Tag Archives: Shame

Recovering from Trauma

I wrote a while back about the impact of shame and how often this can lie at the root of psychological distress. Here’s a few more pointers on how shame can be tackled with compassion focused therapy.

Shame often disguises itself in more easily identifiable emotions, including, anger, disgust, anxiety, and depression. When shame is unresolved it can lie dormant for a long time. Typical behaviours that we might find ourselves caught up in are, self harming and aggression (attack), submissiveness to other’s demands (submit), and withdrawal from others (hide).

Shame is a normal human emotion, essential for the survival of social evolution, however, if left to eat away at us, it will often raise its ugly head again and again when we are feeling vulnerable or stressed. The power of shame is such that it can feel like a knife in the back, knocking our confidence and sense of direction and self worth. We can feel shamed socially, leaving us vulnerable and highly alert to other people’s judgments, and shamed internally, where we become our own worst and punitive critic, irrelevant of other people’s comments.

The good news is, no matter when or where our sense of shame comes from, the shameful mindset has been learned and therefore, we have the opportunity to learn a new mindset, one based on compassion.

The compassionate mindset involves first looking at the root cause, usually a situation or comment from others in the past, that first sowed the seeds of shame. This is followed by skills based training in Mindfulness, a meditative technique, which opens the door to a new way of interacting with our emotions, behaviours and thoughts. In a nutshell, Mindfulness increases self awareness of the shameful mindset, promotes self healing, and nurtures our ability to develop kindness, compassion, and a non-judgmental stance towards ourselves.

A great book for anyone struggling with shame and looking for an alternative path to freedom is The Compassionate Mind Approach to Recovering from Trauma by Deborah Lee.

Shame and Mental Health

Why is it that when we feel down we often take that one step further and blame ourselves for feeling like this in the first place? We know that this additional self-punishment doesn’t do anything to make us feel better, but it seems to be something innate to human beings. You certainly don’t see cats berating themselves!

So why the need to self-chastise? I fear there are many factors involved, some of which lie below;

  • Unrelenting standards – where empathy for others does not extend to ourselves. It’s OK for others to fail from time to time, but it is not acceptable for this to happen to me.
  • Comments from family and friends – if only the words ‘pull yourself together’ helped!
  • Social and cultural factors – pressures to appear happy and content seem to be everywhere don’t they…
  • Unhelpful comparisons to others – why should I feel so hard done by when there are people starving in the world?
  • Personality factors – I should be able to manage without the help of others, I must be the best I can be…

There are no doubt countless other deeply ingrained human traits that lead us to ruminate and self-loathe but all seem pretty unhelpful from where I am sitting.

So how about we give ourselves a break. We all need time to feel sorry for ourselves and although we may not be good at it, there are ways treat ourselves with a little more kindness.

  • Ask yourself; would I be so hard on a friend if they were standing in my shoes? No? Well why the double standard?
  • If others close by don’t understand, could you reach out to someone who will? Often speaking to a stranger can be helpful. This might be a therapist / counselor or a Samaritan (tel. 08457 90 90 90). There is support available and it is surprising how much of a relief it can be to get things off your chest without judgment.
  • Cut out the shoulds and musts. Not only are they unhelpful, but they are unrealistic. We don’t live in a perfect world so why expect perfection from yourself?
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. It is not what happens to us in life that defines our happiness but the beliefs we have about these events. Some of the happiest people in the world do not strive for 10 out of 10. 8 or 9 is fine for them and good enough is good enough.