (a must in your marriage), empathy, and relational closeness.
It can also lead to aggression, like the time when your wife has a valid complaint about your behavior, and you instantly retaliated with a sarcastic (aggressive) come back, but later on noticed the feeling of shame that descended upon you.
Power belongs to husbands who embrace their shame.
Overcoming shame in your life (the most powerful emotional roadblock that you deal with), by turning toward it, takes big balls.
It takes moxie; outright courage.
At first it might sting a little, but that is nothing compared to the healing and growth that you experience, when you decide to stop being a victim to your own shame; an emotion that can stop us in our tracks and sometimes, if necessary, break us completely.
Address shame in your life today.
Identify it and work toward releasing it. (You know you want to).
From one husband to another,