How to deal with feelings of shame

Shame can be attached to any part of our lives, such as our career, our bodies, past trauma, addictions, our families, things we've done in the past, and so on. When we address shame, we often find that we also break down barriers that are hindering growth or change, grow a deeper self-awareness, and build stronger connections to those around us.

When I speak of shame, I’m not talking of embarrassment, for example, in a social situation. The shame I am talking about is the deeper, more corrosive sort. The shame that breeds those recurrent feelings of inadequacy, being flawed, or unworthy. The shame that criticises us and tell us we are not good enough. When we feel this corrosive shame we can find ourselves often holding back from trying new things, and, in the longer term, not reaching our potential.

Shame often goes hand in hand with negative self-talk. That internal voice that belittles, with phrases like “I’m such an idiot” or “I was so stupid for saying…”, “What will people think”, “You really made a fool of yourself”, and so on. Our culture is so filled with shame phrases that it’s almost no wonder that many of us speak to ourselves like this.

So how do we build resilience to shame and develop skills and practices that can change how we love, lead and live our lives?

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Image credits: Andrea Zampatti

In my practice as a coach and counsellor and through my own personal life experiences, I have found that the key skills to deal with shame can be learned by anyone who is willing.

Many insightful researchers and authors have found different methods for dealing with shame, and they all have merit. However, the method that I find works for most people is the four step method by Brene Brown. Below is an adapted list from her work:

1. Recognising shame & its triggers

By learning to recognise the physical symptoms of shame (e.g., heart racing, hands tingling, throat tightening), we can begin to more easily identify shame, and then more easily identify the triggers for these feelings.

2. Practicing Critical Awareness

By practicing critical awareness of the external factors, such as our societal norms and expectations, we can better recognise the messages that fuel our feelings of shame.

3. Reaching Out

By reaching out to others when we feel shame we can reduce isolation and build empathetic and supportive connections.

4. Speaking Shame

Shame can be embedded in feeling unworthy of connection. However, when we have the courage to speak about shame and feel we are really being heard and listened to, this connection can help to heal shame wounds and build resilience.  

Brene’s emphasis on the first step, especially identifying what triggers the feelings of shame, is key I believe. It can take a little practice to become good at the process, but I believe we are all capable of building up this skill of recognising our feelings of shame, and the triggers for these feelings. Once learnt, this self-awareness skill can help you every day in your life, in building connections with others, and in removing unseen barriers to success.

If you are based in Brisbane feel free to drop in for a chat. I offer coaching and counselling sessions and run a range of workshops and courses.