3 Healthy Ways to Handle Shame

Written by Dr. John Townsend

August 13, 2018

Shame is a big deal because simply put, it can cripple you. Shame is what happens when we experience a self-attack and tell ourselves we’re just not worthy of being loved.

Everybody feels shame at some point and it can be excruciating. Deciding to handle this difficult emotion in a healthy way can make a significantly positive impact on your life!

Shame: “It Cuts Like a Knife”

Bryan Adams lyrics aside, shame can literally feel like you’ve been hurt by a sharp object. You physically ache. You feel useless or think you let everybody down or that nobody really likes you. These are overwhelming feelings that can break you down if you are not mindful.

Some people feel ashamed for not being perfect, having needs, for needing reassurance, or for asking for time. Some people even feel ashamed for success because they think it’s going to make them a narcissist. No – stop doing that! These feelings are nothing to be ashamed of! In fact, they are quite normal.

Shame can often come right after a failure. Learn four healthy ways to handle failure and turn it into a positive!

The Wrong Ways to Counter Shame

We may be prone to dealing with shame the wrong way. This can lead to even bigger problems. Here are a few wrong ways to counter shame.

First, we try to ignore it. If you ignore your feelings in one way, they’re going to manifest in another way. They’ll come up as an attitude problem or show as physical problems like colitis, backaches, headaches, and GI problems. If you don’t handle those feelings of shame and instead ignore them, your body will process in other (negative) ways.

Maybe, instead of ignoring our shame, we beat ourselves up more and then give in to the feeling that we messed up or aren’t worthy. Now, all of a sudden, you are beating yourself up and that just makes things worse.

Long story short, you’re not fine. But, it’s okay.

3 Healthy Ways to Handle Shame

We’ve talked briefly about unhealthy ways to handle shame. You are no longer going to ignore it, or feel ashamed of it, right? Good! Instead, let’s consider these healthy approaches to shame.

  1. Recognize that it’s happening and don’t give in to shame. When you start to feel shame, go, “That inner judge is beating me up again.” Just the fact that you’re aware of the feeling and can identify it can alleviate a lot of the pain. Self-awareness is your friend!
  2. Know why you feel shame. Now that you recognize how shame feels for you, the next step is understanding why this feeling came about. Is it because you failed at something recently, or are you remembering something from your past? Do a little digging. What was the sequence of events that triggered your feeling of shame? This analysis is important to help you start identifying potential shame triggers so you can avoid them in the future!
  3. Connect. Sometimes it can take a little time and personal interaction with someone you trust to shake off a feeling of shame. Spend some time with someone who de-shames you, really cares about you, and talk about what you are ashamed of with them. This release can be incredibly healing!

Self-attacks are an unfortunate reality of life. We shouldn’t ignore it or just try to work through it because the shame will simply cause more problems, both psychological and physical. It’s just not worth it. Dealing with shame in a healthy way is the only way to go. Get connected to the safe people in your life and start working through why you’re attacking yourself today. I promise you’ll feel better!

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