The Ego is nothing more than your sense of yourself as a separate self. A singularity. It is your sense of yourself as an “I” instead of as a “We”. A relationship is about “We”. So it is easy to see that the human ego is the single biggest threat to relationships. But what dimension of the ego is the most dangerous to relationships? The answer is the human ego’s need to see itself as Good.
You were born into a society. Socialization is an integral part of an un-awakened society. In an un-awakened society there are collective social and cultural values. When we value one thing, we often condemn the opposite. For example, self-sacrifice may be a social value and selfishness is condemned. We deem one good and the other bad. In order to keep the social order, we socialize children. This basically means we train them to behave in a way that is acceptable to the society we live in. We indoctrinate children with our social and cultural values and reward them when they adhere to those values. We punish children when they demonstrate behavior that contradicts our social and cultural values. So as a child if we want our needs to be met, survive in society and have a chance at feeling things like love and belonging and contribution and safety (instead of being ostracized and ending up alone, which is worse than death) we have one option. To adopt those values of the society we are born into and hold ourselves to them! Shame is that painful feeling state that results from comparing yourself to your standards (standards you adopted from your society) and falling short.
The people who struggle with shame the most were disciplined by adults who made a direct correlation between doing bad and being bad. For example, a child who steals a cookie off the counter top and is looked at as if she is horrible or is told “bad girl” or “I told you no, what the hell is wrong with you” is going to be unable to differentiate between their negative action and themselves being bad. Shame is about being bad instead of guilt, which is about doing bad.
What does all this mean? If the number one need of the human Ego is to see itself as good and have others see it as good and shame is all about seeing oneself as bad and having other people see it as good, the number one enemy to the human ego is shame.
The ego will cope with shame through all of the classic coping mechanisms. And what do we know about coping mechanisms? They can destroy our lives and they can destroy our relationships. The ego will deal with shame by going into denial of it, deflecting it, rationalizing it, projecting it, suppressing it, splitting into alter egos, converting it into physical symptoms, overcompensating for it, intellectualizing it, isolating themselves or self injuring for example.
All of this is an attempt to avoid accepting and admitting to the shame we feel and working with it directly. When the ego goes into a state of self-defense in the form of blaming, it is because it wants to avoid accepting, admitting to and working directly with shame. For this reason, I suggest that you watch my video on YouTube titled: How To Overcome Shame.
What we all want so badly is to have relationships that feel good. We want relationships that are harmonious and that add to our wellbeing and happiness. The question is do we want them more than we want to preserve our own self-concept? Until we are conscious and our ego is not controlling the ship of our lives, most of us prioritize our self-concept over our relationships and over the people we love.
It is now that we need to talk about deflected shame. Deflection is when something someone communicates causes someone to feel triggered and as a result, instead of taking it in, they either ignore, deny or turn away from it. Or worse, turn it back towards the other person. To understand deflection completely watch my video on YouTube titled: Deflection (The Coping Mechanism From Hell).
The thing that people deflect more so than anything else is shame. This is how it works. Something that happens or something that someone communicates causes someone to feel shame. Usually it triggers already present wounds of shame that are left over and unresolved from childhood. As a result of not being able to accept, admit to and deal directly with that shame, they ignore it, deny it, turn away from it or more commonly, turn it back towards the other person. This type of a deflection is also a projection. It is a projection of one’s shame onto the other person. More simply put, a deflection in the form of projecting one’s own feeling of being bad onto the other person so it is them that is bad.
For example, a mother can feel shame when her infant expresses negative emotion towards her. It makes her feel like a bad mother. But her ego can’t handle that and so she deflects that shame onto the infant. She decides the infant must have something seriously wrong with it.
Or a person asks for the honest truth from a friend in their life. The honest truth makes them feel ashamed of themselves. They can’t handle that shame so they decide that friend is a horrible person.
Or a wife cheats on her husband. She feels ashamed, but can’t deal with it, so she makes it his fault because he didn’t pay enough attention to her.
Or a celebrity doesn’t respond to an e-mail because they get thousands. The fan takes this personally. It makes them feel ashamed. They can’t handle it so their ego avoids that shame by deciding the celebrity is bad and joining their hate group.
One of the most common situations that leads to shame deflection is boundary setting. When someone sets a boundary, this often makes people feel rejected. This is even more likely if the person setting the boundary makes the boundary violation about something that is wrong with the other person. The person instantly feels shame, like they are wrong or bad. They can’t handle that feeling of shame and so they deflect it back towards the person setting the boundary. They make the person setting the boundary wrong and bad.
An example of this is a friend violates a boundary by borrowing something they didn’t ask you to borrow. You get upset and tell them that wasn’t ok. They feel ashamed and can’t deal with it, so they decide that you are a terrible person and friend because they are stingy and selfish. If in this scenario, you had a conversation with them telling them it wasn’t ok and also added that you can’t believe they would ever think that was ok (like something is wrong with them for thinking that was ok), this would be perceived as shaming. And the likelihood of the shame they feel being deflected would be 100 times higher. They would most likely then separate from you and reject you as a friend.
If you see yourself as bad, you separate from yourself. A split has to form in yourself called conscious and subconscious to deal with it. And the same thing happens when you see someone else as bad. You have to separate from them. So eventually, the relationship ends emotionally and then ends physically.
For the sake of your understanding, think of it this way: Boundaries are natural. One can assert a boundary a sense of self-including a yes and no without becoming aroused into a state of defense. If you are aroused into a state of defense, it means shame is there. If shame were not there, what other people say and do wouldn’t hurt so bad. Those of us who suffer the most in relationships, have the most shame. And those of us with the most shame both deflect shame the most and enter into relationships with people who have a pattern of deflecting shame onto others.
Badness in our human society is integrally linked to blame and fault. This is why you see shame being deflected in the form of blaming each other. So often in a relationship one situation can lead to both people’s shame being triggered and in response they deflect it onto each other by blaming each other for the situation or for the way it was handled.
But there is a way to end this pattern in yourself and end it in relationships and thus end it in the world. There is a way to make relationships harmonious and stay connected. The way to create and maintain relationships is to own your shame.
For example, a man might feel defensive in a relationship argument about being emotionally available. He may tell himself that the woman that he is with is too needy. He has deflected his shame onto her by making her that bad one in this situation. When he looks deep inside, he may find that he is ashamed because he doesn’t feel capable of being emotionally present.
Deflected shame is not just about what we tell other people. It is about what we tell ourselves. Our ego is telling us a story that preserves its self-concept all day long, regardless of whether we tell that story to someone else or keep it to ourselves. This is the heart of self-deception.
Literally whenever you feel defensive in any situation or start hearing the inner voice tell a story about how someone else is doing something bad, ask yourself: “What do I feel ashamed of right here in this minute? What about this situation makes me feel like a bad person or defective or not good enough or wrong?
If you are in a relationship, commit to making this a part of your conflict conversations. Decide that both of you are going to stop for a moment, introspect to discover what you feel ashamed about in the situation and admit it to each other.
I will give you one warning. It is critical that if someone is admitting to the shame they feel, that we do not allow our ego to use that as an opportunity to strike while the shields are down and to deflect our own shame deeper into them (rubbing salt into a wound). This is abusive. Our number one terror is that by admitting to our shame, other people will use it to condemn us.
If you are setting a boundary with someone, be sensitive to the fact that because we grow up in a society where we are raised to believe that crossing a boundary is wrong and where we are shamed for being bad if we do something wrong. This means the likelihood for someone to feel shame as a result of setting a boundary with them is very high. Sometimes, it is literally unavoidable. But to limit this risk, make the boundary about what is right and wrong for you and why instead of about what is wrong about them. When we had parents who deflected their shame onto us when we set a boundary with them, we grow up to be ashamed of our own boundaries. When we are ashamed of our own boundaries, we have to justify it. The way we justify it is by projecting that shame we feel about assessing our own boundaries by setting our boundaries in a way where we make the other person a bad person for violating them, regardless of whether or not they knew the boundary existed before they crossed it. We have to make them bad or wrong in our mind to even feel like we can have the boundary and stay a good person.
If we want loving relationships with ourselves, we need to resolve the shame we feel. If we want loving relationships with other people, we need to help each other resolve the shame instead of adding to it. By owning the shame we feel, we have an opportunity to do this instead of allow our egos to be locked in a war over preserving self-image.
By owning our shame, we have the ability to end our conflict with other people and to be connected to them in a state of safety and love instead.