Anyone got any encouraging words for this sorry group of BS’s with spouses drowning in shame? Any success stories of overcoming it? What has worked, what hasn’t?
My advice to you is don't make her shame your issue. You can't hold back what you need to say or do because of it. At the same time, if you wish to keep trying you also may have to find a way not to get triggered by some of the shame based responses, so long as they are not malicious or abusive. Meaning, you might say what you need to say and then she may be able to opt to delay the conversation after a reasonable cool down or processing point. I say that not because that's what I think you are obligated to do, but as a realistic approach to be able to communicate and work towards things when someone isn't emotionally flooding. I think when the BS floods, it's the WS's responsibility to learn what they need, and comfort. I think when it's the WS, it's more detaching until they are ready to resume. I wouldn't coddle a WS over their shame, but realizing it's there can help you manage the situation better for yourself.
I can better answer this with my BS hat I don't wear it often here but it's easier for me to illustrate what I am saying. So, I asked whatever I needed from H as a ws and I said whatever I needed to say whenever I needed to say it. There were times he didn't know how to respond or he flooded with emotion. I didn't back off the statement of what I needed, but I did give him time to respond to it. The reason that was my approach is because when I was in his shoes, I wanted to respond or feel or do the right things, to not hurt him anymore, there were things still lacking in me to accomplish that consistently. The consistency grew of course and I *think* it was rather steadily by my recollection, but it took time and practice. Failing, regrouping, etc. I learned the most from my failures honestly.
I knew his shame wasn't just about his affair or me finding out about it. We all accumulate shame in our lives just like we accumulate trauma, if it all remains unexamined. Have you ever grieved something and found that it brought up grief from other times? Like you lost someone close, but then started grieving your mom or dad again? Or you had a traumatic experience and some of the trauma that you experienced in the past reverberated through the experience? Shame is like that, and has a tremendous impact on our self-worth, behaviors, etc. And having just cheated and done horrible, awful things it's triggered all the unresolved at the same time.
I mentioned before "Rising Strong" by Brene Brown helped me sort a good deal.
I will also say that I would often confuse shame, guilt, and remorse. I think often we think showing our shame or swimming in it shows how badly we feel for what we have done. But it's not productive for the ws or the bs. It actually hinders connection. For me to get out of feeling overwhelmed by it I needed to put together a new recent history. It's hard to boil down shame when you have all this recent history of being a terrible person and watching the effects of that on your spouse. So, what it actually takes is mindfulness over every day to keep trying to do the best right thing in each situation you find yourself. And of course when we fail, it recoils and hits many of our toxic thinking traits - catastrophizing being a big one. As you practice this, you should add extending grace to yourself in your thoughts and actions. The days become weeks, the weeks become months, and you can start to appreciate the better aspects of yourself and feel proud of being engaged in doing the right thing in your life. That new recent history starts to repaint a picture of who you are to yourself.
I am going to say shame was what I wrestled with the longest. I still feel shame because it's the spectrum of emotions part of the human experience, but it's tempered and I have many coping mechanisms around it to notice it and let it pass and change my mindset.
I don't know where my husband sits with shame today, but he doesn't exhibit signs of it inhibiting his daily life or his connection with me. So, it's not always about abolishing it, I think actually whatever we resist persists. It's about changing yourself talk, and giving yourself grace, but often the only way that sticks is if you have defined your value system and are living within it as much as possible. To have integrity, you first must decide what it means to you and practice it until you feel you have mastery over it. To have remorse for what you did to another person, the feelings you have about what you did have to quiet enough to have capacity to take it in and be able to accept what you did. The more your capacity for all that grows, the less you live in your shame.
But, these are her concerns to solve. I think it's great you are aware where some of her behaviors and responses come from, it's just not your job to manage it. As I said, if she asks for a break so she can process it better, that's a reasonable request. To use that and not circle back though is gaslighting.