Many Faces of Shame

Shame came up fairly early in my counseling.  I was given a book about shame and tried to explain that there was shame and toxic shame only there isn’t a different name for toxic shame so there is shame that is good for you and shame that is bad for you but no wait maybe they should say the shame that is good for you is remorse, but that isn’t quite right either and shame isn’t always shame… was no small wonder I wanted to throw the book across the room.  It was confusing in a situation that was already overwhelming for me.

Back to basics…. this is from the computer dictionary.


1. a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

“she was hot with shame”

synonyms: humiliation, mortification, chagrin, ignominy, embarrassment, indignity, discomfort


1. (of a person, action, or situation) make (someone) feel ashamed.

“I tried to shame him into giving some away”

synonyms: humiliate, mortify, chagrin, embarrass, abash, chasten, humble, take down a peg or two, cut down to size

What it doesn’t tell you is about the many faces of shame.

Shame as a weapon.  In the verb definition, the sentence could change to “My abuser shamed me into _____________________.” Fill in the bank with whatever horrific thing comes to mind.  If I attempted to confront my abusers, the situation always was twisted around until I was feeling their shame.  Some how during the conversation turned attack all my abuse was my fault.  I got to the point that I would not confront anyone.

Distorted shame. The overwhelming shame of the smallest mistake.  The shame of getting a 99% instead of 100%.  Shame of buying the wrong product from the store.  The heaped on shame for minuscule errors that should be treated as oops try again.

Lack of shame. Without any shame it is not good either….Abusers/narcissists/psychopaths feel no remorse or shame for their behavior.  Often they feel totally justified and of course blame the victim.

Toxic shame comes in many therapy sessions with most client with PTSD/CPTSD the shame that not that they did something bad but the person is bad.  I was convinced that I was a bad person and didn’t deserve to live.  Devastating to reach this part because you believe there is nothing worth salvaging or fighting for.

In the article about best practices this is what they have on shame:

9.       Expect and be prepared to work with a variety of client responses, including a sense of shame which may not be readily apparent but which is frequently present and intense

Inability to self-regulate and to draw upon relationships to regain self-integrity engenders deep shame to which therapists should be attuned (`The feeling of shame is about our very selves – not about some bad thing we did or said but about what we are’; (Louis & Smedes, 1993 p.6)  `shame also expands the clinician’s focus from fear or anxiety to the sense of a damaged self’) (Ford & Courtois, citing Fiering, Taska & Lewis, 2002).

Oh yea….Intense is right.

If I make a mistake or do something to hurt someone else, shame can be a motivator to make corrections, apologize, and change my behavior.  It is about my behavior and not who I am.  Once the error is corrected or the apology is given then I let go of that awful feeling instead of beating myself up for the next 10 years for making the mistake, oh so long ago.  I need to correct my behavior than the shame needs to go.  Shame should only stick around long enough to motivate me to correct what I did wrong.  After that it is like milk left out on the table, it goes sour.

Shame is not a weapon, who I am, or a stumbling block.  It is a reminder that I am human and I make mistakes and hurt people and do dumb stuff that I can improve and correct mistakes, be kinder, and become wiser to make better choices.




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