Diary of a Shame Attack

On Saturday, I made a short new video, making use of what I’d learned in media training. I felt very good about that video because I’d confronted some underlying shame and the related wish to remain invisible — that is, relying on a blank facial expression and little modulation in my voice in order to reveal as little as possible. I uploaded it to my YouTube channel and wrote a short post about it here on After Psychotherapy. Not long after the post went up, I received a supercilious, mean-spirited critique from one of my readers. Even after 2-1/2 years writing this blog, I still find it difficult to bear when site visitors say hurtful things to me. I have not developed a thick skin. In posting the video, stating explicitly that I felt good about it, I had made myself vulnerable; receiving that comment hurt. I felt humiliated.

My immediate response was retreat: I took down the post but left the video on my YouTube channel (apologies to email subscribers notified of a post no longer available on the site). This was a defensive reaction, a desire to make myself less vulnerable, akin to the feelings of clients who long to remain invisible, as discussed in this earlier post. I told myself that it should be enough that I felt good about the video; posting about it was asking for external validation. While there’s truth in that idea, it’s also a kind of rationalization, an effort to justify my defensive withdrawal.

Next morning, I received an email from one of my clients, explaining why the comments I’d been making in recent sessions were of no use to him. He then told me what he did find useful, which turned out to be a re-statement in his own words of what I’d been saying. He questioned whether it was worthwhile to continue treatment. Still feeling vulnerable from the video experience, this email seemed to cut right into me, stirring up some very unpleasant feelings I’ll try to describe. It felt important to sit with them, to understand and describe them.

I had a panicky feeling in the center of my chest. It felt, for lack of a better word, disorganizing; all of a sudden, my thoughts seemed to fly off in different directions. Speeded up, not terribly coherent. I’m speaking of subtleties here; I don’t want to make it seem like something overly dramatic, but it felt very much as if I were taking mental flight. I wanted to do something to escape that panicky feeling. I sat myself down in a chair and forced myself to remain where I was, emotionally speaking.

When I looked more closely, the panic expressed some irrational (very old) fears about falling apart, located now in concerns about my professional life. My practice is full, I have three fine literary agents expressing interest in my new book on shame, sales of Why Do I Do That? continue strong, but in that panicky moment, I felt (rather than thought) that it might all be illusory and fall apart. I have a client, another therapist, who sometimes feels this way when a couple of her own clients stop coming. She experiences a kind of terror that her entire practice will disappear. For both of us, it goes back to early childhood, having mothers who dropped us emotionally. Survival feels tenuous with that kind of mother. Under pressure, confidence in the lasting value of your own achievements may slip away, exposing you to deeply painful feelings of damage and unworthiness (shame).

I thought more about my client. It still seemed to me that he was devaluing me as way to escape feelings of vulnerability in our work together, but I also wanted to leave room for the possibility that he was right — maybe our work together wasn’t as useful as I’d hoped it would be. Viewing it as devaluation on his part might also be defensive, a way to ward off vulnerability. I’m very fond of this client; I feel that I’ve invested something of myself in our work together and if he leaves, it will hurt. I knew that if I wrote back to him right away, my response might seem defensive, so I decided to wait. I chose to think and write about this shame attack instead.

In the real-time experience of putting down these words, I have felt the panic abating. I’m feeling more focused now; I don’t need to react quickly in order to escape from those awful feelings. I also sense another set of emotions beginning to develop: pride mingled with relief and tinged with a bit of sadness. I’m glad that I’ve been able to weather this shame attack, to bear with and learn from it rather than taking flight into my defenses. I’m relieved to feel the pain abating; sad, because I know this isn’t the last time I’ll go through such an experience. When basic shame takes root so early on, you can’t fully erase its effects.

But I hope this account makes clear that there are genuine (if difficult) roads to authentic and lasting self-esteem. I feel proud that I’m brave enough to face my pain, continue to make myself vulnerable and share my experience with you. I hope you’ll find it useful.

If you choose to comment on this post, please bear in mind that I’m still feeling vulnerable. Thanks.

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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This entry was posted in Anxiety, Defense Mechanisms, Shame/Narcissism, Unbearable Emotion. Bookmark the permalink.

120 Responses to Diary of a Shame Attack

  1. Mindy Snyder says:

    Hi Dr. Burgo,

    I very much appreciated your candor in describing what is all too familiar to me. Thank you for labeling that “disorganization” that hits and does leave one feeling panicky. Wow. I am in the last months of my internship as a student therapist. Just when you think you’re pretty healthy and have things figured out, an attack by another or a client’s leaving can bring us to our emotional knees. I am so grateful that you have labeled this so well. My father abandoned me at age 5, so I know the early childhood stuff is connected here. You’ve given me more hope that, sitting in that place with another therapist, will lead to more “authentic and lasting self-esteem.” Well said.

    Mindy

  2. Julie says:

    Thanks for this courageous post, Joe. It gives me important insight into some reactions I have experienced – which felt like righteous indignation at the time – when I knew I wasn’t acting from my “center.” I think for me the trick will be to sit with the feelings – not to react too quickly – until I can understand them better. Good modelling!

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Julie, I think that righteous indignation is definitely a defense against shame. It has certainly been one of mine!

  3. Warren says:

    Hi Joe, can I suggest that you take a psychological break from thinking about shame. I could argue at length why I should think this, but there’s every chance that you won’t, so I’ll not write at length on this issue. Sometimes it’s ok to ‘take flight’, you didn’t, maybe you should have, the rest of us do from time to time. I saw the video, I can see what some might say about it.

    I have a similar trouble as a musician, what I can do in practice, on my own, goes out of the window on stage. Give up trying to get it together, that’s what I learned. When I get behind the mic, I do it as casually as I can, as if I’ve just picked my guitar up by myself for a lazy strum. How about you make a game of filming yourself for a while. I mean, casually, do your psycho-talk while having a cup of tea, or even music in the background, or out walking, get casual with it, find your own style.

    And you know what, fuck em. We’re all dust and air, far more worse things to worry about than not getting the style or presentation the way you wanted it on a short video. So get filming again, your homework is, to tell the camera five jokes that make you laugh, and then begin your therapy topic with the casual pre-joiner: ‘Here’s the thing’ . . .

    • Kim says:

      Hello Warren, I just wanted to say I so wish I could say “fuck em” but your post sounds like it comes from a person who doesn’t feel basically damaged (and good for you). I wish I could stop being so sensitive but I can’t just stop that feeling from coming on like you can. Dr. Burgo saying “I’m relieved to feel the pain abating; sad, because I know this isn’t the last time I’ll go through such an experience. When basic shame takes root so early on, you can’t fully erase its effects.” This is my experience. And it is helpful for me to explore this basic shame because it validates my feelings and helps me make sense of them and helps me learn from the experience. So I personally hope Joe doesn’t take a break from thinking about shame. But I agree with you…about the dust and air thing!

      • Warren says:

        Hi Kim,
        the feelings expressed in this post are real, and in my view intense emotional suffering can equal intense physical suffering, I’ve known both-as so many people have too. What I suppose I was trying to say which would’ve sounded glib was- ‘lighten up’ or, ‘don’t take ti so hard’. And in a way also perhaps, at the risk of being wrong, ‘is there much to gain by nursing these emotions’? For myself- I’ve never been afforded the luxury, there have always been greater existential demands tugging for my attention and focus. But then, this is Joe’s focus, and he is doing some sterling work in the field.

        • Anonymous says:

          Hi Warren,
          You know I appreciate your point of view and actually in some ways agree with it. I believe attaining some sort of balance with emotions is a huge goal in human life. I’m just not sure the best way. I’ve never felt dismissing them worked and want to always honor the way people feel but at some point I do believe the goal is to kind of get “beyond” them instead of being so attached which I believe does cause suffering. For me though getting them acknowledged and facing them and processing them seem to be a necessary step. Thanks for your comment!

        • Rona Taylor says:

          I hate it when people tell me to lighten up! Or to chill!

        • Kim says:

          Warren, I agree that Joe’s work is stellar. I have been greatly comforted by his explanations and insights. The open threads are rich in details that prove shame is not lethal. I’m really enjoying the humanity here. (I’m not the above Kim by the way.) Here’s the thing, your suggestions are brilliant.
          I’ll play ‘yes, and’ (instead of ‘no, but’) with you and Joe- after being criticized, he is courageous for sitting with that discomfort, exploring it, expressing it then sharing it. Your suggestions about making his video while walking or drinking tea, and telling the camera jokes to relax are SOLID GOLD! Instead of judgement and opinion you have offered invaluable examples of HOW to lighten up.
          Thank you for sharing these clever techniques with a guy we all obviously appreciate and care about.

    • Marianne says:

      Joe’s post is an observation of his reaction to a rude bullying “commenter”, and the post-effects of his initial reaction. Objective self-observation does not come naturally or easily to most people, (so I have found out over the years.) And therefore, most people seem to think it’s something else when they hear it or read it. Lament, perhaps, or a plea for help or advice. I find that I frequently receive a large number of platitudes and unsolicited advice for myself every time I write anything about human behavior. I very much appreciate Joe’s apparently rare ability to self-observe and then report his observations in such an open and scientific manner, allowing and inviting all who read it to compare their own self-observations regarding their own emotional reactions. Being a lifetime musician and writer, I have experienced similar reactions countless times; people with control and envy issues feed off targeting others who are doing something, and if they think they’ll get away with it, the odds of them following through with their compulsion goes way up. The shame reaction has a component of anxiety and fear in it as well~ “No one is here to back me up” “What else is he going to do” “How many of them are there”. A bully will attack one person and not another simply based on their physical appearances, or because one looks alone and the other does not, or one looks like they’d fight back too hard and the other does not, or the fact that they know they can get away with it because of the platform and distance, or all factors combined. And bullies tend to flock together and gang up if they can. They act completely nice and mannerly to those they’re afraid of for any reason, hiding their true nature, and intent toward their target. Once one becomes a target of violence, one knows how easily and quickly it can escalate. So, a hostile verbal attack can validly indicate a real threat, especially if you have been targeted before, and unprotected by others around you who were “supposed to” be there. The anxiety can disperse the current intent and thought process in an instant.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank You!! You said exactly what I was thinking! ‘ Musician-speak.’

  4. Debra Davidson says:

    One of the most interesting things I’ve found about growth in therapy, and I still find it difficult, is being sensitive (which I am-as someone who had grown up needing to be ultra aware of other’s signals-verbal and non-verbal, this sensitivity is no surprise) to and being able to contain my therapist’s feelings, whether anxiety, anger, etc., when I notice them and comment on them. Initially, I found myself devaluing my therapist because I NEEDED my therapist to not have feelings in order to express and deal with my own. As therapy progressed, I found I could not only tolerate my therapist’s feelings, but I could sometimes use them to understand myself and my therapist better. Sometimes this was a positive experience, sometimes not. And I still struggle with wanting (wishful thinking!) the therapist who IS that blank slate that I can project my feelings onto-that is the person I can say anything to without fear or anxiety. Now I find I can do that (not always without fear or anxiety) and still allow my therapist to have feelings. I know that is not what your post is about-but it reminded me of that. And I still keep things from my therapist-after years and years (and I don’t see her as often), because I feel shame. My depression and isolation hasn’t changed much but my ability to relate to others and handle their emotions has. So-for what it’s worth-my reaction ;-).

  5. SNS says:

    Joe-
    I enjoy your blog as a way to understand on a different level what has gone in my own therapy process. Thank you. I would share back with you that as a person who has wrestled, sat, been with her own shame issues coming to consciousness–the trigger of a patient leaving resonates deeply with me. I am a pediatrician and when a parent (usually a mother) chooses to see someone else, either in my practice or another, it “sends me to Mars” emotionally. I find myself, if faced with a similar situation, “disorganized” and thoughts racing and the need to “do something.” I have also learned the value of slowing down and sitting with it mindfully. For me, it triggers “not good enough” and “did not meet their needs”–remnants of childhood issues with my own mother. I sometimes laugh that in a Freudian way, it is highly amusing that I have chosen a profession where day in and day out it is my job to meet the needs of (primarily) mothers. Best wishes to you for continued softening and easing of this shame attack–

  6. Willow says:

    Sorry about the mean-spirited comment. I too have a very hard time recovering from the shame something like that triggers–the feeling that I want to crawl out of my own skin. I enjoy all of your posts, but I especially appreciate when you share your own inner experience with us. It IS helpful and makes me feel less alone with my own struggles. Thank you!

  7. Michele says:

    Hi Joseph
    It always makes me a little sad when I read that people feel a need to make unnecessary and thoughtless comments. I always think it says more about the person that does that! Maybe he/she was just missing your great smile that transmits warmth and empathy?
    I bought your book and I’ve found the chapter on The Mindset For Change really interesting as for me, that is a hugely important area. I’m going to have to re-read this section though, as I really need to understand this in my life right now.
    Best wishes

  8. Judy says:

    Wow – thank you so much for sharing this. I was almost wincing while reading it because your description of this kind of shame is pretty much like what I’ve experienced and for very similar reasons. It reminds me of my rationale for never really enjoying things because I KNOW somebody will just snatch it out from under me. It’s really hard to get rid of that, so I also appreciate your saying that it’s a long road. I’m glad you’re feeling better for having faced it.

  9. Cynthia says:

    Being in positions of vulnerability is part of life and is essential to personnel growth. To avoid these unpleasant circumstance we can always hide underneath a rock but I don’t think that would be wise. Working through our defense mechanisms is the mature choice and asking questions is where its at. Have a good day Mr. Burgo:-)

  10. Dr. Burgo,
    That mean-spirited reader has issues. Put the link back on your site, and resend the email for your loyal followers, who are enormously interested in what you have to say. And you said it just fine. Don’t let ‘em get to you.
    Elaine

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks, Elaine. I didn’t have a lot to say in that post. I just said what I say in this post, that I felt good about confronting my shame and vulnerability, better understanding my inhibitions, and invited readers to have a look.

  11. Sheila A says:

    I think it is and was very courageous of you to post a video after reinventing your presentation style. It is putting yourself out there and making yourself as vulnerable as anyone could – especially as a professional. We tend to forget that professionals are people too and the public have a tendency to be more critical – many don’t bother to put themselves in the place of the vulnerable person. Making nasty comments is uncalled for – but isn’t that the sign of someone elses fear and vulnerability?
    Anyway – very well done – pat yourself on the back for your strength and courage to not only speak about your vulnerability but to move on from this shocking experience.
    Hopefully today will be a better day.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks, Sheila. As the day wears on, I’m feeling better and better. Took my daughter out to breakfast and have been practicing piano, both “feeding” experiences.

  12. Sonjia PRIDHAM says:

    I leave medical drs all the time, I am sure some think what did they do wrong. I just do not feel it is a good fit , I know when it is. I saw a psychologist for over 2 years for therapy and in the beginning I moved far from where she was so she sent me to another clinic and I saw a therapist there, I hated him , I did not like him at all, so I called her back and begged h er to take me back, she did and she saved my life, the help I got from her saved my life.

  13. Christine says:

    Thanks for being willing to go public with this. The world will be a better place when more people are able to acknowledge feelings of shame and sit with them, leading to considering what’s really behind them, rather than defending themselves by attacking others.

  14. Y says:

    Allowing yourself to be vulnerable (especially on camera) takes a ton of courage, and you should be proud of yourself for that, Dr. Burgo. For what it’s worth, I’ve seen some of your videos, and the content is often so good that I don’t usually pay much attention to your voice or facial expressions. You really just seem like a professional that knows what he is talking about!

    Last week I went to lunch with a friend, and I decided that it was time to reveal to her how depressed I’d been lately (I’d just left a profoundly painful/profoundly beautiful session with my therapist), and her reaction left me reeling. Her lips curled up into a half smirk/smile and she totally disregarded everything I’d said and moved on to another topic. I was so ashamed that I wanted to crawl underneath the table and simply disappear.

    At least you can make the right conclusions after a bit of reflection, and grow as both a person and a professional because of your shame experiences. I simply hold onto my shame and use it to damage myself as often as possible.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I feel for you there. Sometimes when we acknowledge feelings other people are unable to face within themselves, they off-load those feelings into us and then reject us. It doesn’t make the experience any the less painful but it helps a little to understand it’s about her and not you.

      • Grandmother says:

        Maybe you’ve covered this in your book or elsewhere, but somehow I heard this in a way that really made sense to me this time. I’ve been trying to be more open with my mother in regards to ways I am processing some difficult things – and this is exactly the response that I get when I do. It’s done in the name of caring (sort of) but it sure feels a lot like rejection. A big issue for me in therapy has been this longing to be “seen” (and a real fear of it at the same time). No wonder it’s been such a longstanding issue! Thank you so much for sharing not only good info but things you have personally grappled with yourself.

  15. spider says:

    Why not publish the critique and let others judge it? You may think it “supercilious and mean-spirited” but others may not agree. It happens all the time. It’s the essence of freedom of speech, of learning and advancement of knowledge. Perhaps the best thing about the Internet is that quite ordinary people can make their views known to tens or hundreds of thousands…if they’re willing to risk humiliation and error.

  16. sioux says:

    We do find it useful that you share your experiences of shame with us, Dr Burgo. There are few things as helpful as hearing what our experiences feel like from the other chair. Like Y, I watch your videos and I don’t really care about your appearance or your presentation style. Some people find it easy to talk to a camera, but most people don’t. Anyone who has been to university can probably remember a professor whose every word was brilliant but whose delivery style was less than Oscar worthy.

    I was interested in your comments about self-esteem. On the WDIDT forum, Catherine posted a link to a TED talk about self-compassion. Maybe when you were sitting with your shame, you were allowing yourself a little self-compassion, which I’m now persuaded is a much more important quality for me to nurture to deal with my shame than self-esteem is. I told my therapist the other day that since I never really had much self-esteem, I figure I can just skip it and go directly to self-compassion. When that disorganizing feeling and the accompanying panic set in, maybe what we need is a lot of love. If you stop for a moment and think of how much you give to your readers and accept how grateful we are and how much we care, I hope it makes you feel a bit safer about being vulnerable .

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      It does. Thanks, Sioux.

      • Nichelle says:

        In hip hop we have a saying “haters gonna hate”. It means that you could have put up a video of a fluffy bunny frolicking and someone would have to take a shot at it to try to steal your joy and pride. It’s a sign that you’ve done a strong, brave presentation that the commenter may wish he/she could do.

    • Warren says:

      This might not be the TED talk you’re thinking about, but here’s a related TEDx talk by Kristin Neff titled “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion” :
      http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/The-Space-Between-Self-Esteem-a
      I don’t think Neff uses the phrase “shame attack,” but her examples seem quite relevant.

  17. ChrisF says:

    I’m so impressed with you being so vulnerable and honest. I hope you feel pride in your ability to sit with shame. You are very brave to do it and more so to share it. I respect that a great deal as I also sit with my own shame and it is freshly dreadful each time I do it.

  18. Emma says:

    Ah, a “shame attack”. I have these, too. I never called them, that, though but I suppose that’s exactly what it is. I always feel a little better knowing I am not the only one who feels this way. For me one of the worst parts of a shame attack is that it “interrupts” my “happy streak”. I think I always have the secret wish that any shame attack I have will be my last. When I have one again, it’s like “double shame” because I feel not only the experience of the shame attack itself, but the sadness, like you mentioned, of realizing that there will be other attacks to come.

    Thanks to you and everyone else who put themselves out there like this–being so vulnerable like this. It helps me more than you know.

  19. Matthew says:

    You aren’t “perfect” – there’s so many unhealthy, oft unspoken ideals about the therapist should have all their issues resolved. I simply appreciate that you don’t wear that arrogant mask of “professionalism”, not showing you still have shame and are just human. It’s helpful for everyone seeing that you too have such thoughts and feelings. Like we all do.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Indeed we do. Not everyone will admit it, though.

      • Matthew says:

        It’s something I’m sensitive to. My mother had a degree in counseling psychology, and when trying to help, she would go into “counseling mode” which non-verbally conveyed that all of the issues were mine. While that’s an extreme example, I think any time there’s that attitude, that all of the issues are the clients, can cause dis-empowerment. A therapist honestly acknowledging their humanness is very empowering, though admittedly it can cause disappointment and anger in those wanting someone perfect to magically make them better. Sorry you got some of that backlash.

        • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

          Sometimes it’s hard to strike a balance. It’s important for some clients that you maintain more of a “blank screen” but many people find it enormously relieving and helpful to know that a therapist struggles with similar issues. Modeling healthy ways to cope with the same difficulties is more helpful than projecting a “post-shame” identity.

  20. Charlotte says:

    “When basic shame takes root so early on, you can’t fully erase its effects.” This brings back memories of a time not too many years ago when I thought that there was an ending point to therapy when everything would be all fixed and life would be happily ever after. But just as a tree cannot continue living without its roots, I have also come to know that the roots of my shame are a part of me and will be with me for the rest of my life. But I believe each time I am able to bear with the feelings as you have described, the shame lessens up a bit more. And my hope is that maybe with enough practice in bearing with the feelings, even though the roots will still be there, the pain of feeling that shame will lessen a little more each time. Knowing the reality that there is no way to completely eliminate this type of pain feels so much more authentic than the happily ever after illusion. For me this is a spiritual practice of acceptance of what is and in the end has a soothing effect on me. Posts like this where you reveal your vulnerabilty are the ones that help me the most because I can relate to them in a very real way. Thank you for continuing to reveal yourself. I’m sorry for any future pain which your shame may bring you.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      What you’re describing is my experience. I know it won’t go away, but each time, bearing with shame does get a little easier.

      • Elly says:

        I’ve read that you can “erase” triggers by going back and integrating the original trauma. Then you won’t have that trigger anymore.. (In this case, the fearful reaction to the feeling shame. ) I’m confused now…

  21. Angela says:

    Dr. Burgo,
    I wish you knew how very valuable this post is. You so clearly delineated that awful, time-stopping, chest-crushing experience that shame delivers, and that I know so well. Your captured experience (as a previous poster noted) modeled so wonderfully that knowledge (about self, others’ motivations, your training in and experience of psychoanalysis) never replaces the felt experience of difficult feelings, but can provide us with tools and insights–that need to be practiced.
    And that courage to stay in the moment with that sticky, suffocating unpleasantness, until you come out the other side–thanks for modeling that, too.
    Angela

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      It does take courage, it is difficult and painful. One of the main rewards on the other side is you can feel some genuine pride for having gone through it.

  22. Evan says:

    Hi Joseph, many thanks for sharing this.

    Hope you are feeling more solid again by now.

    Staying vulnerable does mean feeling hurt sometimes.

    On a tangent. When clients stop using their defense mechanisms they need another way to stay safe I think. If you would like to do a post on how you handle this I’d be very grateful.

    Thanks again.

  23. Kim says:

    Dr. Burgo. I saw your video before you removed it and felt it was great. I could see the more relaxed animated compassionate person that I hear in the voice when I listen to the radio interviews you have done. I so relate to your comments about your job and questioning your competence. I know many people comment on the serendipity of your posts but I swear I had the worst weekend last weekend because of this issue and I can’t tell you how comforting it feels to have you write about your own experience. I think I’ve mentioned before, I also practice in pediatrics (like a poster above) and saw the child of a colleague who also happened to be a former student of mine and who also happens to be a person I really love and respect. Her child had an issue which turned out to be fairly complex and I agonized over my decision making during the process. I have a very hard time seeing and treating my friends and family because it is tortuous to me to think I could cause harm in any way (and topple from my pedestal of perfection and awesomeness). It all turned out fine and I did the same things any other practitioner would have done but the 72 hour walk of shame I put myself through was almost unbearable. I got through it by talking about it with other people and sitting with it too, as much as I could. I also echo you and the other medical poster that I feel sometimes like all my patients are all going to stop seeing me at any minute (actually I should wish for that with the numbers we have to see). Anyway it was enormously comforting to read this post and your vivid and accurate description of the terror and fear and shame. I feel lots better now too! Oh yeah and I went to psychology today and read some of your posts there. Dude, there are some angry, vitriolic comments there! I wonder why those comments feel so different from the ones posted here (mostly). I certainly hope you don’t take those comments too seriously either!

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Kim, I don’t take them seriously. I think they’re different because first of all, I screen out anything blatantly hostile or too disrespectful here on AP; then I think the audience that comes here (that returns here) likes what I have to say. Over on PT, on-time readers drop a bomb and move on.

  24. Gordon says:

    However shameful you think you can act, you’ll never be able to change the contents of my copy of your book, which I like so much that I have wondered if I am splitting.

    It’s not a house of cards. I know you know this, but I think we all need reassurance when it’s windy. And the internet is a windy place.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Sometimes it can feel like a house of cards, though, even if it’s not true. That’s one of the residues of shame. Thanks, Gordon.

  25. hari says:

    your post, so open and cognizant of your own ongoing healing really reaffirms my confidence in psychotherapy done well.

    the best therapists/supportworks/ practitioners in mental health, in my opinion are those that have been there, for me that is the only way they can truly sit with others and encourage others to heal.

    your admission and openness gives me more confidence in anything you might say or write, so that person that critised you has prob done you a long term favour!! cos im sure others will have their confidence in your expertise bolstered by seeing it is how you really live, not just preaching at people, but living it alongside your readers.

    it gives me courage to continue to try and sit with feelings that come up, even the most unbearable ones, cos if we can do that and see them through particularly when they are excruciating, then i believe thats when the healing happens,

    thanks again, and to all the other commenters, i gain couragous and a feeling of not being alone from all of this.

    x

  26. Viv says:

    It was oddly comforting to read this; not that I was enjoying your distress but rather to understand that someone who is ostensibly very together can feel the same sort of upset that I do.
    I think sitting with uncomfortable or painful feelings is the hardest thing to do, for me, and for most people. The first time I got really negative feedback on a blog post, I was devastated because it felt so personal, so much an attack on me but once I had a chance to sit back, I realised I’d pushed someone else’s buttons. It was the same with a one start review of my first novel: and more, it was simply one person’s opinion. Why did I listen more to that than the dozens who’d loved it and had taken time to review, email or comment to that effect.
    Well done.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      The fact that you felt comforted is exactly my goal. I’m trying to model a realistic version of “mental health.” It doesn’t means you’re “finished”; it means you have the tools to weather storms like this one.

      • Viv says:

        There’s a saying about life not being about waiting for the storm to be over but about learning to dance in the rain. I’m far from convinced I’ll ever managed that one but at least I’m aware that the storm will always pass.
        Thank you.

  27. Shame or control? Somebody puts me at a disadvantage and I know that it’s not through any fault of my own and yet …. the world crumbles inside me. What nasty thing did I do or why has this person done something I couldn’t predict? That’s a dilemma I sometimes try to resolve and of course most of the time it shouldn’t be a dilemma. Just other people do what other people do and I have no control over their will and usually I have behaved well with them. So the real question is why does the world still crumble inside me from time to time.

  28. Elizabeth says:

    Dr. Burgo,
    I admire your courage in so readily expressing your vulnerability and sharing your insight.

    What I don’t like about electronic communication is that people can make careless, harsh comments they would not make face to face. They are more in communion with their impersonal keyboard than with another human being’s experience. Are you really “rationalizing” when you retreat from hurtful words that are subjective to begin with? I laughed at what “Y” said because it is so true, about using shame to damage oneself as often as possible. I don’t think too many people are impervious to criticism despite healthy levels of self-esteem. For myself, I give criticism more credence than compliments.

    I worked for a company that sent customer satisfaction surveys on every transaction. I always did my best for the customer because I cared very much about their experience. Over my 17 years there, I felt anxious anticipation every time I opened a survey, despite never having received one negative comment. (I am sure the less-than-satisfied simply did not bother to comment.) I observed my fragility with some curiosity, because I know feedback is vital to improvement. But we do have to consider the source, consider where that person is coming from (which we are not always privy to) and that might involve what seems like “rationalizing”. Maybe.
    Thank you for this post.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You’re welcome. I think what’s difficult is when you try your best, as you did; it makes you especially vulnerable. If you didn’t care about your job, you might have felt indifferent to your reviews. I felt good about my newest video — though I know I still have room to grow — but getting shot down in that open state felt awful.

  29. RC says:

    I think you have real guts to deal with your feelings this directly and honestly. Your post reminds me of a really outstanding (I think, anyway) article I just read on the NYT Opinion page about the role of ironic culture and how it acts as a pre-emptive defense/strike against shame and vulnerability (among other things). I think you might really find it interesting.

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/how-to-live-without-irony/

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks, RC. I read this article when it first came out but enjoyed reading it again. She’s a wonderful writer, and very insightful.

  30. Nicola says:

    Hi Joe,

    i’ve been reading your blog for about two years, having found it while searching for help on my husband’s hypersexual behaviour, which i had just discovered. i have my own psychological hang-ups as well, including a mother that unloving, bitter and used me to get what she wanted. I have buckets of shame, so i have some idea of how you feel, and i’ve been working with a therapist on this. I want to say how much i’ve gained and learned from your writings (including your book) and it’s huge. i especially love the way you express your own feelings, including the bad stuff. My therapist just looks blank when i express my pain and while she may respond with “that must be painful” it’s just not what i need. Frankly your, and your other readers’ posts, make me feel human: there are others out there that feel the way i do, that feel shame and pain and so on. We are not alone. We are human with all the frailties that goes with it. We’re normal. Keep doing what you’re doing. You are invaluable to me. thank you.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      So very good to hear, Nicola. What I’m hoping other readers will see is that if you’re brave, you can bear your shame you can feel good about that and also get support for your bravery. That’s the road to a different and lasting kind of self-esteem.

  31. Gary Bebout says:

    Use caution when feeding yourself to the Internet wolves. People can find it easy to hide behind it. When you want to express painful feelings, remember that the audience may feel no empathy and attack you in a weakened state. You have to consider it as your work, and not internalize and personalize it . I think you can still make your points by detaching a bit..
    Best,
    Gary Bebout

  32. Emma says:

    I just wanted to say well done, I think it’s very courageous and brave of you to speak out your own pain. That the one thing I find most inspiring about your blog you are willing to share your own struggles. I believe a therapist who is willing to admit their own down falls has a lot of strength. Your work is amazing and I quiet simply think your amazing. I myself have found through my own writing negative comments are bound to happen, but it takes a strong person to admit they aren’t made of stone. Well done keep writing because I truly believe you are helping many people – myself included.

  33. Scott Cunningham says:

    What an incredible story. Thank you so much for sharing this here. That took a lot of courage for you, I suspect.

    I’m only now starting to learn about my own shame issues. I’m not even sure I recognize how they appear for the most part. What I can say is that reading descriptions like this is incredibly useful. Seeing your story helps me in a way no that no other resource ever has.

    This may sound trite and perhaps someone has said this already. But, there cannot be shame attached to talking about and revealing our innermost shame. Sounds simple, but parts of the story made me think if that. What you have done is courageous and brave.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thank you, Scott. I think I’m finding my way toward more accurate descriptions of the experience. I’m glad it’s proving so useful.

  34. Ricia says:

    Just stumbled upon this remarkable post and remarkable responses and feel so safe and connected that I, who “never comment on blogs”, feel moved to add my appreciation and respect to all of you, and especially to you, Dr. Joe Burgo, for being and revealing yourself to be a deep, smart, and courageous therapist and human being.

    Shame stinks. For me, shaming remarks especially stink and sting when the shaming is in response to something I thought I did pretty well…. maybe even expected to be praised for. I think as genuine humans (rather than thick-skinned fantasy superheroes) we normally and naturally react to shaming experiences with feelings like those you described. Maybe negative experiences in childhood add another miserable dimension to an already miserable experience, but pulling back and wanting to crawl into an isolated hole seem like normal responses to me.

    What strikes me here is that you overcame the impulse to buy into the shamer’s attempt to cast you out from the human group. Instead you dared to tell your shaming experience to another human group here on this blog, a community you created and which reflects your very worthy and courageous values and behavior. It is great role modeling for me to see this happen publicly. My own shame-filled experiences have become bearable (tho I still wince, I don’t feel that horrible disorganization so well described here, nor the accompanying impulse to crawl into a hole) when I have dared to tell another person about a shaming experience and they have empathized with my distress and still showed me how they value and cherish me as a member of their human community. It seems that you are being similarly restored here and I am so glad to witness that process. Thank you for going public with this, all of you, it is a gift.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Yes, there is something so healing (in a non-idealized way) about letting yourself be fully seen and then NOT being rejected. I’m heartened by the support of the many who have commented on this post.

  35. Suzanne says:

    What do you mean by sit with the feelings? Does it mean not trying to push it away? What do you do with the anxiety if you try to do that?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Yes, sit with them and not push them away. All feelings pass in time; it’s most often our defenses against emotions we find unbearable in the moment that cause us trouble.

  36. Elizabeth says:

    You should use this post as an introduction to your new book about shame. You write so eloquently, and painfully, about the impact of a “shame attack”. You have touched precisely on the feelings of failure and the shame, and you have clearly modeled for us readers how to work past the deep hurt, given the proper tools and support of therapy, past or present. Also of importance to me is the statement in one of your responses, that feelings of shame will not be “cured”, but that one will learn to manage it and work through it. Finally, in your discussions over time about shame as underlying so many problems, I never understood the concept completely. After reading this intimate post, I finally understand what you have been stating. Thanks so much. Please keep these posts coming. They are so valuable.

  37. Charlotte says:

    Even though I commented earlier, after reading more comments, I wanted to express my gratitude for how valuable this post is to me. I see it has really struck a chord with many others as well. The vulnerability you have shown is helping me to be able to be more vulnerable and I have been in hiding for a very long time. It feels good to step out from behind the curtains a little bit. Please continue with these type posts on vulnerabilty & shame. As the Mastercard commercial says “priceless.”

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Dear Charlotte,

      I’m so sorry for taking this long to approve your comment. I’ve been on vacation and have only returned to the office today. Since my software feeds me the comments in reverse chronological order, yours was the very last one!

  38. Rhonda says:

    Dear Dr. Burgo, your article and description of how you went through a process of dealing with shame is an excellent example for me to not give up and remember that I can learn to tolerate and shift emotions to a healthier plain. The reason I am attracted to your research and your articles is that I have finally given myself permission to not find a cure and instead navigate through life learning to cope with my feelings when triggered. I really appreciate your research and years of experience being shared with others. It’s truly unique and refreshing to have a professional help others by disclosing their own experiences. This is I believe a truly humanitarian gesture. So many who seek psychological help feel ashamed that they have that need. Your article gives me a feeling of dignity knowing that it’s very appropriate and it takes courage and determination to get help. I am looking forward to your next book. So many families don’t heal due to shame. This I feel just perpetuates the next generations cycle of dysfunction.

    Thank You for being genuine!

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You’re welcome! And my apologies for taking so long to approve your comment. I’ve been on vacation and only returned to the office today.

  39. elise says:

    excellent! thank you for sharing…i have found that i need to be careful about using email and the internet for communicating, sharing and giving/receiving opinions…it is NOT safe…but these painful situations do serve us if we wish to understand ourseleves and grow.

  40. Gracie says:

    It is incredibly brave of you to share this experience with the world at large. It can be quite difficult for me to share such experiences in group therapy or individual therapy, so I view your ability to not only sit with your shame, but also to describe the experience so vividly to us, as a great model of what to shoot for. You speak of the feeling that your thoughts were flying off in different directions – at times I have literally taken off, left the room, during a therapy session – especially group, where I’ve been exposed to a bigger audience. Frequently I didn’t even know what had caused me such pain. I’m learning to tolerate the feeling and pause to wonder why I am reacting so strongly, but it’s awfully hard. It really helps to see how someone with your knowledge and experience processes this kind of thing. Thank you.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      When your thoughts fly off in different directions, I think it’s related to the fight-flight mechanism. We’re trying to escape the pain.

  41. Roxanne says:

    Thank you very much. I’m not just saying this because you — like me — can be a strong person with vulnerable moments — I’m saying this because I mean it. — You nailed it. That’s me….right down to the mother dropping me emotionally. (don’t get me started, lol.)
    I just want to thank you for offering this insight. I believe it will be a great frame of reference as I go forward.

  42. baaoobaab says:

    I am wondering why you felt humiliated because of that one very special “mean spirited” comment, because on the other hand there are always plenty of sensitive, respectful and sympathetic comments from understanding readers who really appreciate you and the effort you make to analyse and share your different emotional experiences.

    It has always been very interesting for me to read your posts about your personal and deep emotions. It is also the first time I am faced to true feelings of a therapist and beside the fact that being trusted makes me feel good, it gives a very strong image of your personality and seems like you truly accept your self .

    Since I read about the defense mechanisms in your book I tend to consider revealing your feelings for public also as a struggle with shame : a way to confront some fears and painful experiences as well as an exercise of self-affirmation. I really appreciate that, it should be a difficult exercise. Of course I do not mean to underestimate neither your passion for writing nor the multiple advantages I could take from reading your blog because for me it is also an online therapy.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I think that such feelings of humiliation go hand-in-hand with the kind of basic shame I write about. It doesn’t last — it’s almost like a reflex.

  43. Aunty Leroy says:

    Oh my what a great post! If we just look at the words in your blog Dr Jo and the words chosen by the bloggers, the ones that come up time and again are: courage, bravery, vulnerability, love.

    Let’s take the word courage. The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage literally had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has actually changed, and today, courage is synonymous with being heroic or performing brave deeds regrettable more often than not just in the sports arena.

    Please continue to speak your heart, it really is authentic courage and it encourages me, gives me heart to continue with my therapy as I am sure it does so many others. You know just when I think I can’t ‘stand ‘ the shame and wish to ‘run’ with my self-defenses into perfectly magical cure land, its so inspirational to know that I am not alone, it is possible to ‘sit ‘and bear with those shame infused negative feelings, it is possible to live well when depression has been a default state for so long. Yep it can be dispiriting to be attacked by shame after so much hard work and to know it won’t be for the last time. But hey you were able to hang out with shame, let it pull up a chair next to you, climb all over your lap – and wait for it to leave – all with patience and grace. ‘To speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart” You are intelligent and loving. Depression , shame and bloggers who behave cowardly will tell you otherwise but they can lie. Faith of the heart and strength of the soul – go Jo you good thing go. Hoping you have a happiness attack by reading through some of the well considered and appreciative responses to your post.

    Aunty leroy

  44. Temperance says:

    I couldn’t put myself out there like you have if people know who I am. And it’s for the exact same reasons you have discussed. You are doing tremendous work that I think will help many people. I know it has for me. I am learning that when someone attacks you like that it may be because you have raised feelings of vulnerability in that person that she/he can’t face and shooting you down is a defense. I try to keep that in mind when I feel attacked. It’s hard to do, though. I’m sure your video was good. If you have struggled with something it means there are others out there who have struggled with the same things and can relate.

  45. Alina says:

    I hope not to offend you, but I genuinely envy someone who can consider a trivial internet comment to be a cause of great shame. In my 21 years I’ve watched a parent die, been sexually assaulted by a family “friend”, kicked out of my house as a teenager, homeless for 7 months, and am finally now getting things together a bit! Secretly I am glad you feel ashamed, not because I mean you any harm Dr.B, but because I think it is important for therapists to struggle with their emotions. It may give you better perspective to counsel clients. I have had terrible experiences with therapists (6 have rejected me so far, the last one simply told me after 1 session to check into a hospital and refused to see me after that). I think if all of those therapists struggled with shameful feelings, they too would be more sympathetic. Basically your strong emotions make you a better therapist (or at least I hope they do!).

  46. Sophia says:

    Hi Joseph,
    I’ve posted here before about other topic. Your posts speaks volumes to me and to other readers as well. My therapist of 7 years and I have come to a disagreement over scheduling and communication. I had told him that I thought that my therapy was taking too long. He did not seem to like that and told me that he did not think that. I did not press him any hard to find out why he didn’t think that 7 years is not long enough. Then, in another session, I also told him that I was interested in past life work. After these conversations, he started to act aloof and cold which prompted me to “disappear” for 3 months. The problem was that I started to miss him a lot and wanted to go back to therapy with him again. After sending him many e-mails pleading him to see me again or at least provide me with an explanation for his “unofficial” termination, he finally contacted me saying that he’d be happy to see me again. What does it has to do with shame? A lot. I’ve realiazed during those three months away from therapy that I did want to run away from him because I did not want to disclose my most shameful memories of childhood. I’ve developed strong feelings for him and I did not want to “disappoint” him. But by reading your post, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve reached a plateau in therapy with him because I didn’t do a lot of work on shame. I’ve since then “confessed” my feelings for him and have also disclosed painful memories of childhood. My shame was double: client has feelings for the therapist and has shameful stuff to tell. Fortunately I also was able to bear with the raw feelings in the session and NOT feeling rejected by him. Since then I’ve been feeling so much more free and whole. I want to continue to be brave enough to tell him more and more of my shameful self because I’ve avoided it for 7 years and it did not help me. If I can feel free enough to open up to him without fear of being rejected I know that deep inside I must be making some important gains. I’ve also realized that he’s done a very long lasting work with me because spite of not hearing from him in a long time, I was able to open up to him again. The healing that takes place in his presence has the effect of transcending the four walls.It’s liberating to purge your toxic shame! (note; when you say that you’ve a full practice I really feel jealous of your clients – what a privilege to be treated by you).

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Your experience of finding the relief and freedom on the other side of acknowledging shame speaks to me, as well. Once you can bear it, the shame feels much better than the defenses against it.

      • Anonymous says:

        I am trying to wrap my arms around this. When you say, once you can bear it, does that mean feel it, accept it? If so, one needs to feel the pain and eventually if goes away? Sorry, I’m stuck.

        • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

          No feeling lasts forever. Defending against awareness of a feeling causes more problems than it cures. If we can learn to weather our shame attacks without defending against them, the pain eventually goes away.

  47. Susan T. says:

    I thought that the way you sat down to bear your experience was super sweet, as if you were putting yourself upon your own lap somehow. Maybe your experiences as a parent gave you that idea. I don’t know, but it encourages me to try harder. To sit with that sort of storm inside and get through it is incredibly hard work.

  48. Becky says:

    Joe, trolls are trolls. They live for the thrill of making others feel “less than,” and to shame and get a reaction out of those they torment. This person’s remark wasn’t, obviously, an attempt to connect or understand, so it has no value. As someone with a TED video and millions of snotty, self-serving attempts by trolls to get to me, I have experience with how to deal with them—ignore them. They don’t know you, don’t want to know you and don’t care what your response is as long as it is one of pain, rage or defensiveness.

    It’s not your business what other people think of you. Don’t let them get inside your head. Just delete their comments and focus on the people who do get you, appreciate you and who do want to engage in a meaningful manner.

    Everyone is not going to like us. Pick the people who matter and engage with them. The others don’t matter. Don’t even waste your time reading their comments. Once you see it’s rude, delete it. Don’t read it, don’t agonize over it, don’t try to be civil. Just kick them to the curb with a keystroke and move on to those people who matter. You can’t save or help everyone. Work with those you at least have a chance with! I appreciate you and your honesty. We need more courage and more vulnerability and you have both. Good for you!

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Great advice, Becky. I can do that AFTER the initial reaction, which kicks in before I know it.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Hi-I was born a victim and will die a survivor. I recently broke through my shield of denial and accepted my father was a malignant narcissist; a difficult, but liberating realization. I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and the feels of unworthiness I have lived with for so long. If you would, could you give me your definition of shame. Are you equating feelings of unworthiness as the same thing as shame? Or is one the result of the other? I have made so much progress but sometimes still, when dealing with another narcissist or just a difficult person, those feelings of self doubt come right back to the surface.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I’ve written many posts about my views on shame. Try this one. All of the posts about shame are grouped together under the heading Shame/Narcissism in the menu to the right.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you! Do you think we can away get away from feelings of shame even if we do understand it intellectually? It just seems to rear it’s ugly head from time to time and I don’t know how to deal with it. Any suggestions?

        • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

          Keep reading. I’ve written a lot about this subject.

          • Anonymous says:

            I will, please direct me. I have worked hard to be where I stand today. I have new found boundaries in place and have finally learned the the difference between being selfless and selfish. This, for me, is huge!

  50. Oonagh says:

    Hi Joe
    It’s about the internalized bully perhaps? One lazy sick dishes your post and you buy into it straight away despite many positive comments?? It’s perhaps ok you know to not get it 100% right all the time ie let’s say you hooked in because you really believed the nasty commentator had a point. What would you say to a person you love or a client you are very fond of if they experienced that?? Fu face commentator gives you a gift maybe – it helps you grow because of what you do with the abuse comments unlike the commentator who probably sits sewing in envious rage at your progress;-)
    AW Joe, your client was having rage/ shame attack too – it’s perhaps why he challenged the therapy and interpretations! if he really felt that way deep down he wouldn’t bother engaging- he would just move on. He was testing you because you ARE very important to him. Has this emerged since? Lets hope the reader who attacked you is in therapy looking at his/her shame and inadequacy behind the attack! If not as Warren said ‘suck ‘em ‘

  51. K says:

    one of my strongest responses to shame-attacks, as it were… is telling myself very clearly “you are never trying to hurt anyone. to the contrary, you are working to make life better for yourself and those around you. your intention is to do all you can to make the world generally a better place, even when you foul up and make a mistake.” alas, i have had more crushing, crippling shame attacks than i care to remember. i continue to make myself vulnerable to new experience and situations though, as i know that retreat historically (for decades) has prevented me from personal growth and success. the fear is always present, but i am usually able to convince myself within a couple of hours of any “incident” that the suffering is a function of my own perspective . absolute acceptance of personal responsibility for my feelings is the best response i have found, even when it crushes my spirit for a (relatively speaking) short period of time. godspeed, everybody. i gain strength from the number of voices similar to my own here who are brave enough to delve into the intricacies of our own mis-development. thank you.

  52. Elizabeth says:

    This is an article I will be bookmarking for future reference. Thank you for your vulnerability and courage in writing about one of the hardest human emotions to endure. As a therapist in training (grad student) who is concurrently committed to my own therapy/healing/growth I find shame to be one of the most challenging, horrifying, least talked about (but perhaps most needed to be) topics in psychology/therapy/life. I loved how you wrote out your process of sitting with the shame, what it stirred up, and how you survived – and most importantly the strengths that came from the whole experience! It was really helpful in understanding my own process especially the piece about objective success feeling subjectively shaky or about to fall away and the relation to early childhood. That understanding has helped me in my own “shame attack” today related to grad school – Well said and an enormous thank you!

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      You’re very welcome. Good luck with your training and embarking on a career as a therapist. If you understand the importance of shame, you’ll be a great help to your clients.

  53. Diana says:

    Oy! I was hoping that enough book learnin’ and studying about emotions would allow me to think my way out of this hideous experience. Joe et al, I can really feel your pain and I appreciate your candor. You are right though, the broken trust and the bond with an all accepting mother (or father or someone) seems to be at the root of this baisc shame. I know you do a lot of work on shame, Joe, and I have been following Brene Brown for a while. Her female perspective about shame really hits home for me. Our culture is a culture of shame. So many of us feel shame and we come to workship those who seemingly have NO shame – about anything.
    I also loathe the “feedback” culture that insists that everyone give you feedback (thinly veiled criticism most of the time). It is agonizing for me to sit through “feedback”. But, I really think that there is some merit in systematic desensitization in this areas. Painful, but necessary to get to the “F ‘em” place – a good place to be. As a super sensitive person, ther eare times when such desensitization is ultimately very healing.

  54. Heidi says:

    Hi, Dr. Burgo. Just found this page after a sleepless night of shame attacks. Your willingness to share your own experience with shame triggers, and to see other commenters sharing theirs, has been so helpful this morning. It has helped me feel less alone, which goes right to the heart of the shame experience. So thank you for your vulnerability and bravery.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      You’re welcome. Sometimes it can seem like you’re the only one who experiences such intense bouts of shame and it really helps to hear from others.

  55. Terry says:

    Wow, how brave of you to share this vulnerability; I am grateful for your openness. I have internalized huge buckets of shame and after 5 and a half years of therapy I am just now able to begin to share this with my therapist, to whom I am deeply attached. The ebbs and flows of self esteem and shame continue to mystify me although I suspect that there is a setup in advance that may have something to do with exerting my assertive self.

  56. Mary K. says:

    Dr. Burgo,
    I just stumbled onto your site looking for information on denial as a defense mechanism. I am contemplating contacting you about therapy. In reading your shame attack post here, I wanted immediately to ask if you have read the works of Brene Brown? She is the most current shame researcher out there, and I love her books. Your vulnerability on this site is such a gift to all who read your writing. I also love the book by John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You. It is the best shame based counseling work I’ve read so far, along with Brene Brown’s current books. Shame really is at the heart of all of our fears, and if everyone could start with their shame, therapy would be a much easier process!
    Thanks,
    Mary K.

  57. Julie says:

    “When basic shame takes root so early on, you can’t fully erase its effects.” This sentence rather unsettled me. I was in the process of looking for a way to be rid of shame forever and ever, to completely wash the slate clean. In part I can see where this arises from perfectionism, another facet of my own shame that made it unacceptable to make mistakes and to be imperfect. This has created a vicious cycle where shame is seen as the “imperfection” that must be eradicated. And who or what seeks to eradicate it but shame itself. The inability to eradicate it leads to more shame. Shame begets shame, and on and on it goes.
    I’m sitting with the realization that “what if there’s no getting rid of it?” On the one hand, I’m panicking at the thought… forever damaged, oh my god! But on another hand I can see where maybe there’s peace there, to just accept myself as I am, warts and all, and let that be OK. To seek to do my best without having to be perfectly healed, or perfectly whole, or perfectly anything. Perhaps to be tarnished or blemished is only natural and human. And maybe I don’t have to feel so apologetic for being a faulty and imperfect human being.
    If I was never free of the shame completely, like an alcoholic at AA who always on some level considers himself an alcoholic, what would life look like for me? In some ways I have so deeply absorbed the sense of shame that I became it, like it became my very identity. And all this time attempting to be rid of it, no wonder I was suicidal at times… because shame and I were one, and in killing one meant killing both. In allowing both to live, maybe the identity structure can relax a bit. What resists persists right?

    The more I sit with this, the more I see how helpful that statement is. I detected a knee-jerk reaction, when I first read it, that went “noooooooo!!!!”, and I figured that was good to look at. Glad I did.

    Thank you, your contribution is very helpful!

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Your description is just the way I think about it. Perfectionism really is the problem. What’s so awful about recognizing you will struggle with certain issues your whole life? If a person had a physical disability and always had to take it into account, would you consider her life pointless and without value? Of course not. We all have our limitations and we do the best we can in light of them.

  58. Ashamed says:

    Thank you for sharing this.
    I didn’t see the video but have a thought, maybe a silly one. I think the most beautiful things about humans are the quirky, awkward, genuine human fumblings and strivings made out of love. I think sincerity is beautiful. Plastic polished people often make me super nervous or bored, especially when they are evangelical. I tried to share a heartfelt story with my mom about an experience where my heart was moved into an overwhelmed awed awkward silence in the presence of a childhood hero. She lectured me about some corporate class that teaches people rules about how to speak boldly and confidently to CEOs etc. Sometimes I think perfection misses the entire point of being human with other humans. There’s something a little sweet about having an awkward story to share with someone who will love the love in it. And maybe even love the awkwardness. I hope that makes sense to somebody.
    I am in the middle of a rupture with my therapist. I’ve been in a tornado of shame, terror, despair, even rage. I’ve been desperate to assert my voice in a strong but respectful way but I don’t know, I feel like a crazy person or a screaming baby. It breaks my heart to think I am causing my therapist feelings of shame and inadequacy. I wonder if he and I are feeling some similar things right now. It’s so hard, I feel we are tumbling around in a wind tunnel reaching for each other’s hands. From my perspective anyway. I guess this is me not being able to sit with a feeling?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      It has been so long since you submitted this comment, I’m wondering how it turned out with your therapist. I hope you two found a way to be together in that shared experience.

      What you say about sharing awkward experiences/heartfelt stories rings true to me. The problem, as you point out, is that it takes two people willing to accept authentic experience for it to work.

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