When we feel shame

Humans get it wrong sometimes.

Throughout life, there is every possibility that we will make a mistake, hurt someone we love, do something wrong, or simply mess up.

However when that mistake, that error in behaviour or hurt turns inwards, challenges our sense of who we are and how we see ourselves, we can feel shame. A degree of shame allows us to make amends, to seek forgiveness and to reconcile. When we have no resource to do this or it’s become such a deep and familiar part of who we are it’s easy to find ourselves on a path of self-destruction, often masking the real vulnerability in a range of damaging behaviours, such as isolation, addiction, self-harm and depression.

This can consume us so that we lose sight of action, of how to turn it around, of how to re-evaluate who we are.

Shame is a complex state to be in, made up of so many layers of emotions and self-recriminations. It can be paralysing in the moment and long term can lead to insecurity - that “if you only knew what I'd done you wouldn’t want to be with me’’ dialogue that exists within our heads.

We can experience shame in different ways.

  • Internal: When our own sense of who we are is under threat by ourselves - when we are hard on ourselves, don’t let ourselves off the hook, replay negativity.
  • External: When we believe others to be looking at us, scrutinising us, judging us, not understanding us or our behaviour.
  • Collective: When we experience shame on behalf of others - perhaps a family member who struggles with addiction, or has a long term illness that others might not take the time to understand, or even culturally on behalf of our community or society.

Owning up to and acknowledging our sense of shame can be hard - the very thing we want to hide also has to become public, it takes risk and bravery to put it out there. Whether it’s something we have to start to accept about ourself, or how we feel about another it takes courage to speak it.

It comes with that horrible feeling of not being good enough, not being the same as, not deserving of care or love. It is often a precursor to a host of other emotional and physical issues as we attempt to mask, manage or fight against what we feel or hurts us.

Beginning to open up, allowing someone in is the step towards understanding our own shame, how it affects us in our life and relationships and when we begin to understand we begin to allow space for healing.

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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Glasgow, G41 3PP
Written by Christine King, (MBACP)
Glasgow, G41 3PP

Christine is a person centred counsellor in Glasgow, working with individuals and couples as well as online counselling. She works across a wide range of difficulty with an interest in how we build better, more sustaining and enhancing relationships with ourselves and others as the foundation of well-being.

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