4 ways to move past shame

If there is one thing I know 100% will undermine any efforts to be resilient, it’s shame.


This nasty, little, insidious and emotional worm can burrow into your mind and pop up in all sorts of uncomfortable places...

  • your body doesn’t look like it should
  • you should have behaved differently or said something different
  • you shouldn’t have those dreams or desires
  • you should be more accomplished/in a relationship/have had children
  • you should be more organised
  • you should take up less space

Etcetera, etcetera. Notice the word 'should' in each of those examples, which is always an indication that what comes next will be judgmental, if said by someone else to you, or self-judgmental if said about or to yourself. 'Should' is also a sign that the inner critic is at the wheel. 

We'll all experience this occasionally because of the society we live in and the habits of older generations (who were also affected by the generations before them). But it’s not a harmless emotion. It can be crippling and can destroy resilience. And it is almost always at the heart of what leads us to self-harm or suicide. And feelings of shame can get in the way of making amends or recovering. It is, in short, a completely pointless emotion that is purely a tool for others to manipulate or control us, or for us to punish ourselves.

I really hate shame. Maybe you can tell.

The reason I have such a strong reaction to shame, is that it's a big part of the intergenerational trauma in my family. It has caused people to do horrible things, prevented me from loving myself for a long time, and it has destroyed the people around me. One of the reasons I spent so many years low on resilience is because I had such high levels of shame. I don’t believe there is such a thing as 'healthy shame' and I think if you look deeply at, and question what those who use this term actually mean, more often than not, they are actually talking about guilt.

Shame vs Guilt

Here are the two narratives that come from shame and guilt.

  • Guilt: I have done something wrong. I said something that caused a problem. 
  • Shame: I am wrong. I am the problem. 

Guilt can be a useful indicaton that you could make a change in your behaviour, reconsider how you approach a situation or might need to think about how you deal with emotions. This is useful data for resilience. It’s about something you’ve said or done - things that can be rectified and changed.

Shame is not like this. There is no separation of the person from the action. It’s a feeling that you’re inherently wrong or broken. Shame produces a strong sense of lowness in someone who is feeling it, which is why it can be a powerful manipulation tool. Shaming someone means you can have power over them. That’s why shame appears in so many power structures, such as religion.

Prisoners who feel guilt don’t reoffend, but those who feel shame do

Here is an example of the different impacts of shame and guilt and how they impact resilience to reoffending. Research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science on American prisoners looked at the factors that influence how likely someone is to re-offend after getting out of jail.

The findings show that inmates who feel guilt about specific behaviours are more likely to stay out of jail later on. Those who are inclined to feel shame about the self are much more likely return or re-offend.

Moving past shame

Our society is saturated in shame and you may not even realise how much this is controlling you, or how much it’s undermining resilience for you. Start by looking for that burning feeling in your gut or chest - this sensation can be an indicator that shame is present. Another sign can be feeling like you want to disappear.

You may feel obsessed with what other people are thinking about you, paralysed by the idea of it being negative. You might have internalised the shaming that has been done to you and developed an internal narrative that is constantly criticising and judging (e.g. thoughts such as, "I’m so stupid I hate myself”).

Anger is also a very common reaction to shame, and it can disguise shame in many people because it's the harder emotion to feel. Getting angry is much easier and more satisfying. Finally, a lot of numbing behaviours indicate the presence of shame, from addiction through to using food, sex, alcohol or even hours of Netflix to block out how you really feel.

Make this the year to give up shame

Shame will come and go throughout our lives, but the more resilient you are, the more able you will be to simply let yourself notice the feeling and then release it, rather than being overcome by it. The less of a hold shame has on you, the more confident you will be, the easier you will find it to be authentic and the more likely you’ll be able to make strong connections and live a purposeful and happy life.

So, how do you free yourself from the grip of shame?

4 tips to free yourself from shame

1. Find out where your shame has come from

When you understand where shame arises for you, and why it arises for you, then you can take steps to help release its grip. 

2. Bring your shame into the light

Shame can’t survive compassion and empathy, and it rarely survives being shared. This is because, when we are honest about our shame, most people respond to that with positive affirmation or kindness. For example, if a person said to you, “I’m afraid you’re not going to like me.” How would you respond?

When you do share your shame, it's important that you feel you’re doing it in a safe relationship with someone you trust.

3. Dial up the self-compassion

I think I will repeat this to the end of my days: self-compassion is not about letting yourself off the hook. We are the survival of the nurtured, and those who thrive know how to create a self-compassionate inner world for themselves. This is the fertile ground for action, growth and connection. Shame is barren ground and poisons your ecosystem.

4. Consider speaking with a coach

We often don’t realise when we’re shaming ourselves - or allowing others to shame us - and working with a coach can hold a mirror up to where you’re letting this happen in your life. Someone who recognises the signs and can help you find ways to stop.

Shame is a real, tangible problem, but it’s not a barrier that you need to get stuck behind. Tackling its influence in your life is vital for resilience. If you often find yourself struggling with self-love, unable to make confident decisions, deal with failure or forgive yourself for mistakes, then reviewing how you handle shame - with the support and guidance of a coach - could change everything.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP certified coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She helps clients build confidence and self-belief, recover from burnout, develop self-assurance, intuitive connection and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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