The need to secure affection from others is a basic, natural, normal human need that begins to form within most of us at a very early age, probably as a continuation of infanthood. The key issue here is normal and natural. The human animal has an index of developmental needs that seek to find expression and validation as we undertake the maturation process, a process that begins in early childhood and winds a twisted path all the way through young adulthood. The major players in this journey are the primary caretakers, i.e. usually our parents (or whomever plays their role in our lives). They must encourage, guide and support the various emotional needs that begin to emerge in us as we grow through early childhood. At the very least, they must allow them to occur or manage their expression without associating them with shameful feelings or humiliation. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens much of the time -- and in some cases quite severely. This is where the roots of many neurotic inhibitions that torture us later in life are to be found. Shame-binding, the process is called.
Consider this: one of those basic human needs I mentioned concerns our natural curiosity. Our urge to question the goings on within our environment must be supported and encouraged. It's through this process of wondering about the hows and whys of the physical world (and later, the non-physical world) that our intellects and ability to reason unfold. As we grow and ask questions, our curiosity about things should be supported as something good, not shamed as something bad. Now, you might be thinking, what kind of parent wouldn't want their kids to grow up smart? Well, many backwards-thinking parents often (perhaps inadvertently, but nonetheless) act to suppress intellectual urges in girls because of the misguided belief that "smart girls" are intimidating to men and therefore not attractive to them. "...Don't want my daughters growing up to be uppity bitches that don't know to defer to their husbands..." This is a cultural phenomenon that, sadly, still exists in many places. Parents engage in this kind of psychological suffocation by shaming or reacting in disapproving ways to every attempt this girl makes to express any kind of intellectual ability that goes beyond what her misguided parents feel is "proper". "You'll never make anything of yourself', they'll tell her repeatedly, or "I'll do that for you, you don't know how it works..." the implication being that "you're too stupid... let a man do it".
Decades of this sort of negative conditioning, especially drawn out over the course of one's critical formative years, can have a devastating and long-lasting effect on a person's personality. In this example, what happens is that the need to be curious and express any advanced rational thinking becomes shame bound. Every manifestation of that "curiosity urge" has been met (associated) with a shaming experience, usually verbal, that produces a painful emotional state in the recipient. In the future, anytime the desire to be insightful or creative arises, it pulls an unconscious sense of shame up from the depths along with it -- causing this poor girl to feel vaguely distressed in some way. So she never volunteers an answer in math class, because she's been trained to feel "stupid". Whenever she has a eloquent thought, she remains silent. Her intellectual powers cannot manifest themselves without causing a related emotional discomfort which is both very powerful and detrimental to her mental development. She has become crippled by her own shame, almost as if an auto-immune disease has turned against the very host organism that it was designed to protect.
Humans are simple psychological reactors in that we all tend to gravitate towards feelings and sensations that are pleasurable in some way, but we are even more strongly repelled by the opposite sensations of pain and discomfort. In other words, people will go through all manner of twists and turns in order to avoid pain, even at the expense of denying themselves something they would love to possess (like, for instance, a girlfriend).
Pain blocks our growth into complete emotional maturity by acting as a obstruction to the actions that are needed to accomplish any meaningful personal goals.
Here's the point insofar as being cursed with an unreasonable fear of rejection is concerned. Fundamental emotional needs like the desire for affection can also become shamed by an ill-intentioned or clueless parent. When this happens, it becomes impossible to experience this particular urge without simultaneously feeling deeply ashamed of it! It took me years of study and introspection to understand that this is what had happened to me, and to see this psychological anomaly as being the source of my rejection sensitivity problem. I was so hypersensitive to rejection that I became paralyzed to act when an opportunity to meet and flirt with a girl presented itself. I would simply withdraw and clam up. No one could see that I was consumed by silent shame at the merest thought of what I would like to do in that situation... i.e., attempt to strike up a conversation with her.
Now here's the really important thing to understand about this particular form of toxic shame... it wouldn't matter whether or not my advances had actually been rejected by the girl, because it was the very act of flirting with her that was shameful. By attempting to talk with this girl in a way that was obviously within a man-woman context, I was revealing to her that I had a need for affection... a normal, human emotional need. However, since my sense of this emotion got shamed as a little kid, "declaring" that I possessed this desire was extremely painful for me. I was exposing myself in public, and it was humiliating!
After a time I began to understand that I didn't fear being rejected so much as I feared exposing the fact that I had a desire to have a woman in my life. This communicated that I had a need for the affections of a woman, and of course I was horribly ashamed to demonstrate this "character flaw". Remember, it's not the rejection that's shameful, it's what the action of attempting to meet a woman reveals about yourself... that you're not a "powerful" loner. In effect, you're screaming out loud that you're not a man who can go it alone and tend to his own emotional needs. Instead, you're a weakling who needs someone to love and to take care of you... trading a girlfriend and eventually a wife for your mommy. See how totally fucked up this stuff is! Eventually you begin to rationalize and intellectualize your twisted view of the shame-bound emotion to the point where it becomes a kind of personal ideology that you live by. It can go so far that you actually begin to feel superior to other people who go around exposing their shameful emotional needs in public like weaklings and fools. Didn't their mommas ever teach them not to act like that?
I don't know to what degree, if at all, any of this resonates with you. Everybody has their own unique upbringing and story that goes with it. One clue as to whether or not the way you were raised might've had anything to do with developing a hypersensitivity to rejection later on as an adult, would be to recall if any openly allowed expressions of affection were commonly encouraged or even tolerated in your family. In my case, while my parents were always supportive and never abusive to me and my brother, there was always an unspoken rule of maintaining an aloofness with one another and a respect for everyone's privacy. There was no hugging or kissing in my family, and certainly no one ever uttered the words "I love you" to anyone else. Even to this day I rarely act this way around my mother. It makes me feel guilty, but I just can't bring myself to do it -- so powerful are the deeply ingrained feelings of shame at the thought of such "silly" expressions of affection. Everyone just "knew" how we all felt about each other. We didn't have to say it or demonstrate it out loud. Such displays were considered horribly embarrassing.
Today I marvel whenever I see a young child when I'm out someplace like a restaurant, lamenting for their mom to hug them or pay attention to them. Even at the age of about 4 or 5 I would have never so candidly sought to be embraced or sweet-talked by my mom or dad... that's how young I was when I had already come to understand that I should be ashamed of such feelings. I don't tell you this to gain your sympathy, only to illustrate just how insidious toxic shame can be. It's really a stealth form of abuse, so subtle that I suspect neither the abuser or "abusee" often know that it's even happening!
How could I have understood at the age of 4 that I was being programmed to feel ashamed of one of my most basic human emotional needs?
Of course, there's no way to be certain how any of this really happened since the beginnings of anyone's shame are lost in the faded memories of early childhood, but I was always very perceptive and it could be that I sensed either my mom or dads' discomfort with my affection-longing behavior and came to feel that there was something wrong with it. From then on I began to feel "funny" (shamed) whenever I acted that way. Naturally I suppressed the behavior to avoid provoking the shame and ta-da... a nicely shame-bound emotion to torture me for the next 30 or so years. Why did my parents do this to me? I suppose they felt that hankering for love wasn't a proper way for a boy to act, and wished to discourage such "sissy-like" behavior. Fortunately, I think parents are more enlightened nowadays and aren't so worried about forcing strict gender roles on kids at a very young age. There's plenty of time for character to blossom in later adolescence.
You can see the problems created when shame is introduced into our consciousness at a time when we are psychologically wide open and lacking the defensive boundaries of a well-formed identity to protect ourselves. Our immature egos make us profoundly hypno-suggestive and vulnerable to this potent emotional abuse.
Anyway, here's the bottom line to all this amateur psychoanalysis: It's possible that you only think you have an unnatural fear of rejection. I'm suggesting that if you examine it more closely, what you might really be experiencing is a deeply felt sense of shame whenever you expose the fact that you desire affection. Therefore, the very act of trying to interact with women is an admission (and a disgraceful one at that...) that you desire to be loved! Think about it... this is a trap with no escape hatch because no matter what you do, you can't win. Even if your amorous advances are not openly rebuffed by a woman, it doesn't matter. Why? Because your shame is awakened by making any sort of move on her in the first place. Such action is nothing short of an open admission of your natural human desire for love and affection. The problem is that, for you, it's neither natural nor human.
A shamed emotion is experienced as alien and strange, and therefore must always be kept hidden from view... much the same way that we keep our genitals covered in public to avoid being embarrassed and humiliated.
How do you distinguish the difference between a simple fear of rejection and the more complicated dynamic of shamed affection needs? Well, do you find that it's still impossible for you to approach a woman even when she's sending you "GO" signals all over the place with body language cues and unmistakable flirtatious behavior? Or to "up the ante" and show your interest in dating her if you have managed to strike up a conversation? If she's making it clear that she's not going to reject you, then what's there to be afraid of? That's right... you're afraid to reveal your secret weakness... that you need love and affection just like everyone else. Shameful!
Because these two very dissimilar emotions (a desire for love plus shame) are bound together in the deepest recesses of your unconscious mind, you cannot experience one without the other. Think of the shame as a monkey clinging to the back of the normal emotion... it pops up whenever you try to experience that emotion whether you like it or not. Sometimes the gremlin of toxic shame can be temporarily suppressed with the use of drugs or alcohol. This is the reason people become addicted to chemicals, it allows them to become uninhibited... meaning that under the influence of mind altering drugs the shame becomes decoupled and they are free to experience the emotion shamelessly, at least for a while. Think of how you act when you get too drunk or high. Pawing every girl in sight at a party or the bar? I thought so.
The emotion we most often seek to express when uninhibited by drugs is the one which is the most tightly imprisoned by shame when we are sober.
Alright, having beat this thing to death in theory, how about some practical advice on what to do about it. The first thing you must recognize is that knowledge is power. Simply having your eyes opened to the mechanics of toxic shame and how it was adversely affecting your life all these years can become a compelling tool for dismantling it. Knowing and understanding that your shame-bound emotions are something that was done to you, and is not really you (i.e. an unchangeable aspect of your personality) is an enormous revelation in itself that holds vast potential for jump starting your personal growth. No longer are you doomed to identify with an emotional characteristic... i.e., you aren't shy -- you were programmed with an emotional flaw that caused you to utilize shy behavior in order to correct the problem. You adopted shyness as a shield against your shame, to keep it boxed in where it couldn't torment you. It was a pretty ingenious solution really. The drawback to using one type of emotion to fight another one is that the cure we create for ourselves produces its own unique set of problems that limit your ability to live life to its fullest expression. The cure ends up robbing you of the complete human experience. Not to mention the addictive behaviors they can lead to in our efforts to suppress them
A second weapon in your arsenal against your shame is what psychologists call desensitization. This idea makes use of the natural tenancy of the mind to adapt to anything after a while and actually become bored with it. What bores us becomes invisible and eventually gets taken for granted, and when that happens it loses its potential to generate any kind of emotion within us, good or bad. An event or experience that provokes no emotion is the definition of boring, after all. So how do we turn rejection into something that bores us? I don't know precisely what your level of courage is concerning your rejection sensitivity, but if you can, try something like this: Next time you have an opportunity to talk to an attractive woman in some non-romantic situation (like work or school), begin to think about asking her out on a date. Try to really do this seriously and not just as a joke in your mind. You're really going to ask her out and reveal your shameful need for affection. Wow!
If you've been focusing and doing this mental exercise properly, you should begin to feel that familiar fear start to swell in your chest and begin to choke your throat shut. Ah, the protective mechanism at work! Now you're getting it. Try to hold yourself in that uncomfortable state as long as you can before you excuse yourself and slip away. Make your retreat with calm good humor and class... don't bolt away in a panic to the nearest john and start puking... (if that happens, then you went too far!) Just relax; no one knows what fantasies are running inside your mind except you. There's no need to create an embarrassing scene over this. You will have to work this desensitizing program several times before it kicks in, so you can't go around scaring all the women into totally avoiding you by acting like a hysterical Woody Allen clone. This is an internal exercise designed to establish control over your own emotions and thoughts. It's secret -- don't give away what you're doing!
You'll need to institute a regular program of doing this "near-shame-approach" in order for the desensitization training to really take effect. You should push yourself a little closer to actually opening your mouth and speaking the words "...would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night?..." in order to provoke the feelings of intense fear and complete paralysis that normally troubles you. By raising the psychological bar like this one notch at a time, you'll make it increasingly difficult for the negative emotional-shame response to take command of your physiological state and trigger all those humiliating physical reactions that you hate so much... like the sweating, nervousness or the choked, squeaky, little-kid voice, etc.
In essence what you're doing is playing with your shame... prodding and teasing it by deliberately getting close to performing the activity that draws the shameful feelings up out of where they hide deep within your unconscious mind, and then forcing them to run their routine for you on demand. What happens is that the negative responses begin to exhaust themselves after a while -- especially if you stay determined to keep poking at them regularly. Every time there will be some degree of mental discomfort to suffer through. The magic becomes apparent when, after a while, you'll find that you have to get closer and closer to the edge of actually speaking the dreaded words before you can get the fear to present itself. Now you're beginning to cripple the shame!
Think of it like this... each time that you pull the shame up it's like you're using mental sandpaper to scratch away another layer of it. With repeated actions, the veneer of shame becomes thinner and less powerful in its hold over you. You will be able to fatigue these emotions so completely by doing this over and over again that one day you'll find you can go right through the whole routine and actually ask her out for a real date without hardly feeling any nervousness or humiliation at all! I know that it seems impossible to conceive right now as you're reading this... but the technique of desensitization works wonders and is used regularly by psychotherapists to cure people of some very serious phobias like a pathological fear of flying, open spaces, crossing tall bridges, etc. By slowly edging closer and closer to the stressful stimuli and teasing the fear a little bit at a time, it gradually loses its grip on you. The fear simply gives up and goes away... too tired to torment you any more!
I imagine the most difficult part for you will be generating the willpower to keep experiencing the shameful feelings over and over again -- especially at the beginning when they are strongest and seemingly impossible to overcome. This is where another simple NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) trick called anchoring can help. The basic premise of anchoring involves replacing a negative fearful emotion with an upbeat, positive one by linking the replacement emotion to a physical "trigger", like the touch of a specific part of the body, and then firing it off when needed to instantly pull the good feeling up on demand. This replacement feeling should be one of genuine strength and power. If it's strongly enough imagined, it will shove the negative emotion aside and take its place... instantly modifying your mood exactly when you need it the most.
Briefly, the anchoring process works like this: First you need to decide on what kind of physical stimulus to use as a trigger. It has to be something that you can do unobtrusively since in our particular case it will be used "in the field", when we're considering approaching a woman. NLP trainers suggest you squeeze your wrist or tug on the third finger of your left hand to set or fire off an anchor, but I never had much luck with those kinds of triggers since they seem too ordinary and tend to just get lost among all the normal daily actions that your hands go through.
What I do instead is use a very small rubber band as a trigger because the sensation forms a distinct memory in your nervous system. I loop the band around my wrist and keep it hidden behind my watchband where no one can see it. Pull the rubber band upwards and stretch it about an inch away from your skin, and then let it snap back. The small sting that it makes is your trigger. You can snap it either on the top or the bottom of your wrist, but once you make your choice be sure to stick with it consistently because you'll be teaching yourself to associate this specific jolt with a particular kind of emotional storm in your brain, so it's important that the feeling is exactly the same every time. Otherwise the neurology gets confused and nothing happens.
Next you must find some block of time each day where you can be alone to practice for about ten or fifteen minutes in a quiet, private place. Try for total silence, but if it's impossible to find a spot where there's no background racket leaking in, you might want to use some gentle music to cover over it. Get one of those New Age CD's, Sensual Massage or Winds in the Woods, something like that. No lyrics, just soft elevator music or even nature sounds like birds, ocean waves... whatever. Lyrics are too distracting. Try to set aside a period of time each day for your training since this is a conditioning exercise. Brains aren't like computers... you can't just install the new software in one quick n' easy operation and watch the machine begin performing the new tasks flawlessly. Alas, brains must be taught new tasks by repeated exposure to the same stimuli over and over again until new neural pathways are formed.
All training of any kind is either a mental or psychomotor skill (like playing music or shooting foul shots) that is based on constant, boring repetition until the brain locks the actions into its deep memory somewhere and the task finally becomes "automatic". You have to be committed to seeing any type of training through to its completion. If you play with it a few times and give up, you won't experience any real results. Then you'll call me a crook and demand your money back (you're not getting it. fuck you).
Okay, here's the NLP drill: Get yourself into a relaxed state by listening to the music or the sound of your own breathing. Buy a book on yoga -- they have some fantastic relaxation/breathing techniques. Make sure you have the rubber band in place and have decided on how to snap it every time, (over or under). Once you're relaxed, you need to conjure up a very happy or powerful feeling from your past memories and relive it within your mind. This should be some kind of event or moment when you were swept with feelings of competence and power, as if you'd just won the Stanley Cup and are skating it around the rink held over your head with thousands of people cheering and your team mates surrounding you (what the hell, you won the Con Smythe too!). Not a hockey guy? How about a spacewalk in the Shuttle payload bay? Floating along and watching the Earth slip by... Whatever you decide to use, you'll have to really get into the fantasy until you can feel the chills running up and down your spine. For this to work, the imagery has to produce a pathway to the intensely powerful feelings.
It's those awesome feelings that you'll want zapping through your brain as you reach over and snap the band. Snap once or twice, always the same way. If you can't seem to think of an intensely upbeat personal experience, then make one up. Borrow something from one of your favorite movies. Put yourself in the role of Bruce Willis kicking some ass in Die Hard, or whatever. Take your time to replay the scene in great detail in your imagination, feeling the rush of emotions build as you do. When those emotions hit a chilling peak as the scene climaxes ( "yippee ki-yo ki-yay, mutherfucker..." ) make sure that the action is surrounding you at its center (put yourself in the scene, not standing back as an outside observer like you're watching it all happen on TV), then snap the band. Calm yourself down, then do it once more. Two experiences per training session every day for a month will do the trick.
I used to use the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey and imagine myself whizzing through the Universe. Then when the music peaked I would trigger the band snap and let the flood of emotions rush through me. After a while I could feel the same powerful state just by snapping the band when I was out someplace!
You might think it's all bullshit but this really does work. Unfortunately, you've got to stick with the training for several weeks. Sorry. I didn't invent how slowly your brain works. Once we all switch over to CyberDyne micro-cranial CPU implants I'm sure this'll all get a lot easier. Today, this is the best we can do.
Now you can slowly bring yourself back to reality. This entire procedure shouldn't steal more than 10 minutes out of your day. If you commit yourself to doing it on a regular basis (5 days a week?), not so much the fantasy scene but the emotions, will become associated with the sting of the band snapping in your unconscious mind. You can use different fantasy scenes if you want to so you don't get bored with the same one. Just make sure that the passions you generate make you feel powerful, omnipotent and confident somehow before you let the band snap. Wait until you have the perfect "high" emotional state buzzing around inside your head before snapping the band. That's really all there is to it. Your unconscious mind is trained (brainwashed?) this way.
You make practical use of this anchoring trick whenever you find yourself in a situation where you could use some courage, or to cut off the negative, defeating self-talk in your head that starts up when the opportunity to chat up some foxy chick presents itself. This can be a great weapon to use against the shame that comes tagging along with those affection-bearing passions that you would like to be able to experience without feeling embarrassed. Now you can.
Finally, a word about being appropriate. If you use the techniques for meeting women that I'm going to be outlining in the next chapter, you'll be faced with asking her out for a date at some logical point in your conversation. A logical (appropriate) moment. In other words, she'll be expecting you to ask the question, and thus will be far more receptive to your offer. I mention this only because guys who struggle with fear of rejection sometimes end up springing the "will-you-date-me" question on a women unexpectedly out of left field (when it's not appropriate), at that instant when they are able to briefly overcome their fear through sheer force of will. The problem with the "willpower method" is that the sudden burst of courage it produces will usually occur at a random awkward moment -- and when blindsided in this way a woman's first reaction can be a defensive one. She'll turn you down almost as an unthinking reflex. (Stop and think about it, so might you.) Possibly she'll regret it later, but by then the moment is over and gone.
Needless to say this is not the smoothest way to go about seducing women. You must guide the conversation along to the point where she picks up a few advance signals of what you're about to ask her, allowing her time to prepare and decide what her response will be. Then, if the "question" occurs at the proper moment in your conversation with her (as an escalation of your dialog, see next chapter...) it will be welcomed as the next logical step, then the question will seem natural and not embarrassing. It's only when your asking her out is done at an inappropriate or unexpected time do both parties involved end up feeling awkward, uncomfortable, and even humiliated. Blurting it out will only secure you an embarrassing rejection which reinforces your shame, making it even more potent in the future.
The point is that brute force doesn't work when it comes to untangling the twisted neuroses of the mind. You must carefully desensitize yourself to the shame that binds you by using anchoring and training methods similar to what I described above. Once the volume on your fear is turned down, it should be possible to assume a natural relaxed attitude about everything that will quietly signal to her that you are a Dominant Male and that you do this sort of stuff all the time. No problem-o...
Of course, the subjects of toxic shame, addiction, NLP and anchoring are far more complex than what I've described here. This was only meant to give you an introduction and a working knowledge of these subjects to demonstrate how they might be used to control the source of your neurotic fears. If you feel that you'd like to learn more about these topics, there are a wealth of books you can check out. Try searching around on Amazon.com or one of the other major book dealers on the net, or visit your local Borders or Barnes & Noble stores. On Amazon, I found a few books on Neuro Linguistic Programming that are probably good enough to help you become an absolute master of the subject. It's probably more than you need to know... but what the hell, I guess you can never know enough about anything:
Change Your Mind-And Keep the Change : Advanced NLP Submodalities Interventions by Connirae Andreas
NLP and Relationships by Joseph O'Connor, Robin Prior
And, as for the subject of toxic shame, I learned everything that I know about it from the consummate authority on this subject, John Bradshaw.
Bradshaw is an ex-Catholic priest and a recovering alcoholic who has made an enormous contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of dysfunctional families -and the immense harm that they do to individuals -- by passing along family secrets which saddle children with toxic shame. The book that virtually changed my entire life is his first one called Healing the Shame that Binds You. If you want to get into any of his other books about families etc., go ahead, but get this one first. It is absolutely the most profound work on the subject of toxic shame and addiction that you will ever find:
Healing the Shame That Binds You by John E. Bradshaw
(Paperback - October 1988)
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