Men and Shame


A core issue is a negative self-belief that it repeatedly validated by negative life experiences. Most core beliefs are born sometime during childhood, and are frequently the result of early abuse, abandonment, neglect, or loss. Core issues have been referred to as ‘unfinished business’ – they are unresolved and misguided beliefs that stem from deep-seated feelings of unworthiness, loneliness, and inadequacy. They may be formed after specific events, or as the culmination of damaging, repetitive emotional and behavioral patterns. When one undergoes a significant trauma, he is liable to react in one of four ways. He may rationalize the experience, attempting to normalize the events and minimize the emotional impact. He may work hard to distract himself, throwing himself into work or extracurricular activities. He may begin acting out, engaging in risky behaviors, abusing drugs and alcohol, or resorting to physical aggression. Finally, he may repeat the traumatizing behavior. In the majority of instances, abusive behaviors are passed down from generation to generation.

Shame – A Core Issue

In order to successfully heal from past trauma, core issues must be identified. In his article “Healing Underlying Core Issues: Key to Lasting Recovery”, author Joe Koelzer draws a parallel between core issues and a stubborn splinter. When we get a splinter in one of our fingers, the pain can be pretty intense at first. Over time, however, our body heals around the splinter. That stubborn shard of wood is covered up by several layers of fresh skin; it is no longer visible to the outside world, and we may even forget that it exists at all. But when we press down on the spot where that stubborn splinter lives, the pain comes back in its entirety – it may be even more intense than before. The truth is, the splinter will still be there, right under our skin, unless we remove it once and for all. The same is true of core issues. They exist below the surface unless we work hard to acknowledge and resolve them. If we fail to heal, they will remain… waiting to be aggravated. And once they are, the old, lingering (temporarily forgotten) pain will come rushing back in full.

Shamed from a Young Age

When it comes to men, shame seems to be a common core issue. Societal standards pertaining to masculinity set strict guidelines when it comes to the way that men are expected to behave. When men do not behave as society expects them to, we shame them. Rather than disagreeing or expressing disapproval pertaining to specific actions or behaviors, we shame their very personhood – and we do it often. We say, “You’re a disgrace. You should be ashamed of who you ARE.” We rarely say, “You should be ashamed of what you’ve done.” To this day, many parents rely on shame when it comes to punishment. Still, even shame-related punishment is directed predominantly towards young boys. In 2012, Child Trends Data Bank reported that 77 percent of men and 65 percent of women agreed that children sometimes need a ‘good, hard spanking’. Most of these adults were referencing young boys – when asked, many of the same representatives suggested that ‘spanking’ a young girl is far less acceptable than spanking a young boy.

Shame and Self-Repression

When adolescent boys become young men, they are often shamed by their peers. They are shamed for a variety of reasons; shamed for not hitting puberty quickly enough, for not being able to keep up physically, and for their lack of sexual prowess. Charlie Glickman, PhD is a prolific author and sexuality educator who has extensively studied the effects of societal shame on the healthy sexual functioning of men. Glickman refers to cultural expectations pertaining to masculinity as the Man Box.

Society has devised a strict and repressive set of guidelines pertaining to virility, and when men stray from these parameters, we condemn them as different, inadequate, or insubstantial. In most instances, shaming begins in childhood and continues well into adulthood. Men counteract this incessant shaming (which qualifies as ongoing trauma) by engaging in one of the self-destructive behaviors we previously touched upon – rationalization, denial, risk-taking, or repetition of the damaging behavior (in this case, shaming).

Additionally, men will learn to repress their authentic selves for fear of being shamed further.

In order to heal, the social constructs of masculinity must first be smashed. Once an individual understands that the Man Box in truly non-existent, he must uncover and accept his authentic self. We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working with men who have fallen victim to societal shame for far too long; shame that stems from unresolved childhood trauma and is perpetuated by negative core beliefs. For more information on our comprehensive program of trauma and addiction recovery for men, please contact us today.