Definition of Shame
Shame is the intensely painful
feeling where we believe that we
are flawed and therefore unworthy
of love and belonging.
The roots of the word ‗shame‘ come
from an older word meaning "to
Discussing shame requires trust
and vulnerability. One goal of this
presentation will be to put shame
into words and transform it into self-
Eve being ejected from
the garden of Eden
Lakota Chief Yellow Lark
Oh, Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes
the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have
hidden in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my
but to fight my greatest enemy - myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my Spirit may come to you without shame.
Shame and addictions
A study of women in recovery found that higher
levels of shame meant more relapses.
In a study of 5th graders, more shame predicted
school suspension, drug use, and suicide
Two studies found that people in recovery score
higher on shame and lower on guilt compared
with the public.
Guilt seemed to provide a protective effect
against the development of alcohol and drug use.
Addiction: shame escape
People full of shame find that
addictions takes away shameful
feelings while the high lasts.
There is also the relief of feeling
―normal‖ or the high of superiority -
or what is termed ‗grandiosity‘ in the
vocabulary of Alcoholics
Anonymous. Superiority is a
defense against shame.
Addiction and shame
The Shame–Addiction Spiral:
feeling defective - followed by
a need to escape - followed
by facing last night… i.e.
having lost control.
Addiction as a source of pride
and belonging: ―I can drink
anyone under the table.‖
Addiction as proof of one‘s
intrinsic shamefulness: ―You
see, I told you I‘m garbage.
What more proof do you
The expression of shame usually
starts by age 2.
Separation from mom, which
brings fear and protest in babies,
does not evoke shame.
Shame can be seen in reunion
with baby and mom, when baby‘s
excitement is met with
indifference or disapproval from
Securely attached baby learns
the limits of mom‘s tolerance and
also learns to self-soothe and
regulate shame states.
People experience shame if others are too
distant, as in shunning, and if others come too
close, as in the extreme case in which personal
boundaries are violated. ‗Don‘t stand so close to
me.‘ or staring.
Shame also speaks to social value or status. ‗Oh
you don‘t own a polo horse?‘
Mild experiences of shame are a part of ordinary
social life. For example, children learn to behave
through the experience of shame.
Extreme shame is the reaction to being treated in
a degrading manner.
These shame emotions include; humiliation and
feelings of defilement, disgrace, or dishonor.
Disgust and contempt are emotions of low status.
Relationships of dominance and subordination
are inherently shaming.
Trauma survivors can exist in a permanently
dishonored social status or ‗social death‘.
Vietnam veterans are an example.
Women describe shame:
―Shame is being rejected.‖
―When you can‘t do it all and people know you‘re
―You work hard to show the world what it wants
to see. Shame happens when your mask is
pulled off and the unlikable parts of you are seen.
It feels unbearable to be seen.‖
―Shame is feeling like an outsider—not
―Shame is being exposed—the flawed parts of
yourself that you want to hide from everyone are
revealed. You want to hide or die.‖
Men describe shame:
―Shame is failure. At work. On the football field. In
your marriage. In bed. With money. With your
children. It doesn‘t matter—shame is failure.‖
―Shame is being wrong. Not doing it wrong, but being
―Shame happens when people think you‘re soft. It‘s
and shaming to be seen as anything but tough.‖
―Showing fear is shameful. You can‘t show fear. You
can‘t be afraid. No matter what.‖
―Shame is being seen as ‗the guy you can shove up
against the lockers.‘‖
―Our worst fear is being criticized or ridiculed—either
one of these is extremely shaming.‖
Defenses Against Shame
Denial: denying the parts of life that bring us shame,
Withdrawal: temporarily pulling away from others with
lost of interest and energy.
Rage: driving others away so that they cannot see
our defects. This happens too when we believe that
others are deliberately trying to humiliate us.
Perfectionism: trying to hold off shame by striving to
never make a mistake or to do everything perfectly.
Arrogance: acting superior to everybody or insisting
that others are full of defects. Grandiose and
Exhibitionism: making a public display of behavior
―I am not good enough‖
―I am not good enough‖ - our emotions often involve
comparing us to others. Shame, guilt,
embarrassment, and our own idealized expectations
or the expectations of others.
We become tempted to give up in despair.
Central question: Not good enough? Compared with
―I do not belong‖
―I do not belong‖ - a central fear related to shame is
that of being abandoned or cast out because of one‘s
Taking extreme measures to hide addictive behaviors
AA: a place where we can belong not only despite -
but actually - because of our addictive behaviors.
―I am unlovable‖
―I am unlovable‖ basically sense that we have
long ago and irretrievably been rejected by our
families and loved ones.
A sense of rejection then becomes a template for
all future relationships, predicting that
relationships are bound to fail and that the our
fate is to go through life alone and lonely.
―I should not be‖
―I should not be‖ is the ultimate
suicide/annihilating shame belief.
Ultimately, a spiritual question.
The emphasis in AA on developing a strong
relationship with our Higher Power relates to this
―What gives your life meaning?‖
―Who are you when you let go of your roles and
One main element in healing shame is
developing a caring relationship with someone -
aka: who can you call at 3am to talk about a
concern or crisis?
Shame is a slippery emotion at all times, as it is
hidden behind a screen of avoid and defend
tactics. Let us bring it into the light.
Can you think of an embarrassing incident where
you were able to laugh about it – compared to
Many people with shame hide their strengths and
joys. Why do you think this is?
What are your most proud achievements? Can
you feel the pride and joy flow through your
Replacing shaming statements with supportive
Personality attacks with specific grievances.
Criticism with praise.
Disinterest with interest.
The 5 As
Attention: I have time for you.
Approval: I like what you do.
Acceptance: It‘s OK for you to be you.
Admiration: I can learn from you.
Affirmation: I celebrate your existence.
Directly experiencing the arousal of shame and
being soothed by a friend is one of the best
Soothing includes empathy, attunement,
acceptance and validation by another person.
Focus on breathing, observing emotions as they
come and go like leaves on a stream.
Taking time to savor our lives and world, like
tasting our food or watching the sunset.
What are other needs you have when feeling
Forgiveness & Mercy
There are many ways to boost forgiveness:
Recall the hurt;
empathize as best you can - see the situation
from the other person‘s point of view;
consider forgiveness as an act of altruism by
recalling the gratitude felt over being forgiven;
commit to forgive over the long-run;
hold on to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process
that takes time and needs to be repeated and
Therapy with shame-prone alcoholic and drug-dependent clients. Potter-Efron, Ronald
T. Dearing in Ronda L. (Ed); Tangney, June Price (Ed), (2011). Shame in the therapy
hour., (pp. 219-235). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, xiv,
428 pp. doi: 10.1037/12326-009
Posttraumatic stress disorder as a shame disorder. By Herman, Judith Lewis Shame in
the therapy hour., (pp. 219-235). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological
Association, xiv, 428 pp. doi: 10.1037/12326-009
Connections: A 12-session psychoeducational shame resilience curriculum. By Brown,
Brené; Hernandez, Virginia Rondero; Villarreal, Yolanda, Shame in the therapy hour.,
(pp. 219-235). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, xiv, 428 pp.
Emotion-focused therapy and shame. By Greenberg, Leslie S.; Iwakabe, Shigeru,
Shame in the therapy hour., (pp. 219-235). Washington, DC, US: American
Psychological Association, xiv, 428 pp. doi: 10.1037/12326-009
Treating shame: A functional analytic approach. By Koerner, Kelly; Tsai, Mavis;
Simpson, Elizabeth, Shame in the therapy hour., (pp. 219-235). Washington, DC, US:
American Psychological Association, xiv, 428 pp. doi: 10.1037/12326-009
Toward a Comprehensive Model of Antisocial Development: A Dynamic Systems
Approach. Granic, Isabela Patterson, Gerald R. Psychological Review, Jan 01, 2008;
Genuine shame: is associated with genuine dishonor or
False shame: is associated with false condemnation as in
the double-bind form of false shaming; "he brought what
we did to him upon himself‖. Schadenfreude: enjoyment
obtained from the troubles of others.
Secret shame: describes the idea of being ashamed to be
ashamed and to keep the shame a secret.
Toxic shame: describes false shame. Incest and other
forms of child sexual abuse can cause particularly severe
toxic shame. It is related to complex trauma in children who
cannot cope with toxic shaming incident and who
dissociate the shame until it is possible to cope with.
Vicarious shame: refers to the experience of shame on
behalf of another person who is already feeling shame on
behalf of a third party (or possibly on behalf of the
The science of shame
Shame has been compared to fear.
Like fear, it is a fast-track body response that - in
intense forms - can overwhelm higher
Like fear, it is also a social signal, with facial and
postural signs that can be recognized across
The science of shame
Shame is a wordless state,
in which speech and
thought stop cold. It is also
a self-conscious state.
We feel small, ridiculous,
and exposed. There is a
wish to hide: ―Sink through
the ﬂoor‖ or ―Crawl in a hole
Charles Darwin studied the
expression of emotions in both
people and animals.
He described shame affect or
feelings as consisting of
blushing, confusion of
mind, downward cast eyes, slack
posture, and lowered head.
He also noted the sense of warmth
or heat (associated with the
vasodilation of the face and skin)
occurring in intense shame.
Produces elevated cortisol (a stress
hormone) and adrenalin - a stress
What does shame feel like for you?