Children who grew up feeling shameful for the most part will have also grown up without someone to talk to about how it made them feel.
Shame is one of the most destructive feelings there is. It is a feeling that something is wrong within us and has a negative affect on a child’s self-development.
These children have had no voice with which to express themselves, and even if they did there was no one who would listen. So, as a survival strategy, they learned at a very young age to disconnect their anger, hurt, fear and pain. They learned how to build walls around themselves so they can feel safe. These survival strategies are a good thing – in fact they are brilliant! Without them these children would not be able to function developmentally as children or as adults. This wall gives them hope – hope that one day in the future – they will marry and find some one who will listen and connect with them. Logically this sounds great. However, there is a problem. These children have programmed their brains to disconnect.
Symptomatically similar to someone who is going through Post Traumatic Stress, the brain of a child who feels shame will temporary disconnect the pain until a later date, when it feels safe. When the connection with another person is made and he or she does feel safe, sadly the pain, anger and hurt will return. These children, when they become adults, have been disconnected for a very long time. In fact, they have forgotten how to feel safe and how to let their walls come down. Shame involves a fear of being exposed, and if these walls come down, that’s what would happen – they and their feelings would be exposed. It is at this point that their unconscious mind will go on Red Alert, shouting Danger! Danger! You’re getting much too close, shut down now and please evacuate immediately!
This is why couples often tell me that, “The closer we get the more we fight.” These adults are emotionally trapped and angry because these walls are no longer working for them and they don’t know how to cope. What is happening is that they end up pushing away and hurting the very people they are trying to connect with – those they love. This causes them intense pain – and there is nowhere to hide from it.
Many adults in this situation find themselves at a crossroads in their relationships – between staying and leaving. When we are dealing with a married couple, for the most part, they don’t want to end the marriage, just the pain. However, because they perceive the connection as a threat, some will choose divorce as a means to an end.
Such was the case for Yoni and Shifra, a young newlywed couple. Her husband recalls that, “soon after the wedding she started to withdraw. The closer I got the more she would distance herself. It’s the strangest thing, when we dated there were not enough hours in a day to be with each other. Now she finds fault with everything I do. She will find all kinds of excuses to leave the house and if I confront her with it she wants to end the relationship.”
When couples arrive at my office they wonder if they will ever feel safe with each other. They often say, “lets cut our losses and get divorced”, but that’s not the answer. The answer is that if the brain had been programmed to disconnect, it can be programmed to reconnect. Hashem created human beings to be dependant on each other and with that dependency comes the process of healing and love. In fact pain and conflict arise not out of lack of love for our partners, but from a misunderstanding of what a true love relationship is all about.
When a person learns how to love their partner the way they want to be loved, they begin to feel more connected and understood. They find that issues and problems they once argued about seem to resolve themselves.
Moishe Herskowitz, MS., LCSW, developed the T.E.A.M. (Torah Education & Awareness for a better Marriage) approach based on 20 successful years of counseling couples – helping them to communicate effectively and fully appreciate each other. As a licensed clinical social worker and renowned family therapist, he developed this breakthrough seminar to guide new couples through easy-to-accomplish steps towards a happy, healthy marriage. Moishe Herskowitz is a Graduate School Professor at the Touro College Mental Health Program. To discuss topics from an article, or ask questions, he can be contacted at CPCMoishe@aol.com or 718-435-7388.