Men and Shame

First of all, let’s start with a definition of shame. Shame is the feeling that you can get that at your core you are bad. A bad person.

It differs from guilt in that guilt is a feeling you get after you have done something you feel bad about. Shame is about you, your being, not your actions.

Most of us are shamed in childhood as a means of being controlled, or dominated.

In our culture Men are often “made fun of” (shamed) for having too much sex drive, being immature in general and especially in their relationships with women. They are labeled as being “childish” or only emotional when it comes to sports teams winning or losing.

Because of our patriarchal culture men have traditionally been in charge and there is a sense that it is “OK” to put down men because they can take it. All these put downs contribute to a belief that at their core they are bad.

Connected to this is the absence of healthy fathers and men in their lives. As boys grow they need heathy adults of either gender and in particular they need mature, healthy men who are interested in them and guide them in life. With too few of those kinds of men around boys come away from that lack of male investment as another sign that they are bad or unworthy of mentorship and support. 

Also men often have superficial relationships with other men so that they don’t have a place to bring their struggles, frustrations and find support. In the isolation that most men live in the focus is on their spouse and family, not on friendships. This lack of having a safe place to bring concerns and doubts to increases their shame because men feel there must be something wrong with them that they have problems they can’t solve or when they feel like they are the only ones that have any doubts. 

Look at what the larger culture shows men what their lives should be like: An alpha male with plenty of money, big house, expensive cars, great physique and not a problem in the world. (Thanks to all the products that are for sale in these commercials.) This sort of distortion reinforces a sense that there must be something wrong with them that their lives don’t look like the fun filled, toy filled life portrayed on the screen. They feel shame at having struggles, and vulnerabilities that are not evident on the screen.

There is an expression that “shame loves to hide” and so to release shame men need to have places to share the things they feel shame about.

After someone has shared something they fell shame about I will ask the group to raise a hand if they too have struggled with the same things and felt shame about it too. When all or most hands go up it is often met with a smile and a sigh of relief. The shame falls away when the man who shared his shame and it is normalized by the group. The “aha” moment comes: “It’s not just me, I am OK even if I blew up at my kids, etc.” 

Then the work proceeds on what skills they need to managing stress and finding healthier ways to discipline children. With the shame put aside it becomes easier to find new resources and help.

You can find out more on men's counseling here.