Dealing With Shame Means Naming, Facing And Repairing

Shame is the deepest of all emotions and has the ability to overwhelm those who acquire it. When we feel shame, we tend to feel alone, exposed and left to deal with emotions that go the very core of our existence.

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As humans, we don’t deal with shame effectively and tend to manage it with irrational behavior and thinking. We use the same protective measures as we did as a child by moving away from it, toward it or moving against it. We move against it by repressing it, withdrawing or hiding from social activities. People who deal with shame in this way are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. We move toward it by people pleasing and avoiding meeting our needs, as with codependency and we move against it by using its power to control and shame others. While not much is known about the origins of narcissism, what we do know is that a shame based parenting style is probably a factor. Shame is the reason for many ineffective relationships, unhealthy levels of self-esteem and such issues as perfectionism and overwork. It also drives our fear of rejection and an ability to take healthy risks in life. We do not self-care when we feel shame.

We often confuse shame with guilt but they are very different emotions. Guilt can be seen as healthy as it keeps our internal consciousness focused on what is the right thing to do. Guilt is to do with behavior but shame attaches behavior to the person. A distinction that our parents failed to teach us generally.

We often hide our feelings of shame, even from our loved ones and almost live it in a different part of us. According to Brene Brown, shame needs three factors to survive, silence, secrecy and judgement of ourselves.

The first step in combatting shame is to realize when we are feeling it and how it judges us. Naming the shame and countering it is an essential process. We often berate ourselves with such terms “I’m an idiot”, “I’m an embarrassment” “Why can’t I be…better/ more…/ like…”. An effective way of countering these statements is just to counter them with realism. “I am not an idiot and it is unfair to label myself so”, “I am not an embarrassment but maybe something I did was embarrassing”, “I want to accept myself as I am and choose to do so”.

We sometimes shut down completely when we feel shame or attack in a cloud of insult and rage. At this point, we are not in the present moment and are working with our deep psyche at play. Here, we can learn to see our triggers and what causes us shame. We need to become aware ,through examination, of the causes of our shame and what it means for us in terms of behavior. Shame touches the very core of our belief system and behavior associated with it comes from a very deep level.

When we become aware of shame and its triggers, we can then theoretically reconstruct our thinking and be kinder to ourselves. One effective tool is to talk to ourselves the way we would talk to a good friend or loved one. It is important to build resilience and develop self-compassion and acceptance by highlighting our positive side and achievements. Doing this will allow us to counter our shame.

One pioneering theory around dealing with shame was introduced in a paper in 2006 by Brene Brown. She named it the Shame ResilienceTheory (SRT). The main theory idea of SRT is to study the way people feel and deal with shame. The paper found that people experiencing shame feel trapped, powerless and isolated. The goals of SRT are to counter these feelings with an understanding of the vulnerabilities that lead to shame and to build resilience through empathy, connection and freedom of expression.

Most effective theories and treatments that deal with shame look at the acknowledgment, naming and understanding of shame. Something we all like to keep hidden and secret.

3 Thoughts

  1. Dr Jenner,

    Thank you. I see myself very much in this sentence:

    “We sometimes shut down completely when we feel shame or attack in a cloud of insult and rage.”

    What would be the best way do you suggest in trying to become aware of these triggers of shame?

    1. Thank you for the comment. Shame triggers usually appear when we start to berate ourselves for not being enough or if we start to apply how we feel about behaviour to us as a person. This usually has roots in the parenting style we were subjected to. Looking at it on a deeper level and the cause of these triggers is best done with a mental health professional.

  2. I find I literally cannot even talk about or deal with my shame. All that comes up instead are my defences like anger and rage. Or I completely just bypass that stage and dissociate.

    So in that sense it is never getting dealt with. It feels like the most humiliating thing ever, to talk about. It is like facing your inner demons as it were. Looking back at my disgusting and ugly self.

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