Tips For Coping With Shame And Guilt


To resolve pervasive shame and guilt, you will find it helpful to learn more adaptive ways to coping instead of using the shame scripts you’ve always used says Kathy Steele.

Recognise shame and guilt reactions and name them.

Learn your typical thoughts and feelings that are shame-based. for example, your, or some part of you, might often say, “I could never do that; I would fail so I wouldn’t even try.” That fear of failure is shame-based. Or you often compare yourself with others and always come out “less than.” If you believe that other people are always smarter, kinder, work harder, are more efficient and are better relationships than you are, then you likely are shame-based. And the reverse is also true: If you always view yourself as superior to others, you are also likely to have a lot of shame.

Learn your patterns of coping with shame, that is, how you use shame scripts.

Do you mentally attack yourself, or do you tend to attack others? Do you avoid situations, thoughts, feelings, and memories that might evoke shame? Do you isolate and withdraw from others: Each part of you may have used a different shame script to cope with shame.

Recall how often you tend to feel shame on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being never or rarely and 5 being every day or almost all the time. This scale will help you determine how much and what sort of work to focus on to cope with your shame.

Notice what body sensations you have when you feel ashamed or guilty.

Are they different for shame and guilt?

Once you notice your patterns, try to interrupt or shift them.

You may find you need to practice this in small steps. For example, wait a short while to engage in attacking yourself or someone else instead of immediately doing it. Then try changing small aspects, for example, remind yourself that you are experiencing shame and that criticising yourself will only make things worse.

Ascertain which cognitions you might need to correct, for example, “I am worthless. I don’t deserve to have good things People find me disgusting.” Find possible counterarguments, such as, “No one is completely worthless; each person has some merit.” “Having good things is not about deserving the. It is part of life to have good things.” “There are many people in my life that do  not find me disgusting.”

Notice specific beliefs related to shame and guilt that may be held in particular dissociative parts of yourself.

Recognise and begin to work with the strategies employed by other parts of yourself.

Try creating dialogues about shame and about what all parts want to accomplish with those strategies. For example, respond to critical parts of yourself b =y saying “I know you have my best interests at heart, that you want me to be competent, successful, and well liked. I want that too. Shouting at me or ridiculing me only makes me lose what little confidence I can muster. Let’s work together to find a different way that is more effective.” And to a very shameful part, you might say, “I know that shame is an awful feeling and I am going to help you with it. I know you feel ashamed about what happened o you, and I want you to know that it wasn’t your fault and that there is a way we can deal with this together. I am glad to listen to what you have to say, whenever you feel reading.  I’d like to point out what is different in the present from the past so you can feel more at ease.”

Be willing to talk about shame in therapy.

You can begin by just talking about what it is and how it affects you, rather than talking about particular shameful events. Practice talking about it until you become more comfortable with the topic and know your therapist can talk about it too. Help all parts of yourself learn to talk about it in therapy.

Notice your present experience and whenever shame or guilt is evoked, ground yourself in the present.

Remind yourself that much of what you believe about yourself when you feel shameful or guilty is greatly exaggerated and not valid.

Work with your body to shift your physical experience of shame.

For example, if you feel frozen, try to move around a little bit, take in some breaths, and squeeze your toes in your shoes.

Gradually share with yourself, among all parts of yourself, and with your therapist events in your life that bring so much shame to you.

When shame is shared in the presence of an accepting other, it is most likely to resolve. You may not be ready to do this yet: That is fine. This is just a reminder to do so when you are ready. The timing should be discussed with your therapist.

Shame is typically alleviated when you can develop a positive or joyful experience to pair with the shameful one.

For example, if you feel “unworthy,” recall or imagine a moment when you felt cared for by another person or if you feel like a failure, recall or imagine a time when you felt good or proud of something you had done, for example, when you made a good grade in school, learned how to use a computer program, finished a project that was difficult to complete or was able to make a change in therapy.

Chronic guilt is best managed by developing increasing empathy for yourself and all parts of you.

It is also helpful to begin to realise (with help from your therapist and others) that some of your guilt may not be realistic.

The more empathy you develop and the more you can fully realise the true circumstances about which you experience chronic guilt, the less you will feel.

Realistic guilt is best managed by:

  1. accepting that you are fallible and make mistakes and do not always behave perfectly just like everyone else
  2. making a realistic appraisal of what you have actually done (or not done) (this may require the help of a safe other)
  3. helping all parts inside come to an inner acceptance in which the offending behaviour can be fairly judged but also the human being that you are can be understood and accepted
  4. making amends or restitution if possible and
  5. learning from your behaviour so you can do things differently in the future




I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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