Experiencing shame can be very uncomfortable and unpleasant. Shame is that feeling that comes up when we feel unworthy, not good enough or inadequate. Shame is that feeling that tells us we are bad or wrong or silly.
Experiencing shame can impact on relationships and work. It can make it difficult to connect with people and achieve goals. Not only that, unresolved shame can lead to other feelings- depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Experiencing shame can be deeply damaging.
What is shame?
Shame is the feeling that arises when one feels negative about themselves- the feeling that your whole self is wrong. It is different from guilt. Guilt is the feeling that comes up when you judge that you’ve done something wrong.
We all feel shame
Pretty much everyone experiences shame at some point in time, although in varying degrees and intensity. Shame helps people maintain social norms by reinforcing that certain behaviours can have a negative impact on society. It can guide people to behave in a prosocial way and avoid harmful behaviours.
Although shame is a normal feeling, it can become toxic. People can experience shame when there is nothing shameful about them. Through people’s experiences, whether it be parents being disappointed, or peers being critical and judgement, or being left out or different, people can begin to believe that certain aspects of themselves are not good enough. This can lead people to feel ashamed of themselves for behaviours or characteristics they are not truly shameful. The feeling of shame can trick them into believing that there is something flawed, for example with their personality, appearance or intelligence.
One technique that psychologists, including myself, use in managing shame is helping clients understand the nature of shame- that it is a normal feeling and does not mean you are shameful. Psychologists can help clients understand that feeling shame does not mean there is something wrong with you. That shame tricks people into thinking they are inadequate in some way. Following this, clients find it helpful to identify situations that trigger the shame feeling and label the feeling of shame. Labeling shame for what it is- an emotion- can assist with giving some distance from the feeling.
If you are reading this blog and experience a strong sense of shame, I hope that you will feel empowered to better manage your shame. Seeking psychological help for managing shame is normal and psychologists use a variety of therapeutic techniques beyond that described above to assist. Please don’t be ashamed to seek help.
Michelle Dean (M Clin Psych, BA (Hons – First Class), brings her genuine care and compassion for people, along with her keen insight and analytical abilities to her work. Michelle is registered with Medicare and is also an approved practitioner in the NSW Workers Compensation System.
Through her various roles, she has developed a deep understanding of how these difficulties develop and impact on people in different life stages. Michelle has been able to assist her clients in developing skills to manage their anxiety and depression, along with enabling them to develop a healthy sense of self and greater self confidence. Michelle is a high calibre and compassionate professional and she is wonderful at being able to see the complexities of a clinical presentation and bring her therapeutic work down to a manageable and structured approach.