One of the biggest and most powerful obstacles in psychological healing can be healing the feelings of shame. Shame is a powerful and insidious emotion. It hurts us from deep inside and causes us to forget our own strength and potential. Shame colors how we see ourselves and can even help us paint ourselves and our obstacles in a negative light. For example, some of us may feel ashamed for struggling with anxiety or depression. Although these obstacles aren’t our fault, we may still feel as though we deserve to be ashamed for having them. In situations such as these, feelings of shame can forgo any sense of reason or logic. Instead, shame is irrational and, ultimately, harmful.
The Magnitude of Shame
Shame is like a deadly virus. However, rather than attacking our immune system, shame attacks our capacity to love ourselves and one another. Repeated shamings can lead to the development of beliefs such as our own feelings are invalid. Speaker, counselor, and teacher, Dr. David Bedrick explains that “when we are shamed repeatedly, we are taught to think that our feelings are wrong and our experiences are delusive.” This can occur during childhood or even as an adult. Unfortunately, the result is the same either way: when there is no one with the necessary compassion to understand the validity of our stories and experiences, we may have a hard time believing them as well. This is the case even when we know our experiences to be true and authentic. Instead, Dr. Bedrick says, “we learn to distrust ourselves; we learn to deny our own truth, even to ourselves.”
Three Steps to Healing from Shame
Dr. Bedrick is a highly experienced practitioner of what is known as process-oriented psychology. This method is also known as Jungian psychology, as it follows the school of thought of famed psychologist Carl Jung. When it comes to dealing with excessive feelings of shame, Dr. Bedrick has found that transforming this negative mindset requires plenty of patience. However, more importantly, it requires the patient be willing to witness and listen in a truly powerful way – through seeing, feeling, and ultimately, believing. These three techniques are incredibly important for the overall healing process. Their significance and their roles in combating negative mindsets like shame are further explored below:
According to Dr. Bedrick, the notion of “seeing” is on that is heavily synonymous with respect. He breaks it down thusly: “ 1) spect: to see, to view, to look at; and 2) re: to do it again. To see in a way that heals shame, is to look and then look again—to see what is not seen and affirm the unseen with our physical and verbal recognition.” In other words, we must learn to see beyond the surface of any situation to truly what is going on. This isn’t an easy task, but it’s necessary to develop the proper perspective. Seeing can sometimes mean visualizing someone else’s emotional state, but it can also mean simply acknowledging how someone else feels and trying to understand why they’re feeling that way. This makes the feelings seem important, justified, and perhaps most of all – believable.
Dr. Bedrick says that “to combat shame, we also need someone to be moved by our experience. We need to not only ‘see,’ but feel and express those feelings.” To accomplish this, we must not only listen to these experiences but we must pay attention to our own feelings and how they respond. This is a necessary exercise in empathy. When someone relays a story of a time they were injured, we may respond visually by wincing, cringing, or furrowing our brow. These physical cues demonstrate that we are not only passively listening to their experience, we are also attempting to understand how they’re feeling by partially adopting their perspective. This response also shows that we are compassionate, which can contribute to an overall sense of validation. Causing someone to feel moved by sharing negative experiences lends those experiences a sense of much-needed legitimacy.
Speaking of legitimacy, one of the most important factors in dismantling shame is believing. Dr. Bedrick describes shame thusly: “Shame is a thief. It steals our belief in our experience and our belief in ourselves.” In this way, the only way to properly combat negative feelings like shame is by restoring belief, both in ourselves and others. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every word we say must be regarded as absolute truth. Rather, the deeper truth within our stories and experiences must be believed – the core of these experiences. More importantly, we must be believed in, not only by others, but also by ourselves.
Once again we return to the theme of justification. When we listen to an experience and offer our support without questioning its validity we are showing that we believe in that person. This can be an important part of their ability to combat their own feelings of shame and self-loathing. Belief without questioning in circumstances such as these is sometimes known as radical belief. Dr. Bedrick explains that “being radically believed changes something, because when people are shamed, not only do they experience not being believed from the outside, but they also stop believing themselves.” Conversely, radical belief can help them combat that sense of shame as well as help them develop a greater sense of self-love.
Shame Can be Treated and Healed
Together, these three pivotal qualities can help individuals realize their own significance and value. They also begin to realize that their feelings matter and are worthy of talking about. We deserve to be seen and heard. But most importantly we deserve to be understood. These qualities, whether practiced by friends in a casual setting, or by a therapist in a safe, protected one, can help alter the trajectory of someone’s life. They can heal shame, and allow us to grow in the ways we’ve always wanted to, but never realized until now that we deserved.