Shame in polyamory
In an ethical non-monogamous relationships or other nontraditional unions, shame can play out in a few different ways:
- External shame from our culture from not having a hetero-, cis-, mono-normative relationship.
- Specific shameful archetypes in our culture, such as the philanderer, the cuckold, the housewife stuck at home, the other woman, etc.
- Dealing with shame directly stemming from parental relationships, family, coworkers, friends, partners, strangers on the internet, etc.
- Differences between ourselves and our partner: different approaches to dating, to sex, differences in respective dating.
- Shameful narratives tied to roles and goals:
- Failing, i.e. “I’m failing at monogamy”/”I’m failing at non-monogamy”/”I’m not being a perfect poly person.”
2. “I’m not queer/genderqueer enough.”
3. “I’m not kinky enough/too kinky.”
4. “I can’t get an erection so I’m failing my partners.”
Healthy and unhealthy shame
Obliterating shame completely should never be the goal; it’s too unrealistic for something that’s evolutionarily engrained. Instead, we should aim for healthy shame, which can manifest as:
- The ability to be vulnerable.
- Recognition of our own limitations.
- Making amends or repairing.
- Seeing the big picture.
- Taking ownership and responsibility.
Recognizing shame and your own shame response can be critical to releasing its hold on you.
- Figure out which shame responses are common for you (attack self, attack other, withdrawal, denial/numbing).
- Deploy countershaming phrases:
- “I did the best I could at the time, knowing what I did then.”
- “It’s not my fault that this happened to me.”
- “It’s totally natural and understandable to feel this way.”
- “I learned an important lesson from that.”
- “I’m doing the best I can to live my ethic/truth/etc.”
- “I’m not alone in this struggle.”
3. It can also be helpful to think of phrases you might use when talking to a child or friend about the same situation in order to countershame them.
4. Apply some self-compassion (re-listen to episode 274).
5. Take stock of all the things you’re willing to make right.
6. Try giving the shame back: ask yourself where the shame came from, and visualize handing or sending it back there.