Understanding Shame

Far more than feeling guilty, shame can be a debilitating condition that manifests in myriad ways, says a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated therapist

Written By Molly Ramsey

Photograph by Juergen Bauer Pictures

Family get-togethers—complete with festive feasts and gifts galore—are a staple of the holiday season. And while commercials make family time look oh-so merry and bright, in reality, spending time with family can conjure up a host of negative emotions, from stress and irritation to shame: the latter of which is a deep-seeded feeling of inadequacy that John Walters, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated clinical therapist, says he works with people daily on recognizing, grappling with and moving past.

Standing Up to Shame

How do you move past toxic shame or even spontaneous shameful self-talk, like that which might arise during dinner with a critical family member?

Identify the feeling. “The first step to overcoming shame is noticing it,” says Walters.

Talk about it. Whether it’s with a licensed therapist or a trusted friend, exploring where your deep-rooted shame may stem from, as well as the situations and/or people that trigger it for you today, can profoundly loosen its grip on you, says Walters.

Watch for negative self-talk. “When you catch yourself in shameful self-talk, try to break the cycle,” he says. Journaling, reciting a positive mantra, practicing mindfulness and exercising can all be healthy ways to do so.

Practice compassion—for yourself. “Many people are compassionate toward their friends, family and even strangers, but are hard on themselves,” says Walters. Make a point to be as compassionate as you are with others with yourself, to celebrate your successes and to focus on your strengths.

Set yourself up for success. Sometimes that may look like excusing yourself from a conversation that’s triggering negative self-talk, says Walters. From a day-to-day perspective, he recommends cultivating healthy habits like getting ample sleep and exercising, and surrounding yourself with people who build you up rather than tear you down.

Photograph by Juergen Bauer Pictures/Shutterstock