I feel SHAME

Written by Violaine Guéritault, Ph.D.

What is it?

Feelings of shame arise when you think other people know something about you that you don’t want them to know because it would reflect badly on you. The thing you don’t want people to know is usually something that is an integral part of you such as an aspect of your personality, a flaw, a failure, or anything else you think makes you unworthy and unlovable. Shame is also associated with your having acted in a way that is considered morally reprehensible and that is looked down upon by people or society in general. It can be experienced quite intensely and may lead you to think very negatively and harshly about yourself. This is why people who experience shame often do all they can to hide what they’re ashamed of. They usually feel small, humiliated, exposed, and unworthy of love and belonging.

What is it telling you?

Feelings of shame are telling you something very important about your core beliefs about yourself. One of those beliefs is that there is something very wrong with you as a person. Shame, however, should not be confused with guilt. Feelings of guilt are about feeling bad about having done something wrong, while shame is about feeling bad about being wrong and defective in some way at the very core of you. Feelings of shame are alerting you that you may be experiencing some difficulties with your sense of self-esteem and your sense of self-worth, which could be a consequence of past experiences.

How to manage it?
  • Be aware! Develop your awareness and face your feelings of shame. Like it is the case with all negative emotions, the more you hide from shame, the more power it has over you. By facing and acknowledging your shame, you will take your power back thus actively refusing to let it define you.
  • Don’t let anyone decide how you should feel, especially if they say, “you should feel ashamed of yourself!” Learn the distinction between guilt and shame. Shame says “I am bad to the core,” while guilt says “I did something wrong.” Shame makes you feel like you are incapable of being a better person, whereas guilt motivates you to make amends and change for the better. Choose wisely and in full awareness.
  • Learn to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion.