What Is Shame and What To Do With It?

Girl in black and white feeling shame

What comes to mind when you think of the word Shame? Is it a mistake you made in the past? Is it a situation that happened to you, and you’re embarrassed about it?  If nothing comes to mind, think of something you wouldn’t want to talk about in front of a group of friends or maybe even share it with your significant other. That’s more than likely, Shame.

Shame is a deep and painful emotion that makes people feel worthless, horrible, humiliated, or regretful. If not addressed, Shame can cause symptoms of depression, anxiety,  and low self-esteem. It can cause behaviors such as avoidance, aggression, people-pleasing, internalizing, perfectionism, overworking, and overusing drugs, alcohol, food, etc.

Shame tends to play in the back of minds like a song, and usually gets louder when we have a new opportunity. Shame plays songs like, “You’re Not Enough,” “You’re going to fail,” “You’re Not Worthy,” “Nobody Likes You,” “You’re a Horrible Partner,” and “You’re a Bad Mother.”

If we let Shame drive our decisions, we may not reach our full potential in our relationships, careers, mental and physical health, or life.

Here are a few ways to battle Shame:

Live your values: Know what is important to you and commit to taking action to get closer to those values. If it’s family, make sure you schedule a time to spend with family.

Self- Compassion: Reminding yourself that you are human and you are born to make mistakes. Mistakes offer us the opportunity to grow and learn.

Being Present: This takes practice, but taking each moment is like a breath of air, allows you to live life in the “here and now.” Commit to enjoying a walk without your electronic devices, or eat dinner at the table with your loved ones.

Separating thoughts from behaviors: Sometimes, we can be hard on ourselves from just having a negative thought. Know that thoughts are just thoughts, and they are usually automatic and hard to control. Criticizing yourself on something you didn’t do is opening the doors for Shame. Instead, recognize that you had a negative thought and didn’t respond to the thought with a behavior. Then go back to remind yourself that you are human, and not all thoughts are positive.

Overall, Shame creeps up on all of us. Once you recognize it, you can start to challenge it. If you find that you are “stuck” with your thoughts, or have trouble challenging thoughts, reach out to someone you trust to talk about this. If these thoughts linger on and impact your life, reach out to a mental health professional for additional support.

Whitni Toson, MA, LPC

Whitni Toson, MA, LPC

I'm Whitni Toson, a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Texas. My purpose as a counselor is to help people get "unstuck" by taking action. In life, sometimes we view situations based on how we "feel" and how we "think," but what happens when our thoughts aren't the healthiest? What happens when we respond off of that feeling? My goal is to help you find out what's helping you get closer to your goals, and what's holding you back.

Memberships & Affiliations