Attachment Shame and Relational Connection

Two weeks ago, we looked at the way that the relational disconnection caused by betrayal triggers shame about our worthiness, value and our ability to experience the love and emotional safety we seek. This week we are going to look at the other side of attachment ambivalence – reaching for connection with the cheating partner – and the way that connection can also create feelings of shame.

Attachment shame is felt when we find ourselves moving toward connection with the cheating partner. As we draw closer and maybe even experience kind or loving feelings, we often experience a hit of accompanying shame that rises up and whispers to us, “What are you doing? This person is dangerous. They have treated you horribly! Where is your self-respect? Where is your dignity? Why are you being nice to them? Why are you staying with them?”

Shame when we emotionally reach for our partner is about our longing for connection and our continued dependency on our partner even though they have been undependable and unavailable to us in the past. We feel shame about our desire for our partner, shame about our need of our partner, shame about making ourselves vulnerable again to someone who has been untrustworthy.

I was sent an email from one of my readers in response to the blog posts on attachment ambivalence. Here’s how she described her experience of attachment ambivalence and shame. “Recently I’ve been feeling calmer and he’s been proving himself consistent in his recovery and rebuilding some trust, so I’ve been in reconnect mode but then felt guilty for having sex with my own husband, then felt crazy for feeling guilty. Uuuggghhh….”  

Again, this is such a perfect description of the way that shame about longing for connection, whether emotional or sexual, can latch on and create confusion and self-doubt when we allow ourselves to reconnect to the betraying partner.

This shame is one of the most significant triggers driving the cycle of attachment ambivalence. As shame about allowing themselves to connect with the cheater fires inside the betrayed partner it can cause them to switch directions and push away from their partner to create distance. This distance alleviates the shame temporarily as they feel like they are at least protecting themselves from more harm.

Sometimes partners will distance by shaming the cheating partner. This impulse to fight and to reign down contempt and shame on the cheater provides the betrayed partner with a sense that they are not just letting the cheater ‘get away with it’ but are making them pay for what they have done. This relieves the betrayed partner’s shame because it helps them to feel that they do have the self-respect to fight back and to at least demand the justice of time spent in the relational dog-house from the cheating partner. But as we saw in the post’s on attachment ambivalence, this will usually just be a temporary pushing away until the betrayed partner is exhausted by the disconnection and moves back to reconnect again for a while.

In next week’s post we are going to continue our discussion about attachment shame by looking at some of the core issues and dilemma’s that face betrayed partners and contribute to the experience of shame.

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