How Shame is a Breeding Ground for Loneliness. And what you can do about it.

4 min read              Written by: René Luisman

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René Luisman
Professional Trainer & Coach

Do you recognize that? You've been longing for a real relationship for years. Someone who, just like you, is looking for more than a casual, superficial sex date. Someone who accepts you for who you are and with whom you feel safe. But more and more often you wonder whether happiness is in store for you.

 

It’s hard work to achieve your ideal self

Because if you go by what you see on apps like Grindr, TikTok and Instagram, everyone has a toned body, a great partner, and an even better life. If you don't recognize yourself in this picture, you may feel like there's something wrong with you or that you've failed. And as you get older, the emptiness and loneliness increase. What's the point of it all?

 

In the search for the ideal partner, we also question who we want to be. In his book Intimacy describes Paul Verhaeghe, Doctor of Clinical Psychology, the strong influence of social media. You have to have this body, you have to eat these things and you have to put in these achievements. We impose increasingly high demands on ourselves and where you are now is never good enough. Or as the Red Queen said in Alice in Wonderland, ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

 

The bigger the distance between who you are and who you want to be, the harder you must work to meet your ideal self.

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A self-image formed by shame

Much of our shame is caused by what others expect of us. About whom we are, what we look like, what we have achieved and what our sexual preferences are. More specifically, what we think others expect from us. Because often it remains with reading minds, and we forget to check our thoughts with the other person. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. And we experience shame when we believe we are not who we should be. It’s this shame that increases the distance between you and the other. A perfect breeding ground for shame and loneliness is formed.

 

 

‘I found it difficult to connect, as if I didn't dare to show myself at all. This may have been due to my late coming out. In the men's group I could talk openly about this. Now I understand better how other men deal with this and what I can do to open up.’- Chris

 

 

How we protect ourselves from shame

When shame occurs, it is often accompanied by feelings of fear, guilt, anger or loneliness. Psychotherapist Stephan Konrad Niederwieser describes in his book Shame how these emotions take over our thinking and feeling and even can lead to depression, social anxiety and aggression. These feelings can be so overwhelming that you do everything you can not to feel it. You look for ways to numb these feelings, for example:

  • You keep others at a distance by isolating yourself or taking on a role;

  • You numb yourself with alcohol, drugs or medication;

  • You are looking for anonymous, volatile or risky sex; or

  • You lose yourself in constant use of social media, gaming or binge-watching.

 

As tempting as this behavior is, it won't solve your shame. And neither is throwing yourself into a new relationship. Once the intoxication is over, you fall back into loneliness or emptiness. 

 

To understand how to handle shame constructively, it's good to first understand why gay men trouble have opening up. Many of us have not learned to bond securely. And we certainly haven't learned to discuss our needs around intimacy and sexuality. What we missed at a young age, we often look for in the relationship with our partner. But what we find is a man who, like us, hasn't learned to open up and connect emotionally. Relationships in which both partners score high on shame are characterized by insecurity and a lack of communication. And that often leads to disappointment.

 

How to reduce shame?

The good news is that you can relearn to open up to the other person. And thus increases the chance of a healthy relationship. But recognizing, acknowledging and breaking old patterns takes great courage.

To experience intimacy and connection, you will have to face your own imperfections. Because somehow you know that no one is perfect. Not you and certainly not all those men on social media. An intimate and honest relationship with yourself is a prerequisite for an intimate and honest relationship with the other. If you don't feel good about yourself, you can't feel good about someone else either. The first step is to strengthen the relationship with yourself. To embrace your strengths and weaknesses. To acknowledge your feelings and emotions and take responsibility for your own needs. 

 

And the second step is to reach out to the other. Not with half a story in which you want to present the perfect version of yourself. But with an honest story in which you value yourself. And a story in which you also dare to show the parts you are less happy with.

 

To build a healthy, full-fledged relationship you must take risks. Only when you can love yourself for who you are, you can really open up to the other. And give people the chance to love you for who you really are.

Exercise to strengthen your self-image

A big part of your identity is the way you look at yourself, especially the way you se your own body. This exercise helps you to soften negative beliefs. For the best effect, repeat this exercise a few times a week.

 

Step 1: Stand in front of the mirror. Describe your body in objective, neutral terms (black hair, brown eyes, straight shoulders, etc.). Mention everything and don't skip anything, including the parts of your body that make you less happy.

 

Step 2: Take a moment to reflect on what judgments of others have you come to believe about who you are. Is something changing in your body? Perhaps you perceive different feelings or emotions or something changes in your posture.

 

Step 3: Now close your eyes for a moment and imagine that you are a good friend. Try to look with the loving gaze of the other person. Are you able to look at yourself with more mildness?

Workshop 'how to touch & be touched'

Do you want to feel more comfortable around intimacy and sexuality? Are you willing to open up to body-oriented work for two days? With the aim of improving the relationship with yourself and others? Then please join our Gay Men's Intimacy Workshop.