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Information on and How to Cope with Shame

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Updated March 27, 2013

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Following exposure to a traumatic event, people may experience a variety of emotions, including shame. When a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is then thrown into the mix, this emotion can become even more intense, leading to a number of unhealthy behaviors. Shame is a particularly difficult emotion to cope with. This article provides some information on shame, as well as some ways of managing shame.

What is Shame?

Shame is often considered a "self-conscious emotion," and is generally very closely related to the emotion of guilt. In fact, many people have difficulty distinguishing between shame and guilt. Shame is an emotion that occurs when a person evaluates or judges himself in a negative light. For example, a person might experience shame if he views himself as worthless, weak, bad, or useless. Shame can be a dangerous emotion. With shame, people may be more likely to engage in self-punishment (such as through deliberate self-harm) or isolate oneself from others. This will do little to alleviate the shame in the long-term, and can even intensify the shame. This article provides some more information on shame, as well as the relationship between PTSD and shame.

Monitoring Your Emotions

In coping with any emotional experience, it is important to first increase your awareness of the emotion that you are trying to cope with. Specifically, you want to know what types of situations generally trigger the emotion, what thoughts are associated with the emotion, what the emotion feels like in your body, and what you generally do in response to the emotion. This article provides some tips on how to effectively monitor your emotions. The skills discussed in this article can be used to increase your awareness of shame, as well as help you identify different places where you can intervene to reduce your experience of shame.

Using Distraction to Cope with Intense Shame

Intense emotions such as shame can be hard to cope with. As a result, they often lead to the use of unhealthy coping strategies, such as alcohol or drug use. Although alcohol and drugs may initially work in taking away an intense feeling, this is only a temporary fix. In the long-run, alcohol and drug use often leads to more intense emotions and other problems. Given this, it is important to learn how to cope with very strong emotions in the moment using skills that do not put you at risk for long-term negative consequences. One such skill is distraction. Just as the name implies, distraction is anything you do to temporarily take your attention off of a strong emotion. Sometimes focusing on a strong emotion can make it feel even stronger and more out of control. So by temporarily distracting yourself, you may give the emotion some time to decrease in intensity, making it easier to manage. Learn how to use distraction to cope with shame in this article.

Self-Soothing Exercises to Cope with Shame

Coping strategies focused on improving your mood that you can do on your own are sometimes described as self-soothing or self-care coping strategies. Effective self-soothing coping strategies may be those that involve one or more of the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound). Self-soothing coping strategies are particularly helpful in coping with shame, as they are focused on providing you with a positive experience. This action is counter to what shame often tells you to do. This article provides some examples of self-soothing strategies for each sense.

Managing Negative Beliefs About Emotions

The experiences you have throughout your life can influence how you respond to and evaluate your emotions, especially in regard to the development of negative beliefs about emotions. In addition, people who have experienced traumatic events at some point in their lives may be especially likely to develop strong negative beliefs about emotions. These beliefs may become further pronounced when a diagnosis of PTSD develops. PTSD may lead to strong and unpleasant emotions, such as shame, that may feel out of control, harmful, or unpredictable. Learn some common negative beliefs about emotions and how they can feed into shame in this article. Information on how to address these negative beliefs is also presented.

Increasing Self-Compassion to Cope with Shame

A lack of self-compassion can have a huge impact on recovery from PTSD. A lack of self-compassion may decrease motivation to continue through those difficult moments in treatment. It may increase feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A lack of self-compassion can also bring about strong feelings of shame, which can make emotions even more difficult to manage. Finally, low self-compassion may lead to self-destructive behaviors. For example, a person might begin to engage in deliberate self-harm as a form of self-punishment. Self-compassion can be difficult to increase; however, it is very important to do so. This article provides some strategies for fostering a stronger sense of self-compassion.

Managing Negative Thoughts That Lead to Shame

Our thoughts can have a tremendous impact on our emotions, both positive and negative. When we evaluate ourselves in a negative light (as is common in PTSD), this is going to have a negative impact on emotions. In particular, negatively judging oneself (for example, telling yourself that you are weak for having PTSD) can lead to strong feelings of shame. Therefore, it can be helpful to learn ways of addressing these negative thoughts. This article provides information on how to manage negative self-focused thoughts, with the goal of reducing unpleasant emotional experiences.

Seeking Out Social Support to Cope with Shame

Finally, seeking out social support can be an excellent way of addressing shame. Shame often motivates people to hide from others or isolate themselves. As a result, important relationships may suffer, leading to depression. Seeking out help from others can reduce isolation that is common among people who struggle with shame. In addition, it can help you gain another perspective on your experience. This article presents some important information on how to seek out social support, with a particular focus on the type of qualities that you should look for in someone who is to provide support.
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