Guest blog post by Stephanie Gutzmer, AuD, ABA, C-IAYT
No one likes to feel shame – it sucks. Yet, shame is an experience we have all felt. It’s that drop in your stomach when you feel so exposed and so vulnerable. It feels as if everyone sees and judges you for your misstep. In the moment, it seems impossible to shed that feeling and the impulse is to do whatever you have to do never to let yourself be vulnerable to shame again. However safe it may feel to shut the world out, it’s impossible to protect yourself from vulnerability. It’s part of the human experience. So, how do you breakdown the cycle of shame?
The Feelings of Shame
Shame gets triggered when you become aware that you violated a social norm, acted in a foolish way, or behaved (or were perceived) in a way at odds with your usual standards. For example, making an error that has negative consequences for others, being laughed at by supposed friends, or getting called out on something you said or did would each probably provoke a shameful response.
The feeling of shame is a painful mix of regret, humiliation, self-hatred that not only makes you feel guilty about your action, it goes a step further: it makes you feel that you are bad.
Shame is the internalized feeling that you are invaluable at your core because of the err you made. And when the painful feelings of shame consume you, reminders of your other limitations, disappointments, or embarrassments of the past are sparked – which further intensifies the shame, spiraling into a self-feeding cycle of shame.
Related Reading: Why Does Childhood Trauma Affect Adulthood?
Impact of the Shame Spiral:
- Shame can lead you to hide or isolate, avoiding relationships and community.
- Because of how painful shame can be, those who experience it are more likely to suppress their emotions.
- Shame can make you feel worthless, depressed, or anxious.
- Those with shame are less likely to take healthy risks, instead choosing to make overly safe decisions about career, relationships, and education.
- Shame can exacerbate emotional issues, like anxiety or depression, and addictions.
- Shame can leave you feeling trapped, unwilling to take the steps needed towards healing and health because of how worthless you feel.
Ultimately, shame cuts deep, so it is wounding. And suppose you have a history of depression, anxiety, or were raised by a family who used shame as a disciplinary tactic – it may feel impossible to break the cycle because of your sensitivity to shame.
How to Breakdown the Cycle of Shame
1. Let yourself feel shame
Don’t ignore or bury the experience, however strong the impulse to do so is. Shame is a feeling, granted a harrowing one. But as with all emotions, shame needs to be experienced to be processed. Burying shame only keeps it trapped, allowing it to remain prominent and even fester. Writing, talking, or making art about whatever made you feel ashamed lets it into the light, exposing it, and releasing that energy. Try it next time you feel ashamed – moments later, you’ll feel better.
2. Begin with where you are
How you’ve handled things in the past is the past. You have zero control or ability to change it. What you do have power over is today. Allow yourself to take an honest assessment of how you’re doing and allow yourself to feel whatever sensations arise with that in your body. Don’t judge the experience – just allow it to happen. Once you feel it, you will be better able to understand what is holding you back from seeking the support and care you need – be it shame, guilt, stigma, pride, etc.
3. Take actions that increase your self–worth
Engage in activities that create a healthy sense of pride, like helping out a neighbor or finishing a project. Recall good things you’ve done and allow yourself to feel those good feelings. Healthy pride can be the remedy to shame.
4. Reach out to a mental healthcare professional to help walk you through your shame
Shame can often blindside you when you least expect it. But can’t survive in the open, especially when you have support. A counselor can help create a safe, supportive environment where you can explore your shame patterns and learn to shift them.
Related Reading: 20 Life Transition Quotes to Help you Survive Change
Shame can hold you back. It may be hard to feel like you can take any steps away from that painful feeling. But with a little strength and a compassionate professional alongside, you can begin to take the steps you need toward health and wholeness.
If you are in Illinois and interested in learning how Life Care Wellness can help you breakdown your cycle of shame, give us a call at (630) 423-5935. We have qualified counselors in Glen Ellyn, Sycamore, or Jefferson Park (Chicago) who are willing to help.
Stephanie Gutzmer, AuD, ABA, C-IAYT
Stephanie is a certified yoga therapist and life coach, specializing in health and mindfulness coaching, and holds a doctorate in audiology, specializing in tinnitus. She collaborates with her patients to develop an individualized plan of specific hearing and health goals and provides guidance to overcome practical and emotional barriers in reaching them. Her unique background and training allows her to support her clients in ways that make positive physical, mental health and well-being change in their lives.