Relationships 101, Part 7: Separating Personhood and Behavior

American cultures bend toward shame. When something bad happens, many of us immediately try to determine if the person responsible for whatever it is a “good” person or a “bad” person. We assign blame as if having an imaginary frame to hold events in gives events meaning. The problem with this is that blame and shame do not move the needle toward wholeness, whether in the greater community or in our homes. Each one of us has the potential to be constructive and to be destructive. At different times and with different conditions, we can easily be either. In our intimate relationships, there are times when we do well and times when we mess up. The process of healing after we mess up is completely crippled when we get lost in shame. For clarification, “guilt” means I have done something wrong. “Shame” insists that I am something wrong when I do something wrong. Guilt is helpful as it lets us know that something needs to change. Shame does nothing but make us want to hide or protectively lash out. It is much more helpful in intimate relationships to separate personhood from behavior. When our partner does or says something that hurts us, we can continue to love the person — who is just as flawed and human as we are —- while addressing the behavior. When we are hurt we tend to want to hurt back. While understandable, this doesn’t get us anywhere. If we want to see healthy changes in our relationships, we need to focus on what the person has done , how it affects us, and what we would like to see the person change. None of that involves attacking the person. Love the person, address the behavior. Stay tuned to this space for more conflict resolution tools! If you are ready to work on a healthier, more vital and fulfilling relationship, fill out the Send a Message form to the right. Let’s talk! ___________ Tiffany Sankofa, MS LCPC is a therapist in practice in Columbia, MD. If you’d like help growing your relationship, go to and contact Tiffany today. It’s time to take your life back!