By , On 7th April 2022 Comments Off on Shame and Therapy

Shame and Therapy: You know the feeling; the painful cringe, burn or stab inside, the one that leaves us feeling exposed, small and inferior and makes us just want to hide away and disappear. For some of us, the feeling may happen in the moment as we experience criticism or disapproval from others or the self-critical part of ourselves.

For others, particularly those of us who experienced rejection, hurt and negative judgement in significant relationships earlier in our lives, shame may also become a more enduring experience, felt as an underlying core sense of ourselves as being damaged, defective, worthless or unlovable.

Shame is normal

Shame is a normal and universal emotional experience that is designed to signal to us that we are not adhering to standards and/or are being seen in a way that is unwanted. Thus, when shame occurs it is typically telling us that we need to repair our rank or status in order to attain interpersonal goals such as acceptance, worth, esteem and respect.

shame and therapy Top Clinic

However, the painful sense inside often makes us want to avoid the feeling, which can lead us to coping by criticising ourselves (thereby motivating ourselves to become better so as to not feel shame), blaming others (thereby transforming shame to anger), anticipating shame and withdrawing from situations and relationships that may evoke this feeling in us (thereby avoiding the potential to feel shame), and/or numbing our ourselves emotionally so that we do not experience the pain inside (Elison, Lennon, & Pulos, 2006; Nathanson, 1992).

Over time, the ways that we protect against feeling shame can affect our relationship with ourselves and others, sometimes manifesting as depression, anxiety, anger and disconnection, leaving us feeling isolated, powerless and afraid of being found out.

As described by Tangney and Dearing (2011) therapy can allow us to experience relational understanding, validation, and acceptance, which can facilitate us in feeling safe enough to acknowledge and access shame. This in turn creates the opportunity for us to develop ways of regulating and soothing emotional pain, with the ultimate hope of transforming shame leading to less need to avoid feeling this way, as well as nurturing a more compassionate and positive view of ourselves.

Shame and Therapy

Book a session with a TOPCLINIC psychologist for online therapy.

Contact us onĀ 01 231 1514 or book a session online:

Elison, J., Lennon, R., & Pulos, S. (2006). Investigating the compass of shame: The development of the compass of shame scale. Social Behavior and Personality, 34, 221- 238. doi:10.2224/sbp.2006.34.3.221

Nathanson, D. L. (1992). Shame and pride. New York, NY: Norton.

Tangney, J. P., & Dearing, R. L. (2011). Working with shame in the therapy hour. In R. L. Dearing, & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Shame in the therapy hour (pp. 375-404). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/12326-000

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