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September 2017

Shame and Emotional Wellbeing

Shame is a painful emotion which is experienced when we have a conscious sense, or instinctual awareness that we have done or been involved in something we perceive as improper or dishonourable, or that very common feeling surrounding a particular event or situation in our lives where we feel that we could have or should have done something differently, for example in order to prevent something from happening to us. 

In cases of abuse or assault, or something that impacted us greatly, we may experience painful feelings of shame that we didn’t do something to stop it, or that we could have done more. Where these experiences have occurred in childhood, during our formative years, we might interpret the feeling that we have done something wrong, or been involved in something wrong as ‘we are something wrong’. This can lead to feelings of unworthiness and we may also feel we should punish ourselves in some way for past events or circumstances. We might feel we are not good enough, or unworthy of forgiveness for something that we shouldn’t have done, or could have done more to prevent. These feelings can persist throughout our adult life, if we are not able to find the self-compassion and empathy to enable us to resolve and move on from them, with a positive belief and understanding that we are in fact worthy, and good enough.

Clearly these feelings of shame and unworthiness can have a negative impact on emotional wellbeing. They can hold you back from living your life to its full potential, with feelings of shame weighing you down and impacting on life choices throughout life. It is important to seek knowledge, support and understanding so that you can begin to accept that you have always done your best in every situation, with the resources available to you at that time, that what happened to you was not your fault and you are not, cannot be, to blame for somebody else’s wrongdoing. Shame is a natural response in these situations and it is possible to overcome it.
Feelings of shame are often associated with avoidance behaviours, from what has happened, or avoiding looking at others and focusing on what you feel you may have done wrong or might have done differently in the situation, regardless of the situation itself. This can be related to many different things including the body, the way you look, experiences of physical and sexual abuse and neglect.

Research suggest that if you have experienced shame in early life then you may be more likely to carry that shame into your adult life if it is left unresolved. In an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain of the events we perceive as shameful, we might avoid seeking the support and information necessary to allow us to resolve these painful feelings, which will impact on your emotional wellbeing negatively. Suppressing the emotion can also lead to feelings of low self-esteem, hostility or distress.

Seeking help for what you feel are shameful events is not easy, in fact it is very difficult to allow yourself to deal with the emotion when you seek to resolve these feelings. However, allowing yourself to positively address the event and consider your feelings towards it can lead to more positive outcomes than simply ignoring it or pretending it didn’t happen. Many therapies, such as Thought Field Therapy, now allow you to resolve the negative emotions, without having to even share the details of these events with your therapist, paving the way for a more accessible and positive therapeutic experience. Shame is very closely related to guilt, with a common belief that they are the same. However, where shame is linked to feelings that we are wrong, guilt is focused on the thing we feel we did wrong, and righting the wrong. There is no doubt that shame is a very painful emotion and is very difficult to deal with.
Acknowledging the feelings of shame you carry will often help you to move forward in your life to a more positive place, allowing you to overcome issues that you may not have realised are still having an impact on you, so that you can live your life free of negative emotions and connections to an outdated situation or person.

Shame is not the same as guilt and it can be overcome.
·         Sheikh, S and Janoff-Bulman, R. (2010) ‘The “Shoulds” and “Should Nots” of Moral Emotions: A Self-Regulatory Perspective on Shame and Guilt’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36:2, 213-244.

·         Velotti, P, Garofalo, C, Bottazzi, F and Caretti, V. (2016) ‘Faces of Shame: Implications for Self-Esteem, Emotion Regulation, Aggression, and Well-Being’, The Journal of Psychology, 151:2, 171-184.

Toxic Relationships

Toxic relationships…you may have heard news reports and articles relating to the term or more generally in the media, but what is a toxic relationship and how would you know if you are in one? You may have read or heard that these occur in relationships with a partner however it is important to distinguish that a toxic relationship can take many forms, it does not have to be a partner. These relationships can occur with friends, family or co-workers to name a few. 

Toxic relationships are characterised by certain behaviours displayed by the other person that may not be typical of a ‘normal’ person. Their behaviour may make you feel like you are worthless, you are nobody and you can’t do anything right. A person displaying these behaviours is usually referred to as a ‘narcissist’ meaning a person with an elevated sense of self-worth. But how can you tell how this behaviour differs from that of a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship is built on mutual trust, love and care with that person supporting you and your decisions throughout life. While you may have disagreements and arguments, these will be resolved between both of you through communication and letting each other give your opinion on why something has upset or hurt you. It is normal to have disagreements within any relationship however when this happens within a toxic relationship the approach by the other person can be very different.

Do you ever feel as though your thoughts are not being heard, as though the person does not understand why you are hurt? This is just one way that a narcissistic person may act when confronted with something that reflects their behaviour. Do you feel like you can be yourself around that person or do you feel you need to change in some way for their approval? This could be not seeing certain friends or not doing something that has upset them, whether this is justified or not. This is another way that a narcissist may act to control you and your behaviour. They may also make you feel like everything is about them, as though your opinion doesn’t even count or is totally invalid. You may also feel you cannot enjoy happy moments with this person, for example if you have had a job promotion. This person may react negatively to this and make you wonder why you even thought you should put yourself forward, in their eyes you aren’t good enough anyway. This is all done in an attempt to control your behaviour, not giving you any support with your ambitions or goals. This is not normal in a loving relationship.

One of the most important things is to know is that it's not your fault, you cannot control another person’s behaviour and some people play on the element of control and power in a relationship, whatever form that may take. Toxic techniques used by the other party may lead you to feel like something that happened is your fault. This may include consistent lying or questioning the things that you are saying, especially if this is aimed at their behaviour. You may even find conversations redirected to things you may have done in the past, all to take away the blame from themselves. These are all common techniques used to control the situation and you as a person while ensuring that no blame or wrongdoing is put on them. Bringing up past events and using them against you is unfair and this can also be the case for things you have done before you even met that person. Using past events to hurt you and control you is not acceptable and this should not happen in a healthy, loving relationship.

Possibly one of the most hurtful things about these people is that they are usually seen as a 'good person’ and they may even have many close friends and relationships in which they do not behave in  the way they do with you. This is a technique used to ensure that they are seen as a normal person. You might find yourself asking questions like, "how could anybody see them as anything else? Right? Maybe it's just me that causes this, maybe I'm the bad one?" This is exactly their intention in order to portray themselves as a ‘model citizen’, somebody who people would look up to and believe to be lovely; in actual fact they are a narcissist.

The person will most likely not behave the way they do with you to these other people as this would blow their cover. One thing about narcissistic people is that they do not want to be discovered for what they are and may try anything to avoid this happening. This could also include making up things about you and calling you ‘crazy’ or saying ‘my friends think you are crazy’ in an attempt to make everything about them and them being the victim…again. Even though it is you that is experiencing the pain and hurt.

The impact of a toxic relationship can be not just mental, it can be emotional and physical too. This can tarnish future relationships with people in general, not just partners. But again, it is important to know that it is not your fault and that there are many loving, caring people in the world who would not treat you in such a negative way. If you feel ashamed or wrought with regret it is important to explore these feelings constructively so that you don't carry this negativity into future relationships. After all, you are worthy of loving and caring relationships, regardless of what you may have been told or how you may feel.

Hypnotherapy can help with overcoming feelings of shame, upset and regret which you may feel either within the relationship or after you have left. It can be difficult to talk about events that have happened around toxic relationships however in hypnotherapy many techniques do not require you to talk about an event which may be of some comfort. Instead they help you to explore your thoughts around the event, perhaps looking at anxiety you feel around the environment or situation, in an effort to overcome this. One example of this is ‘Thought Field Therapy’ which involves tapping certain points on the body associated with negative emotions, it is similar to acupuncture but does not use needles. This therapy then allows you to think of an environment or situation without feeling such intense negative emotions around it. This means that you can start to move on with your life without holding onto the negative effects of that relationship.

Just remember, nobody should be allowed to have such a negative impact on a person and you can let go of the pain and hurt.
·         Sherrie Carter. 2011. The Hidden Health Hazards of Toxic Relationships. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201108/the-hidden-health-hazards-toxic-relationships. [Accessed 14 September 2017].
·         Rosemary Sword and Philip Zimbardo. 2013. Toxic Relationships. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-time-cure/201308/toxic-relationships. [Accessed 14 September 2017].