It’s all about shaming

Back to Maya and me. I did not grasp it immediately, but I do now. It’s all about shaming. Maya, bless her socks, is one of the most risk-averse people I have ever met. She does not “get” risk or risk-takers. Outwardly extraverted, bright, and engaging, she lives a limited and limiting, fear-based life. When she was seriously ill several years ago, I organized for a friend to send her some books and materials she had collected about her particular disease.

“Don’t even bother sending them,” Maya snarls when I ring her from Australia.

“Tell her not to send those books if they say that my disease is a ‘wake-up call’. I’m not interested in a wake-up call.”

I say I had no idea what is in the books, and she can make her assessments when they arrive.


A few months before I move to Canada, I admit to Maya that I was feeling “really, truly broken because the loss of Karl is so massive.”

Maya writes this: “You made choices that left your friends without a choice but to help you when things didn’t quite work out because they love you.”

Maya further explains that “there is still time to rethink the Vancouver plan if you feel that you can line up more secure housing and better supports in Australia.”

Maya (with no investments of her OWN) interrogates my investment portfolio

My evening with Maya ends with my demanding that she stop talking about my proposed investments. We leave the restaurant in silence and trudge up to her car. As we stand on the sidewalk, I stammer that she has told me more or less the same thing many times, reminding me of a litany of my financial and other risk-taking failures. I exclaim that this must be the price I pay for over-sharing. I remind her that I have come within inches of death after witnessing Karl drown. I am proud of my courage to face my new life alone in Canada. I enumerate my achievements since Karl died. I also explain that two accountants, a financial advisor and a close friend with extensive investment experience, are advising me on how to invest my insurance payout.

I blurt out that we can never have such a conversation again. And then I march up the hill to my home.

Later, debriefing the conversation with my friend, Stacey, I realize that what I experienced from Maya was shaming behavior.

Shame and grief: a toxic combination

A quick Google search uncovers the robust relationship between shame and grief and how incredibly painful shaming behavior can be for a grieving person (primarily because we are already likely to be engaged in self-shaming over matters associated with the death of our loved one). Roger Thoman, a grieving parent, explains that grief “comes and goes as unexpectedly as a summer squall” (

So does shaming behavior when you are grieving.

Shame is like a leech: potent, dangerous, and potentially lethal to the soul. Shame can internalize problems and leave the grieving person feeling that they are the problem.

Tim Lawrence, a specialist in adversity, blogs that grief and shame are “an unacceptable combination” (

And we must acknowledge that shame in the wake of grief is “one of the most lethal, pervasive desecrations of humanity.” Further, “when your life’s been torn apart, the potential for humiliation is exacerbated to infinity. To add a layer of poisonous shame to your already turmoiled position is not only scary, but it’s also dangerous.”

Lawrence explains that “the combination of grief and shame is the most wounding force in the lexicon of human emotion.”

Tim Lawrence

the master emotion of everyday life

Psychologists regard shame as the “master emotion of everyday life,” and in recent years, researchers have explored relationships between grief and shame, especially in cases of spousal bereavement. Mine is a good case in point, as shame often arises as a breakdown in self-presentation as a worthy person. It warns us when we have lost or are about to lose value and acceptance in the eyes of others.

That’s how I feel with Maya. Bereaved people who feel shame about the death of their spouse may find their symptoms exacerbated because of a history of childhood assault, emotional abuse, parental neglect, abandonment, and rejection.

Bereaved widows are more likely to experience traumatic (prolonged) grief if they experienced childhood adversities.

Karl helped me to keep my shame at bay

Maya would say I was one of the most confident people she knows; that I have buckets of self-esteem. But Maya hasn’t thought much about my traumatic childhood.

I have.

I received a tremendous amount of affirmation, acceptance, and approval from Karl in our 23 years together. So, possibly, as well as missing his obvious love, connection, comfort, reassurance and support, I am missing the loss of the source of confidence that held my shame at bay.

Blessedly, I have accepted that Karl is dead. But I find that self-confidence and self-esteem, once lost, are difficult to regain, even for a confident and self-assured woman.

How can I use our healing model to work through the emotional fallout from the shaming situation with Maya?

So, given that I am grieving, in pain, feeling shamed and deeply upset, how can I use our healing model to work through the emotional fallout from the shaming situation with Maya?