Shame, Guilt, Embarrassment and Fear
Anger, resentment, frustration, sadness and many other emotions are extremely important to pay attention to when they come up in our romantic relationships. This post isn’t about anger, and often anger is a secondary emotion; which means there is mostly another emotion, a primary emotion, behind your anger that makes you feel angry. Shame, guilt, embarrassment and fear are the main primary emotions behind the anger that you could potentially feel in a romantic relationship.
I don’t prefer the term “negative emotions” since I believe every emotion has a function. Assigning a positive or negative value to an emotion tends to limit our perspective. Specifically, shame, guilt, embarrassment and fear (which I call the four big emotions) can negatively effecting our sexual wellbeing in romantic relationships, even though they are not negative emotions.
These four big emotions are powerful, and they have power to create behavioral control on us depending on the culture we live in. For example, how a woman should behave and what the responsibilities of a wife are heavily dependent on the culture’s expectations. For example, in some cultures, wearing red lipstick for women is assumed to be “seductive” and often women feel ashamed and feel guilty if they publicly wear red lipstick. I am sure you can come up with your own examples from your own culture by realizing how pervasive shame, guilt, embarrassment and fear are in our lives. I can give you a page long example from my country, Turkey, for all genders!
The big four emotions bring this behavioral control also into our private lives, from streets to our bedrooms. Shame, guilt, embarrassment and fear may tell you what is sexually okay, normal, appropriate, or what is sexually abnormal, inappropriate or not okay. I call it “behavioral control”, because they have direct impact on our sexual behaviors, such as from when to kiss to how to express your love and affection to your partner.
The reason of why these four emotions are effecting our sexual wellbeing is that they are more likely to be internalized. Among all, “internalized shame” has more pervasive effects than other internalized emotions on our sexual wellbeing. It’s because internalized shame communicates with “I am bad/broken/not normal” with our partners. When we add the word “internalized” to these emotions this means the following:
“I am bad. I am broken. There is something wrong with me. It is all my fault. I am worthless. What is wrong with me? I cannot live with myself. I am a horrible person/wife/husband/lover/partner. I am afraid no one will love me. I am afraid my partner doesn’t want to be with me/find me attractive. I am afraid my partner is going to leave me”.
Now imagine you go to bed with these thoughts and you are expected to perform sex, satisfy your partner and pleasure yourself. Our work in therapy focuses on making meaning out of these internalized emotions and understanding their externalized new meanings. Let me clarify what I mean by this statement with an example.
Internalized shame: “There is something wrong with me”
Externalized shame: “There is nothing wrong with me. This is what I learned from my culture, family, society, and so on. I felt ashamed when I didn’t meet the expectations of the society I live in. What I experienced is healthy, normal and common”.
Internalized guilt: “It’s all my fault”
Externalized guilt: “I take responsibility for my part, but nothing happens in isolation. Many other external factors contributed to this problem, that I can identify now. There is no reason to hold myself accountable completely”.
Internalized fear: “No one will ever love me”
Externalized fear: “I’ve met people who didn’t love me in a way that I expected from them. Maybe, I was in a position in my life that I didn’t realize these people did love me. I am afraid when someone loves me, this feeling won’t be mutual”. (We can take these two examples out if you want)
Now, you tell me, which emotion you would like to go to bed with?