Shame and strategies

Jung called shame the 'soul eater' and it is a deeply uncomfortable feeling. We may feel a normal kind of embarrassment in committing a minor misdemeanour or mistake, and we may feel regret, disappointment or guilt when we carry out an action at variance with our perception of self or our values. But if we have absorbed messages about ourselves and feel that we as a person are unacceptable, we may experience a toxic form of shame. Therapy can help you to work through these feelings but there are also things you might try for yourself.

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Develop a vocabulary to describe these feelings - if they are sitting there and have been hidden, then unearthing them will be uncomfortable. Describing is one way of observing mindfully, which creates a space and helps you notice without overwhelm. Mindful non-judgement is stepping back, observing facts, then thoughts and feelings without judging them. It takes practice and you can notice when you get snared in a thought or feeling.

Differentiate your core self from behaviour - we all do things we regret, or make mistakes, but this does not sum you up or make you the person you are. What values or ethics do you live by? What is important to you? When you did this thing - did you mean to? What was your intention? Did it cross your boundaries (moral or values), and if it did, was this your choice, or was this not a choice?

Think about why we feel shame. Shame was an emotion which evolved to keep the group/tribe together so that they acted in the interests of the greater good, as this ensured survival. Shame was a response to transgressions from the group's purpose or values, which served to keep people inside and remind them of the limits. What exactly have you transgressed? Is this shocking or abhorrent to your family or friends? Or would they be shocked that you have suffered? Differentiate between guilt and shame. Guilt = I have done something wrong. Shame = I am wrong. Think of yourself as a newborn - were you wrong? Do you deserve this condemnation now?

Who is responsible for what happened? If we divided the responsibility up, are you taking too much or does the blame belong elsewhere? Remember children are never responsible for any kind of abuse. Adults are not responsible for being assaulted or abused. The abuser always has the responsibility here, whatever you believe about yourself.

Which leads me to ask how much punishment do you need? Do you really need to suffer? Are you really so terrible? What do you need to do or be to be good enough? What does this look like? Are you seeking to be perfect? Is this realistic/achievable? Or can you accept that you can be loveable, good enough, fallible and imperfect but still have worth as a person? Many people enjoy the flaws in their loved ones because this is part of who they are and how they are.

Develop self-compassion. Notice the critical voice! Imagine what you would say if it was a person speaking to you. Offer yourself a compassionate alternative, even if you do not entirely believe it. Start to catch your critic and head it off at the pass. Get good at self-care. Notice how you treat yourself and be kind when you feel shame. What do you need? 

If you are overwhelmed, just stop, and pause. Maybe go into the posture you feel your body needs, Breathe, in and out, ground, try your calm place and then consider what is next. Do you need self-compassion? Do you need a trusted person to listen or hug? Do you need to wrap yourself up? Hot drink? Just to be for a while? It is OK and human to suffer, to stop, to feel, or not feel. You are doing your best.

Finally pride - authentic pride in mastery and love and joy to fight your shame. You are worthy.

You are enough and you deserve regard.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Nottingham, NG5
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Written by Fiona Corbett, Accredited BACP and EMDR therapist and Clinical Supervisor
Nottingham, NG5

Fiona Corbett BACP and EMDR Association accredited therapist

I work in Nottingham with individuals. My training is in Humanistic counselling, Psychodynamic psychotherapy, and EMDR I also offer supervision. I work with a wide range of issues.

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