Why We Feel Shame and How We Can Overcome It
Shame is an emotion that can be challenging to address and talk about; everyone has experienced moments of shame, which is why bringing it up can trigger others to remember their personal experiences with it.
Shame is defined as a ‘painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour’, unlike guilt which serves the purpose of teaching us to learn from our mistakes. It is an emotion that serves no purpose other than to cause emotional distress to the individual. Therefore, its distressing powers over the mind lead to multiple mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Both of these mental illnesses can harm a person’s life if left unaddressed; for example, you may not feel worthy of love and happiness as your shame impacts the decisions you make in life, and so you find yourself in harmful situations such as:
- Abusive relationships
- Isolated from those around you
Being in any of these situations is toxic and extremely difficult to overcome; therefore, those suffering from shame may find themselves turning to alcohol and other drugs as a coping method and as short term relief from feelings of shame. If you are reading this and can recognise the harmful situation you are in, then it is time to confront these feelings of shame so that you can move on to a healthier, happy life. Here’s how you can deal with feelings of shame.
The four faces of shame
Psychotherapy acknowledges there are four types of shame:
- Self-evaluation shame comes from within and is an internal evaluator; the self-talk expresses feelings of hopelessness and often stems from abuse and addiction.
- Societal shame is an individual or group directing shame towards someone; it can be defined as ‘unwanted exposure’, for example, someone walking in on you getting changed. Societal shame is prevalent within society due to social media and its ability to shame young impressionable minds.
- Family and developmental shame can evolve from very early childhood through neglect. Therefore, they are made to feel unworthy, and they will start to act as if they are.
- Intergenerational shame stems from when a person grows up surrounded by shame; it passes down through the generations. First, however, you must ask yourself, who’s shame, is it?
The steps to recovering from shame
- Recognise the signs of shame
- Critical awareness of shame and the function it serves upon the mind
- Expressing yourself to close friends
- Voicing your feelings of shame gives you power over it. Shame thrives off its ability to isolate you and hide you from those around you. Please don’t give it the power.
Because shameful feelings lead to self-esteem issues, the most challenging part of recovery is admitting why you feel shame to another person. If reaching out to a friend or family member feels too personal and exposing, contacting a therapist is a great way to express your feelings in a non-judgement zone. A therapist will not reject you upon revealing the cause of your shame. Instead, they are there to help you become the person you once were.
Seeking out professional advice is particularly important for those feeling shame surrounding abuse, whether sexual or any other kind. It is essential to understand that no one deserves trauma, and surviving abuse is not a cause for shame. Therapy for those experiencing shame as a result of abuse is trauma-sensitive and helps people get to the root of their shame in order to overcome it fully.
If you would like more information on how to overcome shame or would like to consult a professional for help in tackling these feelings, then don’t hesitate to contact me. You can get in touch through my website. You can also book an appointment in person in a non-judgement zone; however, if you prefer to remain at home, an online appointment can be made.
Remember, the first step in overcoming your feelings of shame is recognising the need to overcome them. So whenever you are ready, I’m always here to listen.