Shaming Prevents Taking Responsibility


Shame, that dreadful emotion that includes feeling badly about oneself, or believing that we have been harmful, is actually a horrible obstacle to taking responsibility for what we have done and setting out to correct it.

Our culture seems to think that shaming people will actually change them. Well, it might change behavior. If someone knows that they will be the butt of shaming looks and comments they will not perform certain acts. But they haven’t actually changed.

One man heard what was wrong with him from his wife when he did household paperwork, so he started taking the paper work to his office and did it there. Her shaming didn’t get him to change anything but his behavior. And you can imagine how he felt about her shaming.

A teen was prevented from seeing his girlfriend because of his grades. He was shamed for spending time with her that inhibited his studies. Of course he had no interest in not seeing his girlfriend. So he lied to his parents in order to see her. Only his observable behavior changed. Shaming didn’t change him.

Sex addicts who are in relationship harm their partners by focusing their sexuality away from the relationship. Partners are devastated when they learn of affairs, sexual services, or internet pornography. The sexual addict usually feels great shame and promises to never do it again. Others rationalize or otherwise try to maintain that the behavior is acceptable.

The shameful addicts do change their behavior – unless the addiction wins, and they go back for more. But while their behavior changes, they haven’t changed the urge for this form of sexual stimulation.

When sex addicts come to me for therapy, they are full of shame because of what they have done to their partners, and also because sex addiction is the most shameful form of addiction. Sexuality in general is shamed in our culture, and the addictive use of it brings a far greater sense of shame.

My first job is to help them reduce their shame so they can take a look at the addiction. When their sense of responsibility to their partner is based on horrible shame, it isn’t real and because of this, it will slide away. When their shame is manageable, they can access a sense of responsibility to him or herself and to the marriage contract – to a true sense of right and wrong. Then real healing becomes possible.


When that dreadful feeling of shame is leveled at one, or felt within even when no one else is sending it in your direction, it inhibits taking responsibility and making real change.

The paperwork man couldn’t hear what his wife was referring to because her tone brought up his shame. He felt put down and helpless to change anything. So he AVOIDED THE SITUATION by taking the paper work to the office. If she had asked him if he would like some suggestions, and offered them open-handedly he may have been able to make the changes. Or, if he had refused to take on her shaming, then he could have done paper work at home.

The teen added to his shame by lying. He felt like a bad son, a bad person. The parents succeeded in increasing his negative feelings about himself instead of supporting him in accomplishing what he needed to. He could not take responsibility for his grades as long as he was upset about the shaming and the limits.

Sexual addicts feel a great amount of shame for what they have done, and also for what they have caused a spouse. Shame runs rampant in any addiction, but especially this one because sexuality is shamed more than other addictive substances or processes.
I help sex addicts reduce shame because people who feel shame for what they have done will resist looking at it. They will lie, minimize, and rationalize their actions. They will have a hard time entering a treatment program and get to work on learning about this kind of addiction. But once their shame drops sufficiently, they become able to see what they have done, the harm caused, and the life wasted because of their activities. And they get to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for change. Instead of entering recovery because of fear of losing their spouse, they take it on because they know it is right for them. SHAMING INHIBITS TAKING RESPONSIBILITY.


Shame is such a horrible emotion that it is often dealt with by paying back the shaming person. Much of teen rebellion is for this purpose. Shamed spouses may be mean in small or large ways and deny it. It accomplishes a sense of making things even. This is a terrible price for the shamer to pay – and a really good reason to not shame others. The partner of the sexual addict needs to feel grief and hurt and be devastated, but these emotions do not have to include shaming the addict. If she or he wants the addict to take responsibility, then reducing the shame reaction is more likely to bring this about.


Take a look at your own feelings of shame for what you have done, or haven’t done. Notice how you might try to minimize or rationalize. Anything to keep from feeling them. And if someone is adding to your own feeling of shame by shaming or criticizing you, it is really hard to not feel it.

However, if you let your emotion and the shaming from others influence you, it becomes difficult to take responsibility for what you have actually done. You get to refuse to be shamed. You must counter those voices in your own head that tell you are wrong or terrible or bad or harmful. You get to know that the best way to be in the world is taking responsibility and correcting harms. You get to know that if you feel toxic shame, this will be difficult if not impossible. So drop the shame. Stop the shamers. Access your very own healthy acceptance of what is right to do next.

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