Everybody has felt ashamed at one point or another, but chronic shame can have a severe impact on your mental health. You don’t have to be a serial killer to experience shame or even to have done anything wrong.
In fact, millions of innocent people around the globe suffer from self-mortification on a daily basis. Feeling shame differs from guilt in that it causes sufferers to feel as though their entire being is bad or wrong. Shame results in thoughts and feelings of being unacceptable or defective.
Although there are some situations where feeling shame is appropriate (such as violent criminal behavior), there are many more where it is not. Feeling ashamed for the way you look, your state of health, your finances, or anything beyond your control will wreak havoc in your life.
At the end of the day, being human involves making mistakes, and everyone deserves a second chance. If you hold on to feelings of shame for too long, it will hinder personal growth and affect all your relationships.
Therefore, no matter what you have (or haven’t) done, it is in your best interest to free yourself from the dregs of humiliation and become the best version of yourself. Self-forgiveness is critical for a healthy relationship with yourself and your loved ones.
Shame vs. Guilt
Shame and guilt are terms that are often used interchangeably, but in reality, there is a big difference between these two emotions. Guilt arises when a person has done something which they perceive, or know, to be wrong.
Guilt involves feelings of doing something dishonorable, which in healthy individuals brings a sense of remorse. Essentially, guilt tends to center around being responsible for a specific event (whether intentionally or not).
It could be as simple as eating one too many cookies or as complex as cheating on a beloved partner. Either way, when it comes to guilt, it is possible to make up for it by taking steps that leave it behind you.
Shame, on the other hand, is far more difficult to shake and involves the belief that your whole being is fundamentally bad. Feeling shame causes the sufferer to feel that there is no way out and that nothing can be done to change your feelings about yourself.
In other words, feeling shame results in feelings of inadequacy, which goes hand in hand with the belief that one deserves to be treated with contempt. Shame often involves a painful perception of others’ opinions instead of an isolated incident.
What Causes Shame?
There are multiple causes of shame, which, over time, can taint a person’s view of themselves and result in low self-esteem. Feelings of shame can originate in childhood, particularly if a person grew up in an abusive environment.
When a primary caregiver is overly critical or disciplinary, children can internalize their words and end up feeling inferior, inadequate, or undeserving. The same applies to households in which children are neglected. Still, there are other reasons that give rise to feeling shame, including:
- Experiencing bullying or rejection
- Growing up in an abusive environment
- Failing to meet your own high standards
- Experiencing neglect or trauma in childhood or as an adult
- Having a mental health condition that centers around self-judgment
Feeling shame is often directly related to perceptions of what others may think. Research has revealed that serious issues can arise when shame becomes a part of a person’s self-image. This includes being overly sensitive to perceived criticisms that aren’t intended as such.
A person with a deep sense of shame will often feel rejected and criticized by others, even for small reasons. Scientists are currently studying the role of serotonin in submissive behaviors that lead to feeling shame.
Are you Suffering From Toxic Shame?
Although shame is a natural emotion that occurs from time to time in even the healthiest of individuals, when shame is chronic, it becomes dangerous to mental stability. This is what is known as toxic shame, and it is generally caused by being continuously criticized or overlooked.
This could take the form of comments like “You need your head read,” “You’re 100% wrong,” “Are you crazy?” or any type of criticism that implies a person is inferior. Anyone who is regularly subjected to criticisms such as these will ultimately struggle to believe themselves worthy of love.
Toxic shame is most often caused by abusive or neglectful caregivers, but it can also arise from trauma or abuse in adult relationships. If a trusted loved one regularly lashed out at you when you needed support, it’s likely you will be carrying toxic shame.
Unfortunately, toxic shame leads to a pervasive and critical internal dialogue that begins to ruin every part of life. Fortunately, therapy can help with this, as can other mindfulness techniques (see below for more).
How to Stop Feeling Shame
So you want to know how to stop feeling shame all the time? Well, according to one study, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness are the most common treatments for feeling shame. Another scientific paper found that:
“Mindfulness-based interventions have the potential to play an important role in psychiatric treatment settings as well as in applied psychological settings more generally.”
Yet another study found that “mindfulness-based approaches may be helpful in increasing self-compassion and reducing shame-proneness in mixed groups of anxious and depressed patients.”
In the last twenty years, more and more research has been conducted into mindfulness practices as a means for treating mental health. Science has proven the effectiveness of deep breathing and other forms of meditation in terms of overall mental health, and more is still being discovered.
Contrary to popular belief, these practices can be carried out for short periods of time while on the go for quick relief.
At the end of the day, mindfulness is designed to enhance self-awareness which can lead to greater self-compassion.
The next time you are feeling shame, it’s a good idea to try to:
- Figure out the cause of the shame by asking yourself where the shame is coming from
- Pay attention to whether your shame arises in response to anything
- Become aware of your self-talk and practice self-compassion
- Remember that you are not your thoughts and feelings
- Remind yourself that emotions are simply passing through the mind like clouds
Although CBT has been found to be the most effective type of counseling for dealing with shame, there are various types of therapy to choose from, many of which can help relieve shame. This includes online counseling, which is steadily growing in popularity worldwide.
While traditional therapists typically prefer to meet face to face, there are several advantages to online therapy that remain exclusive to the digital world. These include convenience, anonymity, affordability, and access to more frequent sessions.
If you are suffering from feeling shame, online therapy is a great option because it offers added privacy which can be beneficial to the counseling process. That said, the healing journey is a personal one, so choose what works for you and your lifestyle.
The Importance of Therapy for Shame
Feeling shame can permeate your life subconsciously in ways you might not expect. From overreacting to the comments and actions of others to reaching for addictions as a coping mechanism, shame is serious business.
It’s important to understand that feeling shame can cause destructive behaviors which can lead a person to hit rock bottom. Things like eating disorders, domestic violence, substance abuse, gambling, sex addiction, and rage are among the many ways in which shame can rear its ugly head.
Feelings of shame tend to affect women and men differently. While women are more likely to turn inwards with self-loathing, men typically become more aggressive towards others. Remember, shame can arise even when a person hasn’t done anything wrong.
Self-harm and suicide are also driven by deep levels of shame, so if you’re feeling shame, it’s important to get help before things get out of hand. If you or a loved one are feeling deeply ashamed and you’d like to try online therapy, reach out now before things get any worse.
The Bottom Line
Although feeling shame and guilt go hand in hand, the two emotions are technically very different. Guilt is related to feelings of responsibility that can be remedied by taking action steps, whereas shame is more about a tarnished sense of self.
People who experience deep-seated shame see themselves as bad or wrong, as opposed to feeling guilty for a single event. Shame is a dangerous emotion that can lead to seriously destructive behavior, including self-harm and suicide.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with deeply feeling shame or guilt, it is recommended to get professional help. A trained therapist can help reduce your feelings of shame and instill a healthy sense of self-worth.