We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that those of us who have experienced significant and protracted childhood trauma often experience irrational, deep feelings of shame as adults which can severely disrupt our lives (for much more on this, see the section of this site entitled : ‘Self-Hatred And Shame‘).
Because living with profound feelings of shame is so psychologically painful and impinges so seriously upon our quality of life, it is worth considering undergoing counseling to help overcome the problem.
One important counseling technique employed to help individuals diminish their irrational, but insidious, sense of deep-rooted shame is to help them build shame resilience.
Overcoming Feelings Of Shame By Building Shame Resilience :
According to the American Psychological Association (2014), there are several important factors that help a person to overcome their feelings of shame which include the following :
- reaching out and connecting to others
- access to care and support
- paying attention to own needs
- setting healthy boundaries
- having realistic expectations and goals
- cultivating feelings of empathy and compassion (including, most importantly, self-compassion)
Now let’s now look at the above list of factors in a little more detail :
SELF-AWARENESS : recognizing early life experiences that implanted deep feelings of shame into our psyches (e.g. internalizing our parents’ negative view of us / view of us as ‘bad’ whilst we were growing up) ; becoming aware of dysfunctional thought processes and irrational beliefs that help maintain feelings of shame ; identifying situations / events which trigger feelings of shame and recognizing and acknowledging defenses we employ against shame.
REACHING OUT AND CONNECTING WITH OTHERS : talking to others one trusts (such as a counselor) about one’s feelings of shame and realizing that shame is a universal emotion that, when NOT ‘toxic’, serves a vital evolutionary purpose that everyone experiences to one degree or another.
This, in turn, is likely to help one access care and support which itself can then help one to become more mindful of one’s own needs.
Relationships connected to our care and support need to be founded upon healthy boundaries to reduce the likelihood of such relationships generating further feelings of shame within ourselves.
CONFIDENCE : when the above factors are combined with increased self-confidence one can start to modify one’s expectations about oneself and others in such a way that such expectations become more realistic which, in turn, facilitates the development of realistic expectations of oneself and the setting of appropriate and obtainable goals for oneself.
CULTIVATING FEELINGS OF EMPATHY AND COMPASSION : not judging others or oneself ; seeing things from the perspective of others ; talking to others about their feelings and about our own feelings (including being open about our own feelings of shame and letting go of our defenses / ‘removing the mask’ we use to hide our shame); developing self-empathy (i.e. compassionately and non-judgmentally accepting and understanding our own shame related experiences / behaviors and treating ourselves in the same way we would treat someone we deeply cared about) ; accepting, non-judgmentally, our human weaknesses, frailties, faults and failures / letting go of ‘perfectionism’ and ’embracing’ our non-perfect selves (to do this we need to understand that we have been shaped by our early life experiences over which, at the time, we could exert little or no control.
Because developing compassion for others and for ourselves is so important to the process of overcoming feelings of toxic shame, it is unsurprising to learn that compassion focused therapy can be a very effective means of facilitating such a process.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)