Webb Therapy Uncategorized Understanding Shame

Understanding Shame

Shame is a complex and powerful (“contracting” and belittling) emotion that can have a significant impact on our mental health and how we navigate the world and interact with people. It often stems from feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, or embarrassment about certain aspects of ourselves or our actions. This may not mean much to you right now … but that is all bullshit. I have worked with many people experiencing extreme toxic shame, and they are intrinsically beautiful people. Understanding the root causes of toxic shame is an essential first step in creating a healthy relationship with it. It’s crucial to recognize that experiencing shame is a universal human experience, and it does not define your worth as a person. Oftentimes, our shame is a projection of what we believe other people think about us, or it is an internalised belief (script, attitude etc.) that we learned from painful and scary life experiences. I want to preface the following by acknowledging that shame can be healthy. Without shame, we may develop unhealthy levels of egotism, narcissism, arrogance, and superiority.

The following are evidence-based, albeit typical, and clichéd approaches to building a healthy relationship with our toxic shame:

Challenge Negative Thoughts

One effective way to overcome shame is to challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to feelings of shame. This can feel exhausting! To be constantly vigilantly of our thinking, hence, noticing and letting thoughts stream through the mind will be necessary here. In 12-step fellowships, they would suggest to “let the go” and “hand them over”. For example, saying to yourself “This is not for me right now and I’ll hand it over to the universe just for now”. We do not always have the energy to challenge our negative thoughts. You can ‘compartmentalise them’, or say, “not right now”, or even say “thank you for making me aware of this and I may reflect on this when I have more time”. Challenging negative thoughts involves identifying and questioning the critical inner voice that fuels self-criticism and self-doubt. By practicing self-compassion and cultivating a more positive self-image, you can begin to counteract the destructive effects of shame. If you want someone to talk to about these issues, please call me: 0488 555 731.

Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion (and kindness) is a key component of overcoming shame. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend facing similar struggles. Underpinning our shame is a profound fear that we will be rejected i.e., lose a job, be ignored by friends, lack confidence to make meaningful connections and intimacy. Acknowledge your imperfections without harsh judgment and remind yourself that it’s okay to be imperfect. We don’t often see others’ imperfections, and when we do, we think theirs are tolerable or not that bad compared to ours. Developing self-compassion can help us build resilience in the face of shame and cultivate a healthier relationship with yourself. I say again, every client I have worked with has shown me their absolute beautifulness by talking about their imperfections and showing me their self.

Seek Support

It’s essential to reach out for support when dealing with shame. This can be terrifying – paralysing even – and many people have reached out in the past and the outcome has made us feel even worse. Talking to a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or counsellor can provide valuable perspective and validation. Sharing your feelings of shame with others can help you feel less isolated and alone in your struggles. Additionally, professional help can offer guidance and strategies for coping with shame in a healthy way.

Cultivate Self-Acceptance

Practicing self-acceptance involves embracing all aspects of yourself, including those that may trigger feelings of shame. Recognize that nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. By accepting your vulnerabilities and imperfections, you can reduce the power that shame holds over you. Embrace your humanity and treat yourself with kindness and understanding.

Engage in Positive Activities

Engaging in activities that bring you joy, fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment can help counteract feelings of shame. Pursue hobbies, interests, or goals that boost your self-esteem and remind you of your strengths and capabilities. Surround yourself with supportive people who uplift you and encourage your personal growth.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness techniques can be beneficial in managing feelings of shame. By staying present in the moment without judgment, you can observe your thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga can help you develop greater self-awareness and emotional resilience.

Top 3 Authoritative Sources Used:

  1. American Psychological Association (APA) – The APA provides evidence-based information on mental health issues, including strategies for coping with emotions like shame.
  2. Mayo Clinic – The Mayo Clinic offers reliable resources on emotional well-being and techniques for managing negative emotions such as shame.
  3. Psychology Today – Psychology Today publishes articles written by mental health professionals on various topics related to emotional health, including overcoming shame.

These strategies, actions, and ways of thinking will take practice, practice, and more practice. It is not easy. Based on my own experience, I needed a group of people on my path who I could rely on and practice with many times over, and then I started practising on my own. I still connect with the people living my recovery. I take breaks from them when I need to, but I always reconnect because loneliness will breed more shame. Please call 0488 555 731 if you need my support.

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Understanding self-harm, self-injury, and self-destructionUnderstanding self-harm, self-injury, and self-destruction

What is meant by self-harm?

Self-harm is any behaviour that involves the deliberate causing of pain or injury to oneself without the intention to end your life. Self-harm can include behaviours such as cutting, burning or hitting oneself, binge-eating or starvation, or repeatedly putting oneself in dangerous situations. It can also involve abuse of drugs or alcohol, including overdosing on prescription medications. Self-harm is usually a response to distress, whether it be from mental illness, trauma, or psychological pain. Some people find that the physical pain of self-harm helps provide temporary relief from emotional pain (extract from Self harm (lifeline.org.au)).

People who engage in self-harm will profess that they have no intention of dying and that their self-harming behaviour is a coping strategy, however, there are incidents of accidental suicide. The act of self-harm can develop into an obsessive-compulsion experience which can be very difficult to stop, like addiction, without outside intervention. This can result in feelings of hopelessness and possible suicidal thinking. Like building a tolerance to a drug, when self-injury does not relieve the tension or help control negative thoughts and feelings, the person may injure themselves more severely or may start to believe they can no longer control their pain and may consider suicide.

The following extract by Tracy Alderman Ph.D explains the physiological response to physical pain:

“Physiologically, endorphins are released when we are injured or stressed. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that act similarly to morphine and reduce the amount of pain we experience when we are hurt. Joggers often report experiencing a “runners high” when reaching a physically stressful period. This “high” is the physiological reaction to the release of endorphins – the masking of pain by a substance that mimics morphine. When people self-injure, the same process takes place. Endorphins are released which limit or block the amount of physical pain that’s experienced. Sometimes people who intentionally hurt themselves will even say that they felt a “rush” or “high” from the act. Given the role of endorphins, this makes perfect sense” (Oct 22, 2009).

Please click on the link for the full article Myths and Misconceptions of Self-Injury: Part II | Psychology Today Australia

The first step is to distinguish between self-harming and suicidal behaviour by paying attention to a person’s underlying motivation. When working with self-harming behaviour it is important to remember that this behaviour serves a purpose. In collaboration with the client, try to identify what problem self-harm solves for the client. For example, from the client’s perspective:

  • To make me feel real (counteracts dissociation)
  • To punish me (temporarily lessens guilt or shame)
  • To stop me from feeling (when strong feelings are too dangerous)
  • To mark the body (to show externally the internal scars)
  • To let something bad out (symbolic way to try to get rid of shame, pain, etc.)
  • To remember
  • To keep from hurting someone else (to control my behaviour and my anger)
  • To communicate (to let someone know how bad the pain is)
  • To express anger indirectly (to punish someone without getting them angry at me)
  • To reclaim control of the body (this time I’m in charge)
  • To feel better

Tips for helping yourself in the moment
It can be hard for people who self-harm to stop it by themselves. That’s why it’s important to get further help if needed; however, the ideas below may be helpful to start relieving some distress:

  • Intense exercise for 30 seconds, 30 second break, repeat, up to 15 minutes – Exercising intensely will help your body mitigate unpleasant energy that can sometimes be stored from strong emotions. Transfer this energy by running, walking at a fast pace, doing jumping jacks, etc. Exercise naturally releases endorphins which will help combat any negative emotions like anger, anxiety, or sadness.
  • Delay — put off self-harming behaviours until you have spoken to someone.
  • Distract — do some exercise, go for a walk, play a game, do something kind for yourself, play loud music or use positive coping strategies.
  • Deep breathing — or other relaxation methods.
  • Cool your body temperature – Cooler temperatures decrease your heart rate (which is usually faster when we are emotionally overwhelmed). You can either splash your face with cold water, take a cold (but not too cold) shower, or if the weather outside is chilly you can go outside for a walk. Another idea is to take an ice cube and hold it in your hand or rub your face with it.
  • Listen to loud music
  • Call someone you trust or one of the services available like LifeLine 13 11 14, MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78 and BeyondBlue 1300 22 4636 [see below].
  • You could write an email to yourself to express your emotions, or journal your feelings, if that’s something that might be effective for you.
  • Watch humorous Youtube clips

New, healthier coping strategies may not be as effective as the one you’re trying to replace so it may take practice. Bring lots of compassion to yourself, okay.

You may find that some of these strategies work in some situations but not others, or you may find that you need to use a combination of these. It’s important to find what works for you. Also, remember that these are not long-term solutions to self-harm but rather, useful short-term alternatives for relieving distress.

Mental health services infographic

The ‘Triune Brain’ theory by Neuroscientist Paul MacLean — an evolutionary perspectiveThe ‘Triune Brain’ theory by Neuroscientist Paul MacLean — an evolutionary perspective

The Concept of the "Triune Brain"

In the 1960s, American neuroscientist Paul MacLean formulated the ‘Triune Brain’ model, which is based on the division of the human brain into three distinct regions. MacLean’s model suggests the human brain is organized into a hierarchy, which itself is based on an evolutionary view of brain development. The three regions are as follows:

  1. Reptilian or Primal Brain (Basal Ganglia)
  2. Paleomammalian or Emotional Brain (Limbic System)
  3. Neomammalian or Rational Brain (Neocortex)

At the most basic level, the brainstem (Primal Brain) helps us identify familiar and unfamiliar things. Familiar things are usually seen as safe and preferable, while unfamiliar things are treated with suspicion until we have assessed them and the context in which they appear. For this reason, designers, advertisers, and anyone else involved in selling products tend to use familiarity as a means of evoking pleasant emotions.