Shame is the feeling that a person is, at their core, bad or wrong. A person might feel shame for no reason at all, or long after they have made amends for a misdeed. Shame can lead to a host of mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety. It may also make it difficult to get close to others. Some people are so paralyzed by shame that they are unable to be productive at work or school. Shame researcher Brené Brown argues that guilt serves an important social purpose. It can drive people to apologize to others and avoid doing harm. Shame, Brown says, serves no purpose. It’s simply a source of suffering. Therapy can help people understand why they feel ashamed and work to break free from shame.
Toxic shame is shame that leads to chronic negative emotions, or behavior that harms oneself or others. People who feel chronic shame may think they are unworthy of love. Others may fear connecting to others, convinced that others will eventually see the “real” person and reject them
This can cause numerous relationship issues, including:
People experiencing shame may engage in self-harm such as cutting, binge eating, or restrictive eating. Some people attempt to mask or overcome their feelings of shame through:
Numerous studies have linked shame to suicidal thoughts and gestures. This may be because shame cuts deeply to a person’s core. People overwhelmed by feelings of shame may feel unable to solve their problems or unworthy of a better life. They may believe treatment won’t help. The social stigma surrounding mental health issues, and especially surrounding suicidal thoughts, can compound these feelings. This can deter a person from seeking help.
Brown argues that resilience to shame has four components:
Shame often stems from a traumatic experience. A person may fear that they deserved the trauma, experience guilt and shame about having survived, or feel ashamed of sexual or other abuse. When shame is due to trauma, it’s critical that therapy is trauma-sensitive, addressing the root cause of shame.
Some treatment options include:
These techniques may also work for other forms of shame, such as shame due to depression. Research consistently finds that the best predictor of therapy’s success is a strong relationship between the therapist and the person in therapy. Finding a therapist who respects your values and helps you set goals is key.
Some other forms of therapy that may help with shame, especially shame that is not due to trauma, include:
Nishan Foundation focuses on providing the most effective, evidence-based treatment, exceeding expectations by paying close attention to four key therapeutic principles