Shame…everyone experiences it, but few talk about it. Brené Brown describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Experiencing shame can be unbearable, as it can often be felt with overwhelming intensity and power.

Shame is like a snowball, forming in childhood from our first experiences of feeling unlovable and unacceptable from unmet emotional needs from important others. The shame snowball builds throughout our lives with every experience similar enough to our earlier experiences. When toxic shame remains inside us, it can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and many other psychological or relationship difficulties.

We have many protective psychological responses to shame that have developed along with the emotion itself. We can become critical of ourselves. We can withdraw from others, or detach from ourselves through self-harm and alcohol. We can attack others with our shame. Although these reactions serve a purpose, being that they relieve the intensity of shame at the moment, they do not help us very well in the long run. These protective reactions weaken our relationships and our sense of identity and self-esteem, which ultimately blocks us from living authentic lives and building strong relationships.

The first step in healing shame is to acknowledge shame experiences at the moment they are occurring. Once we’ve acknowledged our shame experience to ourselves, we can then speak about it with trusted others. Most importantly, we must be kind and build compassion toward ourselves in these moments of pain and struggle to heal the shame inside.

Therapists at CFIR can help you to heal the shame experiences that may be at the root of your anxiety and depression or that cause difficulty in your intimate relationships. We are here to help!

Whitney Reinhart, R.P. (Qualifying) is a qualifying registered psychotherapist, at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto. She supports adult and couple clients with a wide range of difficulties related to depression, anxiety, traumatic experiences, and interpersonal conflict.

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