What causes us to feel shame? Shame is a stronger emotion than embarrassment and is centered around a view that you personally have done something wrong. It often occurs because we have internalized feelings about ourselves from the opinion of society. This can cause some damaging long-term emotional impacts if one looks at themselves in a negative tone. Learn how to find happiness within yourself and avoid shame with LIFE Intelligence, a self-care app that provides you with exercises to cope with negative feelings, such as shame.
Surprisingly, shame and guilt are different emotions, although they may seem very similar. Guilt focuses on one’s behavior and the impact it has on other people, while shame looks inward as a negative evaluation of oneself (Cândea & Szentagotai-Tătar, 2018). Because shame views the self as flawed and internalizes those negative feelings, it is considered to be the more painful emotion of the pair (Cândea & Szentagotai-Tătar, 2018). However, both shame and guilt can have similar repercussions on one’s mental health, causing social anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, general anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and depression (Cândea & Szentagotai-Tătar, 2018; Cibich et al., 2016). Considering how emotionally damaging these feelings of shame can be, it is important to target where this emotion comes from so we can cope with its negative impacts.
Shame-proneness is connected to maladaptive responses toward anger, resentment, and irritability (Brodie et al., 2019). Attachment anxiety, the constant worry of not being good enough in a relationship, is related to a difficulty regulating emotions which can lead to these angry outbursts (Brodie et al., 2019). This aggression may be connected to shame because if one feels anxious about their worth, they are not likely to openly address these concerns for fear of criticism. Another source of frustration linked to shame is imposter syndrome, the feeling of having to put on a “mask” to blend in with society (Forber-Pratt, 2020). Imposter syndrome leads to feelings of self-doubt and can have a tremendous negative impact because of the constant struggle between trying to be seen, but not truly being seen for one’s true self (Forber-Pratt, 2020).
Shame is a socially-focused emotion that comes from self-criticism, feelings of worthlessness, or simply not feeling good enough compared to others (Cândea & Szentagotai-Tătar, 2018; Matos & Steindl, 2020). There are several similarities between the effects of shame and perfectionism considering the societal influences of both of these emotions/traits. The Perfectionism Social Disconnection Model (PSDM) sees perfectionism as a means to achieve acceptance and avoid feelings of shame, rejection, and humiliation (Chen et al., 2015). Perfectionism is often based on what society sees as good qualities but seeking perfection has very similar emotional impacts as shame: depression, anxiety, and eating disorders (Chen et al., 2015; Fjermestad-Noll, 2020).
Oftentimes, people respond to shame by withdrawing from society because they fear further criticism and reliving those shameful experiences (Declerck, 2014). This can be further detrimental, however, because one important way of repairing shame is to regain acceptance from others and restore your self-image (Cibich, 2016). Self-image can only be restored if you take the chance to interact with others, even though you may have been criticized in the past.
You are perfect in your own way. It may sound cliché but clichés exist for a reason: they are true, important messages to always keep in mind. Learning to be kind to ourselves is not always easy when we have societal influences or outside sources pressuring us to change, improve, and constantly be critical of ourselves. Societal pressures and the need to conform often make us feel shameful for our quirks and unique traits, but our uniqueness is what should be celebrated as a good thing. Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) can improve mental health, emotional regulation, and social relationships by focusing on care and compassion for yourself and other people (Matos & Steindl, 2020). CFT defines compassion as an innate motivation to alleviate pain (Matos & Steindl, 2020); if we can show this compassion for other people, why not ourselves? Living your truest self without shame brings the greatest amount of happiness to your life and allows you to live freely without the weight of constant self-doubt (Forber-Pratt, 2019).
Self-improvement app LIFE Intelligence gives you the tools you need to overcome shame and learn compassion for yourself. Use the Mood Wheel to reflect on these feelings of shame and journal about the experience. Where did this shame come from and how can you move past it? You can then use the linked exercises to understand your response to shame and how to refocus those negative thoughts toward compassion for yourself. Remember that perfection, in the eyes of general society, is largely unachievable unless you accept yourself without shame, knowing that you and all your unique traits are valuable.
Brodie, Z. P., Goodall, K., Darling, S., & McVittie, C. (2019). Attachment insecurity and dispositional aggression: The mediating role of maladaptive anger regulation. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(6), 1831–1852. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407518772937
Cândea, D.-M., & Szentagotai-Tătar, A. (2018). Shame-proneness, guilt-proneness and anxiety symptoms: A meta-analysis. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 58, 78–106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2018.07.005
Chen, C., Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (2015). Preoccupied attachment, need to belong, shame, and interpersonal perfectionism: An investigation of the Perfectionism Social Disconnection Model. Personality and Individual Differences, 76, 177–182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.12.001
Cibich, M., Woodyatt, L., & Wenzel, M. (2016). Moving beyond “shame is bad”: How a functional emotion can become problematic. Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 10(9), 471–483. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12263
Declerck, C., Boone, C., & Kiyonari, T. (2014). No Place to Hide: When Shame Causes Proselfs to Cooperate. Journal of Social Psychology, 154(1), 74–88. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.2013.855158
Fjermestad-Noll, J., Ronningstam, E., Bach, B. S., Rosenbaum, B., & Simonsen, E. (2020). Perfectionism, Shame, and Aggression in Depressive Patients With Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders, 34, 25–41. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi.2020.34.supp.25
Forber-Pratt, A. J. (2020). My Chameleon Life. Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, 19 (4), 132-139. Retrieved from https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/taboo/vol19/iss4/7
Matos, M., & Steindl, S. R. (2020). “You are already all you need to be”: A case illustration of compassion-focused therapy for shame and perfectionism. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 76(11), 2079–2096. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.23055