I feel bad - living with shame

Feeling bad is often what brings many adults or young people into the counselling room. Shame is often connected with a feeling of a deeper, constant, sense of badness - many describe this as a 'felt' sense.  


We may at times, feel bad about something we have said or done. This may be acute or go away after a few hours or a day or two. We might know this as guilt; guilt can feel chronic at times and often is something that stops us living our life and feeling ok. 

For those that experience a consistent, lingering feeling of 'I am bad', this does not leave them and usually has occurred from feeling ashamed of something that they experienced for a long period of time repeatedly, or a single event. Or from being consistently shamed for who they are by another person.


What is shaming? Shaming can happen in early childhood. For e.g shaming a child for soiling the bed or wetting their pants. Children who are consistently shamed for behaviours, or for who they are, will often grow up not feeling ok about themselves. Often there is an internalisation of 'I am a bad boy' or 'I am disgusting'. Often people with chronic shame can feel that they are 'no good' or that something is wrong with them, perhaps unworthy of any one's time or attention or love. 

As a child, you may have been given consistent messages such as, ' you are a bad boy, you are stupid, you are no good'. These are often by main caregivers or other adults. Shaming can be by other children, bullying is one way of shaming. This is an incredibly sad and traumatic experience to have as a child or young person. Shaming can also be experienced for adults in harmful relationships. For e.g in domestic abuse, or cultural beliefs and systems. 

Often people who shame (the ones who impose the shaming), have also experienced shame and may, or may not be aware of the effect it is having on the child/adult. At some point, we all experience feeling shame in our lives and that is a memory that will stay with us and we might be triggered in later life. Maybe it was being embarrassed in front of the class for getting a question wrong. It could be for hurting someone else or putting yourself in danger. For example, a child may hear, "what a selfish child you are in hurting your brother. How could you do this? You are a bad boy. I don't like you anymore". Therefore experiencing shame and rejection. 

There may be shame and fear - we may wet our bed, we are told we are disgusting, a baby, then we are hit each time this happens. The person shaming, often may feel they need to stop the behaviour of the other, or feel overwhelmed by the behaviour. 

Sadly, it does not stop behaviours. Shaming a child or adult can make behaviours happen more often and no one feels better from being shamed. In fact, what we have learned is shaming can have devastating effects on our self-worth, how we value our life and how we feel about life and our own self. It can lead to strong emotions and resentment, such as anger, rage and depression for the person who is living with shame.

Shame or being a person who shames can create self-sabotage, inner shaming, not being able to have long term or relationships with others. Shame sadly can be passed on in generations. Chronic shame can be experienced from being sexually abused and in extreme religious upbringings where shame is imposed. 

Perhaps you feel ashamed for shaming, perhaps you are the one that has been shamed in life and seeking to break the cycle and start to work on your own shameful feelings and thoughts. Or you may feel suicidal because of these experiences in life. If you are struggling with these thoughts then immediate help is available.

Reading about shame and the effects could be a start in connecting to others and developing an understanding of your own life. Reaching out and finding the support you need is the first step forward.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Doncaster, DN4 8QP
Written by Sarah May Thorpe, BSC /MBACP/ EMDR Therapist /BACP Accredited
Doncaster, DN4 8QP

My name is Sarah Thorpe, I work self employed as a counsellor in Doncaster with adults, children and their families that are struggling.
Currently i am working via telephone and video zoom sessions.

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