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
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.