Shame is an emotion that can inhibit a person’s ability to get help, contributes to mental and physical health problems, and can cause behavioral issues. You might be thinking, “Really?” Yes. Research consistently demonstrates that shame can lead to anxiety and depression, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, self-harm behaviors, bullying, and low self-esteem.
Many people confuse shame with guilt or embarrassment. While these emotions are somewhat similar they have significant differences. Guilt is generally associated with a thought or an action a person has committed leading to negative feelings. Guilt prompts a person to apologize and change behaviors, thoughts, and actions. Embarrassment is typically short-lived, arising from a person’s conceived deviation from what is expected either culturally or socially. Both guilt and embarrassment have to do with actions. Shame, on the other hand, arises when a person believes s/he is bad. In other words, shame is internalized. Shame says, “I am bad,” instead of, “What I did or what happened was bad.”
One of the worst things about shame is that it makes a person want to hide, suppress feelings, and conceal the cause of shame. In addition to the issues already mentioned, hiding shame, that is unresolved shame, can result in substance abuse and/or compulsive behaviors like compulsive shopping or workaholism.
Living with unresolved shame can be painful. It can erode hope, Wyoming Center for Clinical Excellence is all about restoring hope. So, what can be done to resolve shame and restore hope?
1. Shine light on the issue(s) that caused shame. Acknowledge what you feel and what happened. Not talking about it and hiding gives the issue power over you. Take back your power and talk about it with one of our therapists at WCCE.
2. Untangle shame from who you are. Realize that shame is an emotion and is separate from you. You are not your emotions.
3. Have empathy for yourself.
4. Understand the triggers that bring shame on or intensify it. Realize that shame hits us when we are most vulnerable.
5. Connect with others. Shame wants to hide and isolate. Connection is a building block of hope.