“I’m so embarrassed.” Shutterstock

Shame is a negative emotion that we all experience at some point. As you know, it’s stressful, uncomfortable, and can be downright disturbing primarily because it can appear at any moment with no primary progression. 

Although not always the case, most mental health experts say shame can fall into four different categories.  For example, disappointment expectation.

Indeed, we all know the impact of not living up to our standards, or worse, not living up to those who play a significant role in our lives. Disappointment expectations creep on us slowly; once it hits, the lingering effects can stay beyond their welcome. 

Often professionals speak about unwanted exposure shame. This happens when you and I make what would be a foolish mistake around others. 

Depending on how shameful the blunder is, this can lead to the fourth type of shame called social rejection, and if you don’t cope well psychologically, the layer cuts deep.  Such as a lover rejecting you, our best friend cheating on you, or coworkers shutting you out.

98 percent of the time, crippling shame comes from a dysfunctional family system.   

 “One of the devastating aspects of toxic shame is that it is multigenerational. The secret and hidden aspects of toxic shame form the wellsprings of its multigenerational life. Since it is kept hidden, it cannot be worked out. Families are as sick as their toxic shame secrets,” the late best-selling author John Bradshaw wrote in his book Healing the Shame that Binds You.

He adds, “Toxic shame is consciously transferred using shaming rules. In shame-based families, the rules consciously shame all the members. Generally, however, the children receive the major brunt of the shame. Power is a cover-up for shame. Power is frequently hierarchical.”

A shame-based person, depending on how dysfunctional they are, can impact our lives significantly.  Their actions lead to child abuse, violence towards women, sexual abuse, and interpersonal violence.  Persisting psychological shame impacts our mental health. After all, people who suffer from bipolar disorder, social phobia, substance abuse, violence, domestic abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder all at one point suffered from (or sadly still do) extended shame. 

Naturally, the first suggestion for people who struggle with ongoing shame is to seek the help of a therapist.  However, that brings about its own set of issues.

“Clients bring shame into the therapy hour because we know that people who are prone to shame are also prone to a range of psychological symptoms, so they tend to — the people who present for psychotherapy tend to be shame-prone, to begin with. And then the therapy situation itself is shame-evoking,” author of the book Shame in the Therapy Hour. June Price Tangney said during an interview.

“Shameful feeling about the self is associated with a sense of shrinking, of being small, with a sense of worthlessness and powerlessness and with a sense of being exposed.”

So, let’s say you work through the issue that Tangney speaks about, so a fair question is: what type of therapy works for treating shame? There’s good news and bad news.  Do you want the good news or bad news first?  Well, the bad news is always best to get out of the way.   The fact is, no one therapy works.  However, some therapies can help us lessen the influence that shame has over us with some effort and understanding.

COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) change’s our wrong ways of thinking about a shameful situation. For example, if you were sitting in a meeting and after your boss asked the whole team a question about a project, you toss your hand up and blurt out the wrong explanation by going into extensive details.

Your coworker offers a different take on how to solve the problem that others understand and have tried with fabulous results; you might feel ashamed about your competence.  After all, this was your field of expertise.  

However, a cognitive therapist might help you look at the situation differently.  They might have you explore shame from the viewpoint of jumping to conclusions or mind-reading.  The therapist would have you write down what you perceive as a negative thought about your answer and challenge them.

Basically, the therapist would help you recall the times in which you made other shameful mistakes on the job, and still, yet, you are perceived as successful having received very few complaints in eight years; the therapist would have you challenge your shame by examining your solid results in the past, not to mention you just received a raise.

 PROLONGED EXPOSURE

This therapy encourages you to expose yourself to what you might think is a shameful situation, say giving a public speech or talking up more often in a group setting which might open you up for making comments that are “dumb” or “off base.” Prolong exposure teaches you how to “sit” with your shameful thoughts.  But this type of therapy is tricky because if not done “right,” it can open the door for further humiliation and guilt. So, if you are going to try this, make sure you seek guidance from a therapist or have a trusted friend to count on.   

Transactional Analysis

This therapy is helpful when you want to analyze the shameful transactions between yourself and another person.  Transactional Analysis (TA for short) deals with one concept called   “I’m OK – You’re OK,” This method helps you realize that every person (especially you), on average, is capable of change,  and healthy interactions. So, when faced with shameful situations, there’s growth (assuming you learned).

Ego States

A TA therapist will explain what’s called the Ego States. This is vital for you to comprehend when suffering from ongoing shame.   There are three Ego States.  The Parent, Adult, and Child.  And depending on what state you are in, this makes a significant difference in how intense your shame becomes.

For example, the critical Parent of your personality might call you stupid, a coward, a useless pig.  The Child part of you might pout, cry, overact act or become further shame-based.   However, the Adult (the part of you that healthily protects yourself) part of your brain will help you put the other two ego states in “check” and letting them know that you are in charge and will decide when and how a situation will be analyzed and addressed.

Bradshaw said. “Our healthy shame is essential as the foundation of our spirituality. By reminding us of our essential limitations, our healthy shame lets us know that we are not God. Our healthy shame points us in the direction of some larger meaning. Our healthy shame is the psychological ground of our humility.”

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