Psychotherapy is an often necessary and valuable tool that helps people to learn how to be vulnerable with others, which can help to reduce feelings of shame. The dictionary defines shame as ‘the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another’. Oftentimes we find that combined with the feelings of shame, come feelings of guilt. While shame reflects how we feel about ourselves, guilt often involves an awareness that our actions have affected someone else. In other words, shame relates to self, guilt to others.
So, what causes us to feel shame? Childhood is often the time when the causes of shame begin to take place. This is a time when we are largely dependent on our parents and the influences of our family environment determines whether our needs are being met. Now, as parents, you need to bear in mind that even the most thoughtful and organized parents will not be able to meet all their children’s needs because, as we all know, life is unpredictable and complicated. Children, therefore, find ways to adapt to what is available to them and to what works within their family environment. As children are not usually intuitive, they cannot always determine that a parent’s anger, neglect, depression, etc. are not a result of their own doing but rather what the parent may be going through at work or because of their own traumatic experience. Children may then feel that, because of their parent’s behavior towards them, they are the cause and can have feelings of being a burden, invisible, selfish or even unlovable and undeserving of being cared for. This creates a wall of shame to develop to replace their desire to be nurtured and causes the child to hide their needs.
As mentioned in the beginning, therapy enables people to learn how to be vulnerable to help reduce their feelings of shame. When a person can be vulnerable with a therapist and they receive sensitivity, and caring in return, that person learns that they are cared about and are not flawed or unlovable. While this may be anxiety-provoking to someone who has learned to hide their needs, it is very liberating once the person has been able to be open and honest. This is not something that a therapist will rush you into and will be done at a pace that is comfortable for you and when you are feeling safe enough to do so.
This process of learning to be vulnerable with a therapist takes courage, time, and investment, but can be genuinely transformative. As a person sheds the shame of the past, they can rise up to experience all the freedom, power, and choices that are available to them as adults.
Debra Bragança / Counsellor & Psychotherapist / Anchoring Your Life Counselling & Coaching
Specialising in Anxiety, Depression, Grief & Relationships