Characteristics of Shame-Based Adults in Their Relationships — taken from Jane Middleton-Moz

The following characteristics of shame are taken from Jane Middelton-Moz. Shame & Guilt: Masters of Disguise [Affiliate link] (Kindle locations 50-51). As we have written in other posts, shame is something that we all have to struggle with, especially if we have been abused. To ignore shame is to sentence ourselves to continuing relational disasters. Notice particularly 3. Mind-reading. People who are in bondage to shame torpedo even healthy relationships because their shame attributes shaming motives to others. See how much of yourself you might find in this list [Internet Archive link]1:

Characteristics Of Shame-Based Adults In Relationships:

• We lose ourselves in love.

• When we argue, we fight for our lives.

• We expend a great deal of energy in mind-reading. We frequently talk to ourselves about what our partners are feeling and needing more than to our partners.

• We pay a high price for those few good times.

• We often sign two contracts upon commitment, one conscious and another which is unconscious.

• We blame and are blamed.

Middleton-Moz also gives a long list of characteristics of adults who were shamed in their childhood (i.e., all of us to a lesser or greater extent!). I only include the first few from her list and highly recommend her book to you:

Characteristics of Adults Shamed in Childhood:

• Adults shamed as children are afraid of vulnerability and fear exposure of self.

• Adults shamed as children may suffer extreme shyness, embarrassment and feelings of being inferior to others. They don’t believe they make mistakes. Instead they believe they are mistakes.

• Adults shamed as children fear intimacy and tend to avoid real commitment in relationships. These adults frequently express the feeling that one foot is out of the door, prepared to run.

• Adults shamed as children may appear either grandiose and self-centered or seem selfless.

•Adults shamed as children feel that, “No matter what I do, it won’t make a difference; I am and always will be worthless and unlovable.”

• Adults shamed as children frequently feel defensive when even minor negative feedback is given. They suffer feelings of severe humiliation if forced to look at mistakes or imperfections.

• Adults shamed as children frequently blame others before they can be blamed.

• Adults shamed as children may suffer from debilitating guilt. These individuals apologize constantly. They assume responsibility for the behavior of those around them.

• Adults shamed as children feel like outsiders. They feel a pervasive sense of loneliness throughout their lives, even when surrounded with those who love and care.

• Adults shamed as children project their beliefs about themselves onto others. They engage in mind-reading that is not in their favor, consistently feeling judged by others.

Remember, shame is not just going to vaporize from our minds. We have to battle it by coming to understand it, see it, and replacing its thought patterns with Christ’s truth. It is, after all, Christ’s opinion of us that is the truth.

1[March 29, 2023: We added the link to a page containing the list from Jane Middelton-Moz’ book Shame and Guilt: Masters of Disguise and changed Barb’s post slightly to match the linked list. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

[March 29, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to March 29, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to March 29, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to March 29, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (March 29, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

9 thoughts on “Characteristics of Shame-Based Adults in Their Relationships — taken from Jane Middleton-Moz”

    1. Which is often no problem for the offender, as a person with no conscience is shameless. Some offenders could be dealing with shame, but not the sociopath. Ironic. The shameful person is shame free, while the shamed person is loaded with shame.

      1. It is so hard to watch the precious child or adult who is tortured with shame and guilt and the offenders are clueless to how odious they are in God’s sight.

  1. OK, I’ll go out on a limb here and ask, what if the abuser has some of the characteristics? Could he be full of shame and shameless at the same time? I know counselors / pastors used to comment that my ex seemed to live with shame. I know he always hung his head at certain times in church, like during communion, almost as if he felt unworthy. Once in a blue moon, he would softly mutter words to the effect that he felt ashamed.

    On the other hand, am I just successfully illustrating what point 3 in the first list looks like?

    1. Anonymous – maybe Morven can help us out here as this question is probably beyond my expertise — but it is a good one. With that said (i.e., this is just my opinion), I don’t think that shame-bound people KNOW they are bound by it. So if your abuser said he felt ashamed, it is doubtful that is really the case. On the other hand, shamed people shame others often. This is one of the reasons we all have to be on guard and deal with our shame, lest it cause us to be abusive toward others. However, lashing out at others because of shame within us seems to me to be quite a lot different in its essential nature than the entitled, power / control seeking abuser mindset. I take the the warnings of George Simon, Martha Stout, William Hare and others who are expert on the sociopath / psychopath, to heart. It is an error to assume that the abuser is all tied up and in conflict over a tormented, shamed past and is acting out the trauma he has experienced. And in the end, I am not sure that it really matters. Abuse is abuse.

  2. The simplest way I can help my clients understand the difference between guilt and shame is this: when I was 8, I stole a candy bar. My mother dragged me to the grocery store, made me apologize for the offense and pay for the crime. I never stole again. I was guilty, and I had to be responsible for restitution.

    Shame, on the other hand, is when someone else says or does something to us that makes us feel like WE are bad, not just what we have done is bad, but again, that WE are bad. Shame belongs to our offender. It is like a dirty garment that we need to shake off our shoulders.

    I ask my clients to ask themselves, “have I done anything wrong here?” and if the answer is “no” and I’m still feeling bad, then what I am feeling is shame. Turn around and throw it back at the offender. “This is not my stuff. This is your problem, and I am no longer going to assume responsibility for your….(fill in the blank).”

    Jesus came to rid the world of shame. He forgave those who were remorseful, and he gave grace to the repentant. He nails the shamers with “the look” and they creep away in disgrace.

    1. Thanks, Morven, that’s great!

      I guess after you stole, you WERE guilty, whether you felt guilty or not. But did you feel guilty and did you feel any shame as well?

      Many times when my kids did something wrong, the punishment from their dad was over the top, and I’m sure they felt a lot of shame for BEING bad, not just doing the wrong thing.

      As to the question you ask your clients, “have I done anything wrong here?”, is it possible to give the answer “yes” AND still feel shame, or are you saying that shame is when we feel bad but there is absolutely no reason? If that is the case, then my ex should have said “I feel guilty” every time he hung his head and said he felt ashamed. And yet I don’t think it was guilt he felt. I think his parents put a lot of shame on him (I have seen them do it to kids, making them feel bad for not being perfect). The second list certainly has many of his characteristics.

      But the thing that makes him an abuser is the entitlement to own and mistreat his wife and kids. So what happens is that counselors see the familiar shame-based characteristics and think they can work with him to deal with that, but if they don’t deal with the entitlement and warped values, nothing changes.

  3. I like Morven’s comment too, especially this bit:

    Jesus nails the shamers with “the look” and they creep away in disgrace.

    As for abusers who sometimes seem to show shame in speech or body language, I think 2 Corinthians 7:10 can help us tentatively understand this:

    Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (NIV)

    For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. (NLT)

    For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (ESV)

    Of course, there is always the possibility that an abuser is completely faking their shame, in order to pass as a Christian, or at least as a person with an active conscience.

Leave a comment. It's ok to use a made up name (e.g Anon37). For safety tips read 'New Users Info' (top menu). Tick the box if you want to be notified of new comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.