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The Truth About Shame

Molly Gotheridge - M.A. RMHCI

Throughout my years working with clients, I have realized more and more the immense impact that shame has on people’s lives. What I initially thought was something that we only deal with when we’ve experienced negative experiences, soon became something that I now know is universal and at the root of many common challenges. Shame is very sneaky and likes to stay hidden, so instead of feeling or recognizing shame itself we often experience it as anxiety, depression, anger, pride, and more1. Shame is also at the root of many psychological disorders, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Eating Disorders, Addictions, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

When I start working on shame with clients, the first step I take is to provide background on what shame is, how it feels, and how it presents itself. I begin with a radical statement: shame is purposeful - it’s a signal that alerts us to an actual or perceived break in a relationship2. It’s part of our evolution as humans to want to be connected with others, so shame’s original goal was to help “correct” our “abnormal” behaviors to bring us back into society. As shame sets in, however, it becomes twisted and attacks our identity. It gives us messages such as: “You’re not good enough,” “You’re lazy,” “You’re unlovable,” “You’re too much.” When these messages are instilled in us, we begin to compensate for them to make ourselves feel better through self-criticism, perfectionist behaviors, avoidance of people and situations, or blaming other people. As you can probably tell, it doesn’t take much for shame to take root in our lives and create a confusing web of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. 

Brené Brown, Ph.D., MSW is the leading shame researcher. Through her years of interviewing people and researching what shame is, she discovered the ultimate antidote to shame: empathy. She also created a roadmap to reducing shame through understanding your shame triggers, practicing critical awareness, reaching out, and speaking shame. I use Dr. Brown’s guidelines to help clients identify shame in their lives, while also incorporating self-compassion, utilizing curiosity to understand shame’s purpose, and developing more helpful responses to achieve connection with others. 

If you’re interested in uncovering how shame is affecting your life and how to transform shame into improved self-worth, I’d love to talk with you more! Feel free to reach out to me to schedule a time to meet.

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