Shame is corrosive.  It eats away at a person’s dignity, pride, and self-respect.  Unfortunately, many individuals become embroiled in shame-based relationships or emotional abusive relationships that feature daily episodes of humiliation.  Emotional abusive relationships are dehumanizing.  Each of us deserves to be treated with respect, no matter what the nature of our association with another person.  Others equally deserve our respect.  Any relationship that centers around shame dishonors its participants.

These relationships may be one-sided – only one member shames the other.  One-way shame often occurs when one person enjoys a power advantage over the other.  Two-way shaming relationships happen when both parties vigorously and regularly shame the other.  These persons engage in shaming contests in which the object for each is to degrade the other more. 

Few of us are strong enough to hold up to continuing shame attacks by people important to us.  How can I feel good when I am told over and over again that I am ugly, incompetent, worthless or stupid?  How can I feel healthy pride while listening to messages that I will never be good enough to satisfy my family, friends or employer?  The formula is simple: the more people are shamed by others, the more shameful they feel.

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People who grew up with shame often believe that all relationships must be shame-centered. They expect to be told repeatedly that there is something wrong with them, or perhaps they feel they must do that to someone else. They have difficulty imagining that relationships can include mutual respect, dignity and pride. The more a person has suffered shame, the more he expects it.

If you are currently involved in a shaming relationship, it may be useful to keep a few thoughts in mind. 

  1. Someone who shames you may be unaware of it (not all shame episodes are deliberate). 
  2. You may be both a victim and a victimizer – this means that persons who are shamed by others often repeatedly shame other people as well. 
  3. Shame-based relationships can be changed. If both people in a relationship realize what is going on, they may be able to change.

Sometimes, people have become so involved in a shaming relationship, they are at a loss to break the cycle of shame. In such cases, a professional counselor may be able to help. Likewise, when individuals repeatedly find themselves in shaming relationships on all fronts, counseling is recommended. Shaming relationships can become respectful relationships when everyone involved understand the problem and commits to do something about it.