Pride and the Healing of Shame

Because I write and think so much about the psychology of shame and its toxic effects, I’m often asked about overcoming shame, to explain how one “recovers” from shame, or whether I have any guidance about “healing shame.”  My answers in the past have felt inadequate to me, but a recent session with a long-term client helped me bring my thoughts on this issue into focus.

Stan, a middle-aged married man, has struggled with unbearable shame for most of his life and has relied on the typical defenses against shame described in earlier posts.  In particular, he relies on blaming as his primary mode of defense.  For example, he often rants in silence against his wife whenever they have a disagreement:  he’ll mentally complain about her behavior with a sense of grievance, blaming her for the argument.
This has been a life-long pattern in his relationships.  Behind his defensiveness, he has suffered from the sense that he’s emotionally damaged in some fundamental way.

During the economic downturn, Stan suffered some reverses in his business that have placed a great strain on his family, largely shifting the financial burden of supporting them onto his wife’s shoulders for the time being.  She hasn’t criticized him for what has happened nor complained about the weighty responsibility she now must carry.  She recognizes that the economic downturn wasn’t his fault but Stan nonetheless feels humiliated and defensive.  It taps into a lifelong feeling that he is damaged and ineffectual.

Recently, Stan has remarked on his wife’s increasing moodiness.  Even the smallest things seem to set her off; when they re-connect at the end of their work day, she instantly launches into an account of all the things that irritate her about her job.  She strikes him as angry.  Because he feels ashamed about his limited inability to contribute financially, he tries to be as supportive as possible but finds these “bitch sessions” increasingly difficult to bear.

On a recent weekend before our Monday session, they had to spend much of their free time taking care of chores they used to farm out in better days.   His wife was in a “bad mood” nearly the entire time.  Though he kept his thoughts to himself, Stan was ranting about her inside, complaining about her moodiness and the way she couldn’t seem to keep anything to herself.  Why couldn’t she just “suck it up”?

Stan and I have worked together for a number of years; by now, he knows himself well.  He also understands his wife very well, and when he’s not railing against her or projecting into her, he can see her with clarity and compassion.  Over the weekend, it finally occurred to him that her complaints and moodiness were her way of expressing the anger she felt about the current difficulty of their lives  — anger at him, in spite what she has said about not holding him responsible.  In middle age, when she hoped things would have become less stressful and more financially secure, she has to work harder and with greater anxiety about the future.  While she doesn’t consciously blame Stan for what happened, she feels angry at him all the same.  She knows he doesn’t deserve her anger but she can’t help but feel it, expressing it indirectly through “complaints” and “moodiness”.

On Sunday evening, Stan sat down with his wife and told her what he thought she was experiencing. He said it in a straight-forward, sympathetic and non-critical way.  He told her that he found her anger completely understandable.  She immediately acknowledged that it was true, she did feel angry.  Thereafter followed a long conversation in which they came together as a couple and talked about their future in a constructive way.  His wife felt understood.  Stan felt relieved.  Nobody was to blame for anything.  Stan also felt pride and gratitude that he had the ability to understand himself and his wife in these ways, to respond constructively rather than defensively, with compassion instead of criticism.  He could see that his wife’s understandable anger had tapped into his own shame, stirring up the old defenses; if they had gone on in that way, it would have been destructive to their
marriage.

Stan’s shame and his wife’s anger didn’t suddenly disappear after that but instead became bearable for each of them.  His accomplishment was not in overcoming shame but rather in being able to tolerate it:  he no longer felt so overwhelmed by his shame that he had to defend against it.   In other words, the healing of shame means transforming it from something toxic and unbearable into an experience that is still painful but can be tolerated.  Toxic shame becomes non-toxic shame.  Toxic shame so poisons one’s sense of self that the usual remedy is flight into various types of narcissistic behavior, whereas consciously dealing with non-toxic shame and being able to bear it can generate feelings of authentic pride and self-esteem.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, this is the kind of psychological transformation that is possible.  You don’t “recover” from shame; you don’t “transcend” or “beat” it.  Instead, through hard work and coming to know yourself well, you can learn to bear your shame and earn your own self-respect by behaving in constructive and not defensive ways.

Finding Your Own Way:

Can you think of occasions when you saw yourself responding in characteristic and defensive ways but then you chose to do something different?  How did that experience make you feel about yourself?

Contrast that with a time when you knew you were behaving defensively, or blaming someone who didn’t deserve it.  How did you feel in that situation?  Can you see reasons why you were able to behave more constructively in one instance but not in another?

How about the art of the apology?  Think of a time when you were able to acknowledge fault in a completely unconditional way.  I behaved badly and I’m sorry.  How did that make you feel?  Despite the pain of acknowledging your fault, did you also feel good about yourself for doing so?

As I keep saying, it is not our feelings that cause the problems; it’s the defense mechanisms we use against them.  Facing up to painful feelings — including shame, hatred and anger — can lead to pride and self-respect if we’re able to tolerate those feelings and not simply act them out.

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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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51 Responses to Pride and the Healing of Shame

  1. sue says:

    thankyou so much for this – in my late 50’s I have only just found out why I feel and act the way I do – ashamed all my life and trying to find ways of dealing with it – finally to acknowledge what is/has happened is freeing and remarkable … I know it will be hard work and not an instant ‘cure’ – but I also know that I don’t have to stay angry and depressed – life’s looking good for the first time in a long time.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Glad to hear life is looking up. It’s true, there are no instant cures (and no ideal answers), but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a big difference with hard work.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I maybe getting a bit over excited here…. but Jospeph, is your work well known? if its not, it should be and will be very soon.

    In terms of treatment of mental health issues, i would say that diagnosis and medication is on one end of the spectrum, and one of knowledge, understanding and wisdom is on the other end of that spectrum. although i cannot argue with the use of medication in some cases, i believe that mental health sufferers as a whole are desperate for a shift towards the other end of that spectrum, and you are assisting with that brilliantly.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks, Jonathan. Over the summer, I think I’ll try to organize the material on my website into a book. Once I do, I’ll have to figure out what to do with it. In the meantime, I derive a lot of satisfaction from my writing here and interacting with site visitors like you.

  3. Evan says:

    My thought is that there may be some things that are inappropriate to feel shame about.

    Maybe bearing shame about these things is not required.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Yes, I agree. I was talking about the kind of shame that relates to a fundamental sense of emotional damage, but there are other kinds of shame as well.

  4. Brenda G says:

    Something clicked for me when I read this – something I just didn’t get before.

    I was telling my therapist about a time my father’s reaction to a situation was hurtful. I was 4 at the time of this incident and the situation had a huge impact on me as well as his response to it (or lack there of).

    Something she said to me was that he “passed his shame onto me.” I know really get what that means….in those moments of the incident, he didn’t know how to handle it any other way…he couldn’t put himself in my shoes, or even begin to apologize. He just walked away as I stood there sobbing.

    I’ve read a lot about shame. it seems while i;m reading about it I get it….but later can’t exactly describe it. Right now – I’m just happy that I now have a better grasp of it…..as well as the importance of understanding my own moments when it hits…and my choices with how to respond. Great post.

  5. Your insight into transforming toxic shame into non-toxic shame through tolerating our discomfort is excellent. Your thoughts on our ability “to respond constructively rather than defensively, with compassion instead of criticism”, thereby, gaining feelings of self worth and self empowerment through this transformation, is so encouraging and uplifting. Also, I saw in your reply to Jonathan that you were thinking of compiling your writings into a book and was glad. The last time I was reading your posts, I was thinking, “there is so much here, he should really put all of this together in a book”! Really, I was, …. I think you should go for it!

  6. Barry says:

    I agree with Jonathan (and others, I’ve noticed). There is a common-sense and clarity to your writing that just seems… trustworthy. If you do go for a book, I hope you do not abandon the website. The sense of an ongoing evolution of thought is for me very interesting and, again, seems somehow more trustworthy than what you sometimes get in books, with all the pressure to come up with the definitive, final “expert” word.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I look at all those books on the Psychology shelf at Borders, the ones that have the key to “conquering” this or “overcoming” that, and I wonder where I’d fit in all that formulaic pop psych. But I think I’ll give it a try.

      • Pixie says:

        The short answer is, you dont fit, so please dont write or market your book in that way.
        What you talk about IMO is a ‘third way’ of working with ones issues, one that gets away from labels and asks the reader to consider a more mindful and compassionate approach to themselves. To learn to be with what is, find acceptance for what has been and embrace what may be with confidence that they can survive.

        • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

          Thank you, Pixie. That is exactly my goal. I’ve decided to write something in e-book form, a very personal book that would grow out of the posts on this site, and try to describe how to do just that. I certainly won’t try to market it in any conventional way; I’ll probably just put it up on Amazon with a link from this site and see what happens.

  7. ClinicalTonya says:

    Tolerating discomfort, brilliant in it’s simplicity as a key component to transformation of shame. Coming out of an ego place, and finding a safe psychological place to empathize (not sympathize), creates a adaptive place to process defenses. In my own personal, as well as professional life, I see where the challenge is tremendously shame based, but it is masked in an external appearance of strength and high self-regard. Thank you, I appreciate your greatly needed contribution to shame based issues.

  8. TC says:

    When I saw this post, I saw shame blah blah blah, toxic blah blah…but then there was a real, live example, Stan. Suddenly this came to life for me. My husband is Stan’s wife! We’ve had some very difficult events in the past few years. I used to have a high powered career and now I don’t. My husband seems so grumpy that we’re renting an apartment instead of living in a beautiful house. He isn’t able to see the bright side or just live in the moment. He doesn’t see that I’m much more authentic and happier. It’s all so clear now that he IS angry at me, and rightfully so. Pretending that he’s not probably makes all this grumpiness just seep from his pores. I have to thank you for such insight and I’ll let you know how the Big Talk that we’re going to have goes.

  9. WJ says:

    I’m a little confused on basic shame and why it can’t be overcome. It seems that healthy people can recover from shame by doing better or associating with people who do not shame them. One strategy I’ve used to leave humilation behind is to face the same situation I failed in and do better. This is resilence. Then whenever I think of that shame, I also remember beating that, and I can move on. Second is to remember I also have strengths, not just weaknesses, and that I have people who do like me for who I am. This is very important for me in dealing with discrimination– which is a form of repeated societal shaming– due to my disability. My family fostered a very strong and positive self-image about being a worthy person despite my disability. Otherwise I loved the articles on shame– I’ve been dealing with a difficult person who has repeatedly tried to shame me over the year (I’m a graduate student.) I finally had to take it to the Dean so I could dissolve our professional association after this semester. I did not want to take any further classes from him again after majorly egregious behavior– not backstabbing, frontstabbing and blaming me. I talked to him after our last class and endured a lot of narcissistic blaming to make some very mild points about how I wished things had gone differently and that I didn’t want him to suffer forever. I ate a lot of anger in the process and… well his reaction was about I expected, but he did apologize which was good and I chose to leave on that note.That wasn’t unusual but still very strange to deal with. Is there any reason why toxic shame could become projected at any reminder of disability/difference? This isn’t the first or last time people have tried to shame me concerning my disability as a way to control me. This year was so bad I really started wondering if I had somehow declined in my social skills without me noticing, so I got counselling for the reality check.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      WJ, I think there are two different kinds of shame — one that comes from “shaming”, messages given from the outside, or related to *incidents* that we feel ashamed about. Those can be overcome/healed in the ways you describe. When I talk about “basic shame” I mean something different — it is the psychic residue of an upbringing where things went wrong, and the awareness that we have been damaged by it. I don’t think you can “overcome” or heal this in the same way as the other kind of shame, because I don’t believe that therapy or medication or anything else can “fix” all that damage. That’s not to say that it can’t become much less important and weigh less upon us. Developing ourselves and our abilities so that we also feel proud — as you suggested, and as I discussed in relation to my client, Stan — can go a long way. I’m just not an idealist and I fight against the overly positive messages that pervade the field of self-help psychology.

      • _____ says:

        What is the point of fighting if you can never win? If all we can achieve is “not quite as horrible as it was before”, what possible reason is there to fight?
        Maybe you are right, but I need to believe in the overly positive bullshit. Otherwise there just isn’t any point.

  10. Claire De Spore says:

    Can you think of occasions when you saw yourself responding in characteristic and defensive ways but then you chose to do something different? How did that experience make you feel about yourself.

    I am married to a brilliant man who seemingly has it together, owns his company and is highly successful in church and community affairs. I have realized over the 17 years of marriage the most important thing to him is adoration from others, financial abundancy and CONTROL. He suffers from an eating disorder, has bizzare unattachment to myself and the children and wants us to most of all household affairs. He makes close relationships with those that can promote him or will allow him to control them. I want to show him empathy but recently he denied my 16 year old the ability to see a counselor concerning anxiety she struggles to control. He said it runs in his family and she just needs to get over it. I want to respond to his lack of empathy in a different way and show him that he is not broken but when he denies my children the ability to recieve counseling and continues his mantra of I need to submit because it is God’s will it just makes me want to throw in the towel. I understand his neurotic ways are due to shame but am at a loss as to how to communicate this lovingly. How do you tell someone I empathize but do not respect your leadership?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      What is it that you empathize with in your husband? It sounds to me as if it’s very difficult to make any kind of authentic emotional contact with him. Do you only infer that he feels shame (you’re probably right) or can you actually feel it at work? As always, there’s not much you can do for someone who chooses to side so completely with his defenses. But you can certainly stick up for your kids and see they get what they need. Could you tell him that, while you respect his point of view, you disagree and will therefore will be taking your daughter for treatment? Or is that too much a violation of the terms of your marriage?

  11. WJ says:

    Ah okay. I was wondering, because certainly being openly disabled could be seen as a form of basic shame if you were raised that way. When you know you’re not alone in the problems caused by that and others struggle with similar issues, it does help a lot. I’m not an idealist either and I don’t believe a person can magically heal everything– and I don’t always think they should try. I think the most interesting trees grow crooked. The key is to achieve balance NOW, not in your past.

  12. Amanda says:

    Joe,
    What a great point about dealing with shame: constructing a picture of self with respect through addressing the real issues constructively instead of defensively.
    The penny dropped, definitely.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks, Amanda. I’m glad. From some of the other comments, I gather that the penny didn’t drop for everyone.

  13. What a refreshing and honest article. I agree that self-knowledge and self-acceptance are crucial to living a fully present life, especially with others! So often people think that any “negative” aspects of themselves must be eradicated: this would seem to create even more stress and shame. As your post clearly teaches us, it is far better to accept and heal.

  14. Michael says:

    I read a book on Anger. One of the types is called “Shame based Anger” It fits me. Your blog and the comments left by the fine people on here confirm what I have suspected for a long time. I’ve dealt with Depression off and on since college and believe the shame-based anger and feelings have a lot to do with it. I see myself arguing with people (including my wife) long after the argument is over. I’ve got to figure out how to deal with this issue.

  15. Anna says:

    Thanks for this article. I’ve been googling ‘healing from shame’, because I have only recently realized that is the name for this terrible shadow cast over my whole life and that often is the precursor to rage and withdrawal from my life. I am a survivor of severe ritual abuse in childhood and both my parents were highly critical, not affectionate and often humiliated and demeaned me. I am hopeful that just by realizing that this toxic thing, that was until recently nameless and just like a huge shadow over my life, is shame, I can begin to dismantle its toxicity. I would have blaming as a major defence, and would have what I called ‘acidic’ conversations in my mind where I went over and over past events of my recent life blaming and hating others for things that haven’t gone well for me or for times when I have felt very insecure. I see now that was all defences against my toxic shame. You ask:

    “”Can you think of occasions when you saw yourself responding in characteristic and defensive ways but then you chose to do something different? How did that experience make you feel about yourself?”

    Yes. In my appraisal this year my line manager said she does seem to do more on my cases when I am off/ I do seem to ask for more of her input than other caseworkers. This one critical remark was in the context of an otherwise glowing appraisal. Last year I picked up on the one or two critical remarks and drafted a long complaining email to my line manager about them. This year I nodded and looked thoughtful, mentally told myself that that one criticism didn’t undermine my excellent appraisal and that it was probably motivated by my line manager generally feeling overburdened and trying in any way to get us to interrupt her less. That experience made me feel more positive about myself – more self-reliant, less needy, less emotionally vulnerable to criticism and more self-assured.
    Thank you for this post, I will read more of your blog now.

  16. Vesta says:

    Thank you for this article and for all your articles on this site. I only found you today when I googled ‘signs of depression’ to get some sense if my husband might be “depressed”, a word he doesn’t like. From there I found myself becoming immersed in the concept of ‘projection’ and then finally, shame. I’m very interested in looking at what lies within the sub-conscious, as well as looking at the reasons for some behaviours which can be baffling and upsetting. So often I find that perfectly loving people also have the capacity to be very angry, to project; to be defensive when one gets close to any areas that could well relate to shame. I have wondered if this ties in with their need to be perfect in their own eyes and that the person who advises them of any error they have made has to be temporarily annihilated for doing the thing that causes them so muh pain. Hence, commuication with them becomes closely monitored for fear one steps on the bomb again. Given that one can read and research and analyze one’s own responses and feelings and use mindfulness to be aware of any behaviours that could be destructive, but cannot do any work for the other person, how does one get the other person to begin to face up to their painful feelings?? Apart from being a good role model, sympathetic to their pain and observant of one’s own responses, I really have no idea how to get into that painful world of the other, most especially when the thought of therapy is so repugnant to them. I can’t thank you enough for this site. It is simply wonderful.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      The simple, unfortunate answer is that you can’t help someone else to face up to their painful feelings. They have to want to do it themselves. And your idea about why people want to annihilate you when you challenge their perfect self-image is entirely accurate.

  17. Nora Waller says:

    I am so completely thrilled by the information on this website that I just had to write. I have been married to a man for over 25 years that is the poster child for basic shame. For the first time in 25 years we both feel excited and positive that things can change for him and for our marriage. I feel compassion for him now that I understand what may be going on inside. Now he faces the challenge of finding a therapist that can help him with this as we live in a small town.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Nora, I’m so glad you wrote and told me. It is a challenge, finding someone in a small town, and not everyone understands and works with shame in the way I do. If I can be of any help, feel free to write to me: afterpsy@gmail.com

  18. Tara Rockney says:

    I feel like I am fighting my shame. Even if I don’t act out today or tomorrow, that it will eventually win, it always has. Are you saying that I should be proud everytime that I don’t act out, that I should be proud of myself and not just white knuckle it till next time? I understand what you are saying as a whole yet I feel I’m missing a middle step.

    WKT

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      In my personal experience, I do find that when I’m able NOT to react in some way that is a response to my own shame — by not blaming someone else, say, or not behaving in a narcissistic way — I feel better about myself. But I don’t experience it as “white knuckling”; it’s more like I feel better able to tolerate myself, to feel the shame and not simply react against it. That does make me feel something akin to pride.

  19. Cecily Almon says:

    There are people that can shame us. No matter what we do, they make us feel bad about who we are and what we do. In my case, that would be my mother. She was a therapist for years and I believe in the psychiatric ward she perfected her ability to “mortify” patients as a way to keep them under control. I have tried to help her for the last ten years, but after recently realizing that she does not want me to be ME, I have decided not to help her anymore. She wants me to wait on her hand and foot, and yet she has cut me off from any funds and says when she dies all the money will be gone. Every attempt that I make to get a job, even a freelance job, she belittles and tells my very successful sibling about it in a mockingly negative light. Recently, a lightbulb went off in my head. I don’t have to talk to her anymore. She and my father were therapists and made a great deal of money on the misery of others.
    She can afford to pay someone else to help her and she can dump her narcissistic shame on them. Or, she can go to a nursing home and the nurses can shame her.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      It sounds as if getting some distance from your parents is an excellent idea. At that point, you’ll have to deal with the residue of their shaming, the way it has been internalized, but at least they won’t be around to “mortify” you even further.

    • Stephen says:

      Cecily, I was moved to tears by your comments. One can never fully understand how another person feels, yet so much of what you say finds echo with me – I’ve just posted about my own experiences. If it is any consolation to you at all in your pain, may I say that the tears you made me shed certainly helped me with mine. I sense again that there is a way forward. As the Buddha said, suffering is inevitable; misery isn’t. Thank you.

  20. Stephen says:

    Just found your site after doing a longish mindfulness exercise on my own feelings of searing, terrifying shame. Your comments, and those of many of your correspondents, strike so many chords with me. Sometimes the sense of shame that comes on me feels like a powerful punch in the stomach, at other times it’s like a convulsive, hellish burning. In fact when I got caught up in abusive religious stuff when I was younger terrible images of Hell would sometimes shoot into my mind. Why? There were many shaming factors in my childhood homes, but with the help of others I’ve come to realise that my mother had a personality disorder. She had a look – a look of cold, annihilating contempt – that could make me feel as though my insides were turning to water. Same with the way she would say ‘You FOOL’ – with a lingering, almost loving disgust in the way she pronounced the word. Your advice, and particularly your suggestion that this can’t be miraculously cured, but can be understood and lived with – that ‘toxic shame’ can become simple, manageable ‘shame’ is one of the most truly hopeful and encouraging things I have ever read. Thank you.

  21. Steve says:

    Reading your articles about shame and dealing with it, I found a lot to agree with. The important one for me is the fact that we are never “cured” of our “problems” but we learn to live with them. When I am looking for an ultimate solution, the off button for my suffering or other such miracle solution, I tend to think of a story of the Dalai Lama
    – One day an old monk visited him and said that he hurt after doing sport. The Dalai Lama told him that no doubt at his age he should probably think of giving up the sport. The monk went away and comitted suicide. When asked by a journalist how he had “got rid” of the pain and guilt, he replied that he hadn’t, that it was there and always would be, but he had learnt to live with it.
    I think living with shame and our emotions is a little like this – we will never be free of them they will always be there and we can simply learn to live more comfortably with them.
    This thought helps me when I’m suffering, because it helps me stop fighting the suffering and in so doing make it worse!

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks for the story about the Dalai Lama, Steve. It’s a really good example of what I talk about, and what you seem to be living. And as you say, it’s the efforts to evade suffering (and shame) that make it worse.

  22. Sfh says:

    I’m a bit confused re the extent things can be blamed on shame. Years ago I read John Bradshaw and realized shame as an issue I needed to address. I veer more towards the achiever, who tries to do right, rescues, fixes is hypervigilant and married a very shamed based man who revealed himself later as highly narcisstic/bpd and lazy (somewhat due to untreated ADD). He had doting, spoiling parents and a very brutal drug addicted older brother he idealized. We’ve been separated 7yrs (his choice) for s long time and claims he wants to be married but actions are a 180. When I express justifiable anger, hurt, frustration he shows no empathy nor remorse/repentance. Given he’s always been a slacker he threatens to take me to the cleaners in a divorce. It’s like being married to a 4 year old. I’m at a loss re how to manage what seems like reasonable fear, anger and heartache on my part oath someone so stuck in his dysfunction. He’s been going to AA and therapy on and off for years and all I can tell is it provides a social outlet. What am I missing? Apart from fear and injustice of all this, why am I so stuck? Thoughts appreciated.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I’d have to know a lot more before I could tell you what you’re missing. I’m also not sure what you mean by your opening sentence since it doesn’t seem to have much to do with what comes after. I guess I’m not really sure what you’re asking.

  23. Sfh says:

    Sorry I was so unclear. Guess I’m trying to figure out whether I got myself into this predicament and can’t get out of it because of shame. I’ve had marriage counselors and clergy tell me getting out of this marriage is plenty reasonable. But the collateral damage he may cause and my failure in trusting someone who revealed himself to be so untrustworthy and narcissistic has increased my shame to where I almost feel I deserve to be punished for the mistake. I know that doesn’t make rational sense. So I wonder is it shame making me this stuck or is it something else?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      It’s hard to say for sure, but it does sound as if shame is at the root of things. I think that the partners of narcissistic people often struggle with issues of shame, and also end up carrying the partner’s projected shame as well.

  24. jennifer a says:

    I wanted to take a minute to thank you for your words in this post. It’s amazing how something that was posted months ago can be a fresh word for someone today. I guess that’s why you need to pull it all together in a book, if you have not already done so! :-)

    I know that I have shame in my life, and have been working at denying its distorted assumptions of ME for some time now.
    Even still, this post was a great exercise in training to “get through” things rather than to react to them.
    The biggest thing that’s coming out of this for myself, is that I am simply too tired of it! I am 34, and feel that I have my whole life ahead of me and want to truly LIVE without letting shame make me 2nd, 3rd and 4th guess everything about myself-as if I’m not good enough, or smart enough to accomplish things that I want to accomplish.

    Thanks again for blogging. Its a great way for someone to grab a quick dose of “I needed to hear that” and get on with their day. :-)

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks, Jennifer. And yes, I have a book coming out next month. That one is about psychological defense mechanisms but the next book, already underway, deals exclusively with shame.

  25. Shame says William Blake is pride’s cloak. Bad guilt comes as a feeling of depression when we expect too much from ourselves and from our friends, relatives and family. Some people feel entitled to get something when there is no sensible explanation why they should get it. It is all about setting unreasonable high standards and then failing to achieve them. As far as shame is concerned, I feel there is no shame in being poor, black and low caste etc. but being ashamed of it is. One of the ways to heal shame is to replace shame with good guilt where you can do something about unacceptable things. Shame should be reserved, says Ann Patchett, for the things we choose to do, not the circumstances that life puts on us. I am asking to have sense of shame and not to feel ashamed. The Buddha said, “Whoever has done harmful actions but later covers them up with good is like the moon which, freed from clouds, lights up the world.”

  26. Vivian says:

    How do you heel from the shame of sexual abuse?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      That takes years, and probably the help of a psychotherapist, but I think one never fully recovers. That doesn’t mean growth and fulfillment are out of reach, but one will carry the scars for life.

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