Study Discusses Paths Towards Overcoming Shame

Much of modern society is often termed as “shameless,” especially in terms of media and product promotion. But shame is still very much a part of the average human experience, and while some people may quickly and easily be able to overcome the feeling of shame, others may become debilitated. Shame, whether arising from a perceived faux-pas or other shortcoming, or from a traumatic event, can sometimes take hold of a person’s self-image and cause them to feel powerless and essentially wrong or bad, elements that are significantly detrimental to the enjoyment of life, work, and relationships.

Hoping to help those suffering from debilitating feelings of shame as well as mental health professionals who work with shame-affected clients, Jessica Van Vliet of the University of Albert has recently published a study that sought to examine how shame can be confronted and released. Van Vliet’s work suggests that some of the most promising avenues towards overcoming feelings of shame include distancing oneself from a shameful event or situation and taking on a new perspective, as well as considering the source of the shame in light of the experiences and lives of others. In fact, making social connections is one of the strongest prescriptions in Van Vliet’s discussion.

Reaching out to friends, family, colleagues, and mental health professionals can help those suffering from debilitating feelings of shame gain valuable insight into the capacity for people to make mistakes and to learn and grow from them as well, suggests Van Vliet. Though isolating and internalizing shame and its causes are often impulsive reactions to the feeling, choosing instead to share with others and seek common ground can lead to more rapid, lasting, and meaningful recovery.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Martha T.

    Martha T.

    September 27th, 2009 at 10:33 AM

    A problem shared is a problem halved. The good thing about therapy is that if it’s family related you’re talking to an impartial professional. It can be hard talking to family about family without their own views coloring the situation.

  • Maddie

    Maddie

    September 28th, 2009 at 4:42 AM

    What a great attitude to have Martha and I completely agree. There are times when just being able to talk to someone impartial like my therapist about certain events has helped me to gain a whole new perspective and to see that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that it does not have to cripple my life or what I think and know about myself. Sometimes I just think we are all too hard on ourselves. Society is hard enough on us and I think that it is about time through forums like this that we gain the strength to be good to oursleves and come to a point where we are ok with the decisions and life choices that we make.

  • Ron

    Ron

    September 28th, 2009 at 10:51 AM

    I feel interacting with more and more people will dilute felling of shame in an individual as he/she will realize, in most cases, that his/her shortcomings are not so big after all and that everybody has their own negatives.

  • Giselle

    Giselle

    October 1st, 2009 at 6:32 AM

    My aunt has this huge purple mole on 1 side of her face. She also has extremely large breasts. She is so ashamed of herself and has lived in that shell for so many years. She has now started counselling for that and I think she is slowly getting more open to socializing.

  • Francis W.

    Francis W.

    October 5th, 2009 at 4:45 PM

    Interesting study! You cannot feel shame to such a degree if you refuse to keep it inside yourself. Let it out, let it breathe and watch it dissipate. Shadows have a habit of disappearing when you shine a light on them.

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