Out of all the feelings we can experience shame is the least spoken about. Perhaps for obvious reasons shame is the emotion that makes us want to hide away from the world.
I often joke with clients that it is the emotion most likely to cause us to hide under our bed and not come out for a long while.
Imagine a life from under your bed – where there are only harmless spiders to chat to – kind of safe but very limiting!
How does shame affect people? Think about a time that you were embarrassed about something. Allow yourself to notice how it felt, and how the feelings changed what you did in that moment. Also bring to mind how that changed how you felt the next time you were in a similar situation.
It’s so very easy to play over in your mind the terrible and difficult events as opposed to your best. Have you ever thought about how the so called “negative emotions “ (fear, anger, sadness, shame) keep us “safe” in some way – at least for the short term – but in the long term that they can lead to really unhelpful and self limiting decisions.
Shame often leads to people either avoiding similar situations or playing it safe (safety behaviours). Let’s say you were chatting to friends and you realised you had your shirt on inside out or you fumbled your words every time someone you liked paid you attention – or someone ridiculed or belittled your idea – or someone viciously bullied you. Maybe you were talking in a group meeting at work and your boss spoke about some things that were going wrong at work, and you realised “it was probably you”. Let’s say someone you trusted violated sexual boundaries in some unpredicted way, and when you pulled away you were confused and left wondering what you did to elicit that behaviour.
Often in each of these situations due to the experience of shame, people avoid the experience for the future, avoid talking about the experience, and often feel somewhat inferior. Problems occur when we generalise that experience to be true of how we see ourselves overall. Like, if that person thinks, “my ideas are ridiculous – probably everybody does, maybe none of them like me”.
Some people experience shame more intensely than others, becoming more worried about what people think about them. The experience of shame may snow ball into imagining that everybody must be viewing them poorly, changing their view of themselves permanently.
In more severe cases people can develop a tendency to withdraw completely, or blush when spoken to, causing the person to withdraw even more so. Some people avoid dating or changing jobs or making new friends for this reason.
What to do:
Psychology can help people to map out some of their “shame experiences”, – to understand how the experience/s has/ have shaped their view of themselves and their place in the world.
Specific psychological strategies can help to process experiences of shame and change a person’s belief – returning to being more positive and accepting of themselves.
These may include the following:
Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) – designed to help a person process old distressing memories, and change negative beliefs into positive beliefs about the self.
Hypnosis – involves making suggestions of helpful strategies to move forward and build self belief and confidence
Exposure therapy – to return to doing tasks and experiences that you may have avoided in the past
For more information or to book an appointment with one of our friendly Psychologists please contact us via the website, send us an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on: 6381 0297.