Healing Shame

800px-Rain on a smoke tree leaf"Why do I feel ashamed of myself because I was abused?  I know it was not my fault. Why do I feel the need to hide it, even from my trusted therapist?" asks a reader.
My response:

You seem to believe, as many people do, that intellectual knowledge changes emotions. Internal changes don't work that way.  We can't decide to love someone because they meet our intellectually created criteria and then actually love them. Nor can we end strongly held beliefs  because we know they have no basis in reality.  Nor can we decide to feel good about ourseleves and lose our sense of shame because we know we have nothing to be ashamed of.

We can, however, use our intellectual prowess to help us find emotional healing experiences.

When we have beliefs about ourselves that are harsh and incorrect we need a climate of emotional healing. When we expect a harsh response from someone, and we get kindness it's a shock to the system. We stay in with our shame and self blame.

We respond to kindness and acceptance by such thoughts as:

  • the person doesn't know what she's talking about.
  • the person doesn't understand what I really did or said or experienced.
  • the person is pretending

If we come to know, respect and trust that person, and we consistently get a kind, respectful and accepting response, we feel differently. We feel more safe and cared about. We feel what it’s like to be in a kind environment, and we like it.

Our harsh attitude weakens.  We wonder, if by some strange and miraculous perspective, we are not as bad as we thought.

If the respect, kindness and acceptance continues from this trustworthy person we respect, then over time we enjoy and accept their response to us.  We feel good in their presence. We like ourselves in their presence.

Then, over time, we internalize their caring so we feel that kindness, respect and acceptance from within when we are not physically in their presence.

If this continues, we make the change from carrying their positive response within us to making that voice truly our own.

Thinking can put us in the healing environment. The emotional changes come from healing emotional experiences.

My thought and association:  "The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth like the gentle rain from Heaven."  Shakespeare in Merchant of Venice. 

So comes the emotinal healing, drop by drop, to eventually reveal  unashamed loveliness.

*Rain drops on a smoke tree leaf. photo by Kris Miller


0 # thanks JoannaKymL 2012-09-10 12:30

Thanks for the post Joanna. I read it this morning and then during my morning walk, it all hit me. I can honestly say I know what Shame feels like now!! I think I've gotten good at not paying attention to the voices of shame, but I haven't dug them up and really worked them. Throughout this morning I've been paying attention to them and realizing why I gained each belief about myself (abuse, negative messages from my parents, etc). It's feeling a little overwhelming right now, but I've e-mailed my therapist so talking with her should help.

I'm thinking after reading this post that the reason I haven't told everything to my therapist has far less to do with not trusting her as it has to do with me pretending the issues/behaviors, etc aren't an issue. While not listening to them all the time does make it easier to function in daily life J, I'm thinking I need to get them out and share. I need to get past my believe that I'm not worth bothering her; just trust Kym! I see journaling in my near future!

I liked your explanation of the trusted person's voices transforming into your own. I know I use to hear Jill's voice in my head, but recently it's my voice. So I've done it with many things, and I know I can do it these new shameful things. It's kind of hard thinking I was so far in recovery and discovering there is more. I just have to remember that what I've over come so far gives me the tools and confidence that I can work through this too.

0 # understandingpinkjoanna 2012-09-10 14:49

Dear Kym,

You are developing strength in your recovery that empower your momentum toward freedom.


0 # never thought of it as shame....mylifex2 2012-09-10 18:13

I will be seeing my therapist tomorrow. It is interesting that you posted this blog today, as I was thinking about tomorrow.  The past couple of months have been horrible.  I have had tremendous depression and anxiety.  Finally, after several med changes,  things are heading in the right direction. (praise God!)...

That being said, I don't think we will need to spend the session talking about medications, depression, anxiety or how suicidal I feel.  I think the pink elephant will be in the room...the pink elephant of my abuse and how it has impacted so many areas of my life.  I would love to be able to find a way to talk to my therapist without going numb or zoning out.  I didn't know it was shame...but I do feel embarrassed and I would guess that is shame...just never put it in those words to myself. 

I do spend an enormous part of my life feeling less than others.  I don't feel equal to, or deserving of, a relationship that is healthy. I want this so very bad.  Not for the sake of being in a relationship, but knowing that I CAN trust someone and give to them completely and without hangups. 

I feel tremendous shame in relationships, or even about thinking about being in a relationship. I feel that people can see right through me and see the dirt and all the broken pieces.  I feel shame...who would want me?  I am a what I think...

I need to find a way to start talking to my therapist about this tomorrow...I don't want to sit in the chair and fidget and stare out the window...I want to make use of this time. I want to move foward...

0 # never thought of it as shamepinkjoanna 2012-09-10 18:54
Dear Tracy,

Sometimes, when a patient of mine has trouble speaking about something, she will bring in a journal entry or article or picture to help her start the conversation.

Also it's often difficult to see shame or think that you feel shame because shame has to do with your sense of identity.  If shame is thoroughly part of your system then you have no place to stand to see it.  It permeates everything.

That's why I say that healing from shame is not a thinking process.  It's an experiential process based on emotional learning.  Patients learn to trust their trustworthy therapist.  That's the first step.

When that happens they have emotionally learned to trust. They are capable of trusting. They recognize trustworthiness.  Then they can expand their lives to include more people, one at a time, in their "trust circle." And they learn that they are lovable and worthy of respect.  That's a big part of this shame healing process.  Again - not intellectual knowledge but solid down in your gut and bones knowledge.

Mmm. Eating disorders play havoc with "gut knowledge."  You are so conscientious and dedicated, Tracy.  I have every confidence that you will move forward.  Be as brave as you really are. :-)
0 # Didn't do so well...mylifex2 2012-09-11 18:03
I didn't do so well today at therapy.  I wanted to talk, to share, to express myself better than I did.  My goal today was to start talking about how my past abuse has impacted my ability to be in relationships, or to enjoy intimacy with a partner.  I tried. I found myself able to say that I am angry because it seems everyone around me is partnered and seems so happy with their little families.  I told her that I feel so different from everyone.  But then I started to lose my sense of control.  I felt angry. I felt like I have before in situations like this...I felt like i wanted to hurl something at her window and break it....I felt like I was going to explode. Halfway into the session I told her that I was done, ready to leave the session...I repeated that I hate myself over and over and over...I felt so overwhelmed.  But I stayed.  I didn't get as foggy as I normally do, and that's good. I don't remember half of what she said to me, I am not sure what I took from the session. I hope I am not wasting my time. I feel like I need to come up with another way to do this.  I don't think reading journal notes will happen...I would not be able to sit there and read something that is so traumatic...I would chicken out.  I thought perhaps I would email her the night before our next session, so that she could have it in front of her and it's "out there", even if I can't talk, or if I get does that sound?  I know I am much better able to express myself on here.  Of course, I am not sitting in the room with my therapist face to face...I feel less able to express myself in that situation...I guess going back to the shame thing...I am upset with myself for how I handled the session today.  I usually go every week, but have decided to wait two weeks.  I was exhausted after today.  I just hope I can get this going...I would love to get some of this off me...for good...
0 # Oh Tracyshh 2012-09-12 05:25

I'm sure Joanna will have some wise words for you, but I just wanted to say that I think you are so brave and trying so hard!

Everything that happened in your session, the anger that came up, tne feeling like you wanted to hurl things - they're strong feelings that have been eating away at you for a long time and that needed letting out - I don't think there is any shame in that.  I know for myself, sometimes I've felt so hurt and so angry, it's like my insides are thrashing about and fighting with each other, and I feel like I'm going to either explode from the pain or curl up and die from it... you are certainly not alone in feeling strong reactions.

I used to do the "HATE, HATE, HATE.." thing too, and initially I found the easiest way to start tackling it was to turn it so instead of hating myself for not dealing with things better, I could say "I HATE being stuck in this situation, I HATE how it makes me feel" and still feel the anger and frustration of how I felt, but started turning it away from myself, and directing it more towards the things that made me feel that way.

As for not being able to talk about things... I have on many occasions arranged what I wanted to say in a word document with bullet points and excerpts from my journal, to use as prompts and to help me stay focussed on the important parts (as I used to often fly off on a tangent about something irrelevent when things got too much, but I gradually became aware I was doing that, and used to use my notes as prompts to reign myself back in stay on track), but in the worst scenarios, I would end up just handing them over saying "please will you just read this because I can't say it to you"... and we did that for quite a while... whereby I was encouraged to just talk about things, but if it got difficult I coyld refer to my notes, and if it became impossible I could just hand them over... and gradually, over time, I learned to be able to talk about things.

Sending you lots of hugs Tracy, I'm sorry you are having such a hard time at the moment - I've missed you whilst the site had been being transformed!

0 # didn't do so well?pinkjoanna 2012-09-12 13:54

Dear Tracy,

You are doing better than you know.  That foggy feeling could be a signal that your dissociative defense is slipping.

You are pushing against your defenses - like rage, fear, guilt, self-criticism.  And what's doing the pushing is your owngrowing  awareness, psychological strength, courage and determination - even if it doesn't feel like that's what's happening.

So, you pushed halfway through the session until you couldn't anymore. What's wrong with that?  That's a win!

You are not going to go all the way in one session.  You are building from within and what you build takes you as far as that level of construction holds.  Just keep building, i.e. keep showing up for your recovery work.

"Inch by inch, the snail reached the ark."   :-)  

Laura R
0 # Trusting the processLaura R 2012-09-12 19:38
I am going through one of those times when I am frustrated that understanding what is going on does not change where I'm at in my recovery process. When I get in this place I convince myself that I'm not doing enough and I'm not doing the right things. Then I go searching for the right things in order to conquer the things I want to change and I don't do the basics in terms of nourishment( physical and mental). I feel shame around being where I'm at because I realize that I'm self sabatoging even though I knonw exactly what to and feel. Something must be keeping me from wanting to recover. Hmmmmm.
0 # Another shame question.KymL 2012-09-12 20:17
OK, so I've got all my overwhelming shame feelings back in a nice box and tied up for when I see my therapist in 2 weeks (it's something she and I do so I can function between visits).  But I have a question:

If I can't "think" myself out of shame and it sounds like I need to experience love and respect to heal, then I'm basically planting good beliefs which should over-grow the bad planting grass to take over the moss in your lawn (you can tell I'm from Oregon!).  Is that correct?  And if that's correct, then my work this past week to "feel" shame and work through it, isn't what needs to happen? 

I was doing such a great job working on building my self-respect and loving my body and my life and stopped to get in touch with Shame, but really I could have been on the right track already? 

This shame thing is so confusing because it appears to be what my treatment center called our Core Beliefs.  And I heard that those don't really go away, but can become less noticable and turn into "little puffs of existance." 

I'm a do-er and fixer; this recovery thing has really pushed me out of my comfort zone!! Guess it's all part of the growth thing!   
0 # Shame..shh 2012-09-13 01:43


I felt like shame was a very ingrained core belief too, and read in several places that it is very difficult to tackle, but I can honestly say that it has lifted significantly for me...

...I can't explain how or why, it just happened out of the blue, I just realised one day that I was acting and feeling differently... and really I feel lik,e it is more to do with actions than know when you change the way you do certain things, take up new activities etc, it helps you to reframe who you are, like a sort of more holistic reinforcement than just the work in therapy.

I think it is important to understand how our shame feels and how it affects us, and to look at the things that have contributed to that, so that we can see the faulty logic that we have developed from past experiences that helps us to perpetuate that shame and hold us in that place...

...but I suppose I see it a bit like love - no one single thing makes you feel loving towards someone, it's very complex and multifaceted, it's underpinned by many factors, that create this one thing we identify as love...and I think shame is similar, and as no one or two things create it, then it's not sufficient to address one or two areas to deal with it, we need to look at all the things that feed in and contribute to it, which can be physical and spiritual experiences as well as discourse and words.

I feel like I'm waffling on now... but you work so hard, I really hope you can resolve this Kym!

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