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Dealing with Shame

Shame is one of the most commonly experienced human emotions, but that does not negate the difficulty of dealing with shame. Shame can affect your personal, professional and public life. Therefore properly dealing with shame is pivotal in development, and the way we evolve in adulthood. Unhealthily processed shame can lead to withdrawal, depression and low self-esteem. Shame can also inhibit creativity, and being creatively expressive is healthy.

Shame can lead someone to believe their whole self is wrong, and that can feel impossible to overcome. Self-esteem and shame are exact opposites. Self-esteem is built by praise, by loving consequences, and by being properly cared for in childhood by parents; or being in loving and kind relationships in adulthood. Shame can go unnoticed in someone struggling with their self-esteem; can inspire change; and can also be paralyzing.

Recognizing Shame in Yourself

People experiencing shame experience feelings of rejection, loneliness and, or self-contempt. Signs of shame include taking everything personal, or thinking someone is always delivering criticism. Shame can lead to self-harming behaviors like substance abuse or dependency, domestic violence, road rage, and other poor personal, or social crises.

The cause of shame can be unclear. In turn, people suffering from depression or social anxiety may experience shame.

Shame is not to be mistaken for guilt. The major difference between the two is that guilt is a feeling behind an action, while shame is a feeling tied to self-worth.

Overcoming Shame

The first step to overcoming shame is acknowledging shame. There could be feelings of shame, but if you are the person doing the shaming it can be injurious to others. Some people shame others as punishment, or use force to force them to change. Again, shame leads to feeling shut down, and as a result there can be fear around expressing vulnerability.

It is incredibly important to understand that while your actions of feeling may be bad, that does not in turn make you bad. Shame is a result of constant criticism, constant humiliation, constant embarrassment, and constant feelings of disappointment. When negativity is constant the lens life is viewed through starts to be clouded by shame.

Shame can also be driven by cultural norms, religious conditioning, trauma, abuse and as previously discussed, low self-esteem.

Acknowledgment of your current state is key. Eliminating shame from your life puts you on a path to self-acceptance. Overcoming shame is no easy feat and may even require the support of a therapist. Here is where you can start.


Past events shape us, but past events do not have to dictate the future. Reflecting on past events in healthy ways can help you understand how your past experiences influence the present moment.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Who has been most influential in your life?

  • What sort of feedback did you receive as a child from the adults closest to you?

  • Did you feel supported in childhood?

  • Do you have any negative beliefs about yourself that started in childhood?

Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses

We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and they contribute to your sense of individuality. In addition, shining light on your strengths, and being aware of your shortcomings instead of feeling shame, is empowering. The challenge here is becoming comfortable with who you are.

Here are some questions for consideration:

  • What are your strengths?

  • What are your weaknesses?

  • Do you have a sense of self-acceptance?

  • What parts of yourself are you least comfortable with and why? At what point in your life did this discomfort begin?

Find a Therapist

Employing a therapist can help you navigate challenging realizations, or to simply begin your healing process. Shame can seem like a rut and if shame has been cyclical in your life there may be some feelings and experiences that require extra unpacking, and the support of a professional.

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