Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC
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Shame can be very damaging to your self confidence, self esteem and can affect you throughout life. My aim on this page is to help you understand why you might feel shame and what you can do about it. We will also look at the role that self compassion plays in shame and how it can help.
Shame is the negative feeling we experience when we judge ourselves or our actions to be unacceptable and something we want to hide from others. Self compassion, or being kind to oneself, lessens the shame, whereas being self-judgemental increases it.
The description above makes it sound simple, but it isn’t. If you are affected by feelings of shame, you will need some help and guidance to overcome it. So, let’s look at this in more detail and try to understand how this works and how practicing more self compassion can help.
Self Compassion can increase or decrease feelings of shame
According to this research paper, published in the Journal of happiness Studies in 2020, the level of self compassion is positively or negatively related to feelings of anxiety, shame and embarrassment.
Self compassion is being kind to yourself. But there are many aspects of self compassion we should think about including how it can help us to deal with life’s pain and emotions, and the shame that may come from this, and what it means to be more self compassionate.
Life’s Pain and Emotions
Life is full of difficult and sometimes extremely negative experiences. How we deal with those difficulties and the emotions they produce can affect our lives and behaviour deeply. For example, one very negative and common reaction to negative experiences is self criticism. Judging yourself negatively can cause isolation and shame (see this study by Boersma et al. 2015).
Inner criticism can get out of hand and affect your self confidence, self esteem and according to Gilbert and Irons (2005), it is also connected to depression, eating disorders, drug abuse and social anxiety. The fact that it also causes people to withdraw and become more isolated, makes it less likely that someone will get support and may suffer alone. It is always a good idea to seek help when confronting these challenges in life. In this helpful course you can learn how to overcome your inner bully and start to build confidence through self compassion.
Lack of self compassion can also cause social anxiety and loneliness (see Dreisoener et al. 2020). If this a problem for you, be careful. Withdrawing from social activity is not serious at first but can develop into a major problem if it continues. It also means that it becomes more difficult to seek support from others.
There are many causes of shame including body image, relationships, money, work, health, sex, religion, traumas such as abuse or disability, being labelled. Whatever the cause, self compassion can help.
One of the pain points that can result from shame is social phobia. If this is a problem for you, click this link to learn how to stop or reduce blushing.
What it Means to be More Self Compassionate
According to Gilbert and Irons (2009), if you have self compassion you will be able to reassure yourself and soothe your own anxieties. It is clear that this will be really helpful to anyone feeling shame, and will enable a person to better deal with it.
What skills do you need to be self compassionate? Self compassion includes the ability to accept oneself, understand one’s own feelings and mental state and to learn how to stop judging oneself (Gilbert and Irons, 2009). Basically, the most important feature of self compassion is self kindness.
How to Deal with and Overcome Shame
Shame is an extremely negative and disabling feeling that attacks confidence and self esteem. It is therefore very important to overcome it as soon as possible. So what are your choices in treating it?
Your choices are to either to change how you think about yourself, learn to accept yourself as you are or do something to improve your weak points. You will probably need help and guidance from a professional to get through this.
Let’s look at your choices in turn:
- Increase your self compassion. Treating yourself kindly and with compassion can stop self criticism and enable you to encourage yourself and accept who you are (Braehler and Neff, 2020).
- Change how you think about yourself – this involves being more positive and improving your self esteem. With more self esteem you’ll begin to view yourself differently. One great way to change the way you think about yourself is to try a proven technique such as self hypnosis – it is an incredibly successful technique – try this hypnosis download to help you look and feel more attractive now
- Accepting yourself as you are means learning to love who you are, including both your strengths and weaknesses. After you accept what you cannot change then you are free to feel better about yourself and this will raise your self esteem. Accepting yourself does not mean you can’t build on what you have or improve. Everyone has room for improvement.
- You may wish to improve how you look so that you can feel even better about your body. This is yet another valuable step in completely removing shame from your life. So what should you do to look better? Smile. Dress smartly and buy yourself something special to wear. Work on your posture so you look and feel more confident. Go to the gym and tone up your body. Take up a sport or activity which gets you outdoors. Eat healthy food.
You don’t have to stay locked in your prison of shame. Allow yourself to feel more self compassion and be kinder to yourself. Don’t let others tell you how you should look or behave, decide for yourself. Following these steps can free you of the burden of shame.
- Boersma, K., Håkanson, A., Salomonsson, E. et al. (2015). Compassion Focused Therapy to Counteract Shame, Self-Criticism and Isolation. A Replicated Single Case Experimental Study for Individuals With Social Anxiety. J Contemp Psychother 45, 89–98. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10879-014-9286-8
- Braehler, C., & Neff, K. (2020). Self-compassion in PTSD. In Emotion in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (pp. 567-596). Academic Press.
- Dreisoerner, A., Junker, N.M. & van Dick, R. (2020). The Relationship Among the Components of Self-compassion: A Pilot Study Using a Compassionate Writing Intervention to Enhance Self-kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness. J Happiness Stud . https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00217-4
- Gilbert, P., & Irons, C. (2005). Focused therapies and compassionate mind training for shame and self-attacking. In P. Gilbert (Ed.), Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy (p. 263–325). Routledge.
- Gilbert, P., & Irons, C. (2009). Shame, self-criticism, and self-compassion in adolescence. Adolescent emotional development and the emergence of depressive disorders, 1, 195-214.
Website Author and Your Guide
Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.