Counselling and Shame
“Guilt is what I feel when I think about the consequences of what I’ve done. Shame is what I feel when others think about the consequences of what I’ve done.” Darren Magee
The Power of Shame
Shame is a very powerful and at the same time an uncomfortable emotion. It is something we experience when we feel and fear disapproval from others. This emotional humiliation can affect us socially, personally and even lead to intimacy and sexual difficulties. It is something we feel when we compare ourselves to others unfavorably. For instance we may feel less accomplished or as affluent as those around us.
“I had no idea there was any shame in being poor until other more affluent people drew attention to it.”
Some people don’t experience shame in the same way most others do. Arrogance, narcissism, selfishness and other similar traits often hide some form of avoiding feeling emotionally humiliated. These traits often have people not taking any responsibility for themselves or their attitudes and behaviours. More often than not they blame others for their own actions. They act as though they were victims or just innocent bystanders in their own lives.
When we feel shame we may be reluctant to ask for the help we need for fear of what others may think. The silence can then make the feelings become chronic, debilitating and toxic. It can leave us always feeling as if we’re ‘bad’ or ‘less than’ in some way. It can prevent or hinder the therapeutic process in counselling if not addressed appropriately.
Toxic or healthy?
I believe, like all unpleasant feelings, the first thing we think is ‘what gets me out of this?’ When we feel shame it’s no different. It can lead to avoidance and other self-defeating behaviors. The fear of being rejected or thought less of by peers can be a powerful deterrent to growing and becoming more.
When we feel shame, like all feelings, even uncomfortable ones we feel it for a reason. We think of something we’ve done or something that happened to us. If understood however, it can help us to regulate our behaviour. It can help us develop and feel compassion and empathy for others.
In counselling a therapist can help understand the feeling of shame and put it into perspective. It can lessen the intensity of the feeling and increase confidence. You can learn to pay attention to the feeling and allow it to inform you rather than make decisions based solely on avoiding the unpleasantness.
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” Carl Jung
This article was written by sentientcounselling