Deal with shame

Toxic Shame: Causes, Symptoms, and More

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

In this Article

  • What’s the Difference Between Shame and Guilt?
  • How Does Shame Become Toxic?
  • The Dangers of Toxic Shame
  • How to Recover From Toxic Shame

Toxic shame is a feeling that you’re worthless. It happens when other people treat you poorly and you turn that treatment into a belief about yourself. You’re most vulnerable to this type of poor treatment during childhood or as a teen. When you feel toxic shame, you see yourself as useless or, at best, not as good as others. 

What’s the Difference Between Shame and Guilt?

These two emotions are often confused with one another. You feel guilt when you know that you did something wrong. It can be a helpful emotion when maintaining relationships. Guilt can keep you on track when you’ve drifted from your moral standards.

But you feel shame when you believe you’re not enough, usually because parents or peers keep telling you so. Your confidence suffers from this deep-seated emotion that affects the way you see yourself. 

Guilt tells you, “That thing you did was wrong.” Shame tells you, “Because you did that thing, you’re a bad person.”

How Does Shame Become Toxic?

You probably have felt and will continue to feel shame at various times in your life. Shame can last a few hours or even a few days.

Toxic shame, though, comes from constantly being told you’re not enough. It results in negative self-talk that stays with you.

Toxic shame can start in the way you were given feedback for certain incidents as a child, usually by a parent. For example, if you wet the bed, your parent might have reacted in one of two ways:‌

  • They reassured you that it was all right and cleaned up without making a fuss.
  • They lashed out at you and said things like, “Why do you always do this? What’s wrong with you?"

The second reaction would probably have led you to believe that there was something wrong with you. Your feeling of shame can turn into toxic shame when the second scene keeps repeating. Other repeated phrases that can cause toxic shame, depending on the incident, are:

  • “Why are you doing it like that? You’re wrong.”
  • “What were you thinking?”
  • “You’ll never be as good as them.”

If you’re told these things often enough, you might start to tell yourself, for example, “I’m not worthy of love.” And holding onto feelings of unworthiness can be very damaging to your mental and physical health.

The Dangers of Toxic Shame

Shame is behind these two common symptoms:

  • Withdrawal. You might want to curl up in a ball and disappear when you feel shame. Shame makes us feel like we’re not good enough, and all we want to do is hide away.
  • Anger. Because you feel emotional pain, you become angry to try to aim your pain away from yourself.

Toxic shame has also been linked to substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm.  

These unhealthy coping mechanisms can serve as an escape from your emotional pain or inability to face yourself. ‌

You may also become a perfectionist or have unrealistic expectations in your attempt to avoid being shamed again.

How to Recover From Toxic Shame

It’s possible to overcome toxic shame and change the way you think. Self-compassion is key to the process. You also need self-awareness, mindfulness, and patience. Try these tips to overcome toxic shame.

Face the root of your shame. It’s important to understand and examine your feelings. Find the cause of your shame in order to move forward.

Become aware of how you talk to yourself. Try to observe your own thoughts but not react to them.

Have compassion for yourself. Everyone has flaws and makes mistakes. Even if it seems like your mistakes were huge, accept that you’re only human. Learn from the past, but don’t get stuck in it.

Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation can work wonders as you learn to observe your thoughts. Feeling shame forces you to react, so it can be very powerful to just notice your thoughts and question them.

Recognize when you’re feeling shame. Mindfulness can help alert you to when you’re feeling shame. If you are, mention it to a friend or partner. Shame thrives in dark places, so shine a light on it and watch its power fade away.

‌Seek support. A support network can give you an outlet to talk things out when necessary and boost your sense of belonging.

How to Deal with Shame

What story from your life makes you go into hiding?

What story from your life makes you go into hiding?

What story from your life makes you go into hiding?

Shame is a debilitating feeling that takes over the mind and body. It can make you feel small and incomplete while building walls around you to keep out compassion. Despite wanting to be seen and known, shame causes people to hide behind masks instead.  

Healthy shame vs. toxic shame

Shame is felt universally across countries and different cultures. Homes and schools use social shaming to ensure expected behaviors. While healthy shame is necessary to keep society intact and ethical, this isn’t what causes distress and pain in so many people. Healthy shame guides toward self-correction, making amends, and growth. 

Toxic shame, on the other hand, can be very harmful psychologically. It’s deeply absorbed in the nervous system (meaning, you feel it in your gut). Toxic shame is self-punishing and lingers on. Oftentimes, it uses negative self-talk such as, “I am such a bad person, I give up” (instead of “I did something bad. How can I fix it?”), “I am not good enough” (instead of “I am worthy just the way I am AND I can work on improving myself”), and “I am a failure” (instead of “It’s okay to fail. I am learning. I can try again.”). You learn these negative beliefs through shame-inducing caregivers, teachers, bullies, partners, friends, etc. This leads to feeling alone, disconnected, and more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors. According to Brene Brown’s research, shame is related to violence, aggression, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and bullying.   

How to step out of shame 

Here’s the truth about shame: the less you talk about it with someone safe, the more control it has over your life and psychological well-being. The fear behind shame is usually the belief that sharing your story and being who you are will make people think less of you. It fights against the human need for acceptance. 

Inner feeling of safety

One aspect of healing is creating an internal sense of safety so you can share your shame in the first place. If you don’t feel safe, you can’t share. You need to tell your story to safe people who will listen and not judge. Such safety is necessary to feel vulnerable. 

Talking to a therapist with whom you connect can start this process of feeling internal safety. If done successfully, all of this will lead to externalizing shame. Instead of “being shame,” shame becomes something external that you picked up and now are choosing to let go of. Externalizing shame is so empowering. Through it, you can develop more compassion for yourself and others in this process. 

Shame disappears when you tell vulnerable stories in safe environments. 

According to Dr. Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory, safety is critical for humans to function well, be creative, and connect with others. When people are gentle, this creates a space for co-regulation. For the connection between two people to be supportive and promote co-regulation of physiological state, the expressed cues need to communicate safety and trust. These cues of safety help calm the autonomic nervous system.  The calming of physiological state helps create safe and trusting relationships.

When your nervous system detects danger, you move from connection into states of protection. Shame tries to protect you from others because it falsely believes that they won’t like you otherwise. Your job is to show your nervous system that it’s safe and okay to share your story and that you are still likable and worthy. However, when you try to step out of shame, you may experience internal resistance in a form of negative thoughts and bodily reactions that tell you it isn’t safe to do so, even when you are around safe and supportive people. This is a trauma response and you need skills to soothe and manage it.

Distress Tolerance Skills

Another part of healing is developing distress tolerance skills—managing the uncomfortable emotions that arise when you choose to express your shame. To free yourself from shame, you need to share it and process it. Sometimes this is hard to do, even with safe, supportive people. The mind and body try to keep you safe by reminding you of all the things that could go wrong.

When you are dysregulated, it is difficult to be rational. Many of the coping strategies you use when experiencing overwhelming emotions only make your problems worse. Some of these unhelpful coping methods can include ruminating about past problems and mistakes, worrying about the future, isolating yourself, numbing with substances, or taking out your feelings on other people by getting angry and blaming them. As you can see, none of these are helpful.

Final Thought

What healthy coping skills do you have that soothe you when you are upset? Therapy can help develop these skills so that your journey of stepping out of shame is more tolerable. There are many distress tolerance skills you can learn with a licensed mental health professional, as well as processing the origins of your shame. 

The one truth to remember is that everyone can feel shame. You are not alone. Healing is possible.

More than 1 million monthly readers look to The Gottman Relationship Blog for proven advice from mental health professionals to build happy and lasting relationships. Subscribe below to receive our blog articles in your inbox every week.

Anna Aslanian, LMFT

Anna Aslanian is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the states of California, Florida, and New York. She’s the founder and director of a boutique practice My Therapy Corner. Anna is a Certified Gottman Therapist and a Bringing Baby Home Educator. Additionally, she is a Certified EMDR and Attachment-EMDR trauma therapist. She is trained in a variety of modalities such as Polyvagal Theory, Acceptance Commitment Therapy and more. Her specialties include couples/relationship work, addiction, trauma and anxiety. Anna provides consultations and supervisions to professionals as well as a variety of therapeutic services to clients. Visit her website, follow her on Instagram or like My Therapy Corner on Facebook.

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Shame and shame: why embarrassment and shyness prevent us from building communication with other people


Why do we blush or turn pale when others learn some facts about us? This fear usually hides other problems: fear, low self-esteem, fatigue from communication, difficulties in relationships with loved ones, lack of love and understanding. This summer, Alpina Publisher published a book by Danish psychotherapist Ilse Sand, where she talks about what shame is, how it arises and how to separate it from other emotions, what it can lead to and how to calm it down. In Denmark, the book has already become a bestseller. Inc. Russia publishes an excerpt.


It is not always possible for us to realize that we are ashamed. Often this feeling sits deep inside, and it is not customary to talk about it out loud. Shame is usually hidden behind other problems: low self-esteem, self-flagellation, fatigue from communication, and difficulties in relationships with loved ones. And it also happens that he disguises himself as anger or self-interest.

While working on the book, I tried to ask people the same question at the slightest opportunity: “Have you committed an act for which you are very ashamed? You don't need to talk about it, just answer yes or no." Many, timidly lowering their eyes, nodded with the words: “But I don’t want to talk about it.” Some, on the contrary, did not quite understand the essence of the issue. I had to rephrase: “Are you ashamed of something in your body? Or maybe you are hiding some character trait? Are you afraid to share negative emotions? Don't talk about your weaknesses?" After these leading questions, many joined the club of "anonymous ashamed." However, sometimes there was an opposite reaction: “I have nothing to be ashamed of! I have never been ashamed of anything in my life!”

Apparently, by these phrases they meant something else: “You will not shame me!” Although such people from time to time also find themselves in the trap of this feeling. It is important here to define what is meant by shame. We can talk about unconscious things, for example, a spontaneous reaction of the body: our eyes start to run or we completely look away.

As a priest and psychotherapist, I listened to many confessions that helped me understand how strong and desperate pain and loneliness can be. However, as soon as you talk about your problems, a miracle happens immediately, “healing”. A person takes a few deep breaths, his exhausted face instantly transforms, and his tense body relaxes.

Considering how relieved we feel when we talk about a problem, it's amazing how hard people manage to overcome themselves to share their pain. If they even find the strength to talk about such things.

At the age of thirty, I received my first spiritual order and began to communicate with priests who were fond of psychotherapy. In this close circle, we understood ourselves and each other on deeper levels. “You don’t look well today,” an older woman once told me. I have already heard such a remark addressed to me more than once, which pretty much bored me. Criticism was felt in these words, so I wanted to respond in kind: "My state is more dependent on your presence, and not on myself." Subsequently, I tried to avoid this woman and appear cheerful and energetic.

In my country, no one will ever support a tired person. You must be able to do everything and help others - only then will you be worth something. I could not understand if my interlocutor was hinting at this. At that time, I did not know that under the feeling of discomfort from criticism, there was a fear that hindered movement and aroused anger. It felt like I had lost control of my own mind. And instead of a confident smile, I lowered my gaze in shame, the muscles of my face began to twitch, my voice became quite quiet. My entire appearance reflected my inner mental state. It was as if the veil enclosing the inner world had suddenly fallen, leaving me alone with the harsh reality.

Many years passed before I found the strength to explore and accept my weaknesses, for which I used to be ashamed. Only then did I realize that it was precisely for this vulnerability that others appreciated and loved me.

Fear, as part of shame, is by no means always experienced with such force as I do. For everyone, it manifests itself to varying degrees - this will be discussed further. This book tells everything about shame in simple language: how it arises, how to detect it, what problems it hides behind, to what extent it can grow, what mood a person has at this moment and how to get rid of this feeling and gain inner freedom. The book is suitable for all lovers of psychology or self-development courses and is especially useful for those who feel misunderstood by society.

In a narrow sense, shame is the body's reaction to a possible danger. Some are afraid to reveal some secret. Others are completely constricted and can barely breathe freely. Whether you fall into the first or second category, the advice in this book will help you partly take off the heavy burden of shame and embarrassment. Yes, this feeling also has positive aspects: for example, it regulates our greed, preventing us from eating or drinking everything in the presence of strangers. But we will sequentially analyze the negative consequences of shame and ways to get rid of it.

The worst thing is that we are ashamed of shame itself and do not ask for help. I often come across people who hide in the shadows of their own loneliness and are unwilling to move forward in order to plunge headlong into a life of love and disarming sincerity.

Shame has harmful consequences. This is the veil behind which you try to hide from yourself and others. Little light penetrates behind it, so you can’t see the situation well and you can hardly communicate with others through a tiny window specially cut out for this.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this vicious circle. The examples of those who overcame their fears are contagious, they inspire and can encourage others to work on themselves. That is why I added real stories of people to the book who talk about their methods of dealing with shame and self-flagellation.

In these pages you will find tips on how to break the integrity of the impenetrable veil and create cracks in it through which light can penetrate, giving you the opportunity to look at things from a slightly different angle. And with clarity comes the realization that it is not at all necessary to listen to your shame. After all, when you feel misunderstood, the problem is not with you, even if feelings say otherwise.

It's all about the situation that caused this misunderstanding, and you have absolutely nothing to do with it.

After each chapter there are exercises that will help you better understand the nature of shame and sometimes even get rid of it. However, some tasks can cause you a surge of emotions, so before completing them, I recommend that you warn your loved ones in advance that you can suddenly call them and start talking about painful things. This need may arise both during the exercise and after.

There is a test on the last pages to measure the degree of shame. You can pass it before or after reading the book, or skip it altogether if you are not interested. But the longer you immerse yourself in a topic, the better you will be able to determine the severity of your feeling. After the test, there is information about the positive aspects of shame in case you get a high score. Shame will scream: “You are strange! Shut yourself off from those around you! Get to the bottom! Hide away from prying eyes! I hope this book will give you the strength to fight and start a full life in harmony with yourself.

Ilse Sand Hald Houvedgård, August 2020

Chapter 1: The Nature of Shame and Its Functions

We feel shame because of a lack of love or understanding. Karsten Stage, Ph.D., defined this feeling in his book. According to the professor, shame is related to the compensation mechanism, that is, thanks to it, a person or an object associated with him becomes invisible. This formulation helps to track the feelings that have arisen. If you are trying to hide from prying eyes, it is safe to say that you are ashamed of something.

Shame has several degrees (see the scale below). In the worst case scenario, we do not experience empathy at all and are extremely negative towards ourselves. The weakest form is manifested in short-term embarrassment or manifestation of shyness. There are also times when you cannot identify your own feelings until they completely disappear, or you only notice that you are trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

The higher you are on the scale, the more you feel the need to hide in a secluded place. At the same time, you can blush with shame or, conversely, turn pale.

  • Hatred
  • Self-flagellation
  • Fear of communication due to a sense of own incovered
  • Strong sense of misunderstanding in all areas
  • Feelings of misunderstanding in many areas
  • Feelings of misunderstanding in several areas
  • Fenses in relation to oneself
  • Awkwardness
  • Shyness
  • Shyness
  • Barely perceptible shyness
  • Awareness of one's own shyness

There are many factors that increase the feeling of shame. And they depend on the individual. For example, the problem may lie in all sorts of unacceptable, shameful or misinterpreted cultural characteristics, innuendo between you and relatives, partners, colleagues and other people. Some are very ashamed of some act, which others will seem like a trifle.

You may be tormented by a slip of the tongue, a stain on your shirt, or an emoticon that you accidentally sent to your interlocutor - although others did not really pay attention to the oversight and may even have advised you not to take it to heart.

Fear behind shame

Inside shame lies the fear of being exposed and excluded from society. Sometimes, with strong bouts of shame, our brain begins to function in the same way as thousands of years ago, when people lived in the wild. Expulsion from the tribe meant death, since a person became an easy prey for wild animals. Small children were also incapable of surviving alone. Suppose, at the moment when you are burning with shame, someone notices that you are nervous. You are immediately seized by a feeling of fear, and so strong, as if something threatens your life. And in fact, these fears are not unfounded. This applies to the history of mankind in general and your life in particular, and all because in those ancient times you were helpless and needed support.

Unconscious shame

Shame is hard to talk about. Often we are embarrassed by the feeling itself and the need to discuss it. Feeling lonely and useless, we sometimes do not understand ourselves that it is shame and embarrassment that sit deep inside.

Shame can easily coexist with acceptance of a situation. For example, you were fired and you seem to have reconciled yourself, but if you start talking about it, with a high degree of probability your heartbeat may increase, and your eyes will start to run nervously. The feeling of shame is so deeply rooted inside that even common sense is powerless before it. The nature of shame can be explored in two ways. The first involves determining the root cause of the feeling. In the second case, you need to go even deeper into yourself and find a source of shame that can at any moment make itself felt even because of the slightest mistake.


The following are situations and events that trigger feelings of shame. This is by no means a complete list, and it can be continued indefinitely.

In these cases, shame is associated with real things: for example, with a certain area of ​​the body, clothes, house or car, if they are dirty or when they are not tidied up.

Jakob, 56 years old

One day I forgot to zip up my trousers. The worst thing is that in this form I spent the whole lesson. I was extremely ashamed.

Merete, 45 years old

Three kilos overweight made me stop exposing my belly on the beach. And now, instead of a bikini, I have to wear a short dress, no matter how hot it is.

One can be ashamed of both negative and positive feelings. Who hasn't come across a situation where you try to hide your joy because it's out of place! For example, in the company of a colleague sitting opposite who earns less than you. However, shame is more often caused by negative emotions. Many people are afraid to show their nervousness in public. Such people try to hide jitters or sweat stains under the armpits. Do not forget about irritation, which also arouses a sense of shame.

Pia, 28

My boyfriend often gives flowers. At first it was a surprise. I really liked his concern. But over time, my enthusiasm diminished. Sometimes after another "gift" I can't even find a free vase. As far as possible, I try to look happy, but deep down, his flowers are more likely to cause irritation. I hope he never finds out about it.

Among other things, a person suffers from shame due to a lack of feelings. For example, the gift you received did not evoke the proper emotions in you, or, say, you cannot reciprocate the person who has warm feelings towards you.

Do you have a need that you don't want to talk about?

Ole, 55 years old

If I have to do something in the evening, I must get some sleep during the day. Fortunately, work can be postponed to a later time, so I sleep every day from 14:00 to 15:00. Only the wife knows about it. Extraneous sounds at the entrance to the room can wake me up, and I immediately begin to think that I forgot to lock the door. I would be very ashamed if anyone found out about this habit.

Or is there a desire that seems strange to you?

Morten, 57 years old

I love my wife very much, but other women can interest me so much that I want to be alone with them ... I really hope no one will ever find out about this.

You cannot choose your own needs and desires, so you cannot change them. And yet they can be associated with feelings of deep shame.

Finding yourself in an unpleasant situation (unrequited love, infertility, unemployment), try to imagine that others look down on you.

Jens, 59 years old

Living on welfare, I have become less frequent in the city. Questions about work drove me crazy. Sometimes, when the reluctance to tell the truth reached its climax, even had to lie. At such moments, I was very scared. I began to invent a profession respected in society.

Irena, 62 years old

Having become lonely, I stopped going out for a walk on Saturday evenings. Even despite the need for fresh air and movement. And all out of fear to flaunt their loneliness.

You may feel misunderstood or useless in situations that are out of your control or related to your weaknesses. It is at such moments that a person feels shame.

Having given birth to a child, many succumb to the temptation to become an ideal father or mother.

Lisa, 43 years old

Even before giving birth, I decided to become an ideal mother. I read a bunch of books on child psychology and did a lot of assignments. However, the reality turned out to be much more severe. I especially remember one evening when it was raining for the eighth day. I sat at home alone with the children and tried to cheer them up, and then I cried from devastation and impotence. I blamed myself for the bad mood that my children suffered from.

Sometimes a person burns with shame because of other people's actions committed towards him, although the offender should suffer. Examples include victims of incest and violence. Many are afraid of public censure, ignoring and boycott, fear that they will be rejected or ignored. It also happens that our problems were formed in childhood and many years must pass before we find the strength to talk about them.

Agnetha, 18 years old

As a child, my sister was constantly held up as an example. Dad praised her, calling her a diligent and calm girl. I had difficulties with perseverance and academic performance. But I always spoke only positively about my childhood. After all, for the most part, that's how it was. However, I never told anyone about this moment that made me a lonely child.

Similar situations arise in adult life.

Henning, 57

My wife will never know about my demotion at work. I only told her about my new duties, without saying that a younger colleague had taken my position, and I had been transferred to another, less prestigious department.

Because of bullying and humiliation, we feel our own worthlessness even more strongly, which awakens in us the desire to hide away from prying eyes.

Any form of impotence and helplessness can also cause shame.

Maria, 42

I had to go to work despite my divorce and several days of insomnia. I pretended everything was fine. But the smile looked fake, it was a pathetic attempt to hide a terrible psychological state.

Charlotte, 48

I am ashamed that I smoke and I do my best to hide it. Even on the way to my best friend's, I smoke outside her house so that she doesn't accidentally see me with a cigarette in my mouth.

Peter, 45 years old

After hearing a question from a psychotherapist about feelings of shame, I realized that the problem was not at all in insults addressed to me. I just didn't know how to protect myself from them.

Often the feeling of helplessness promises discomfort and embarrassment. Surely you want others to perceive you as a strong personality who lives in harmony with himself and is aware of every action. However, in reality this is not always the case.

You can easily experience shame for no apparent reason. As a result, an inferiority complex arises, the source of which you cannot find.

Mette, 32 years old

As a teenager, I often felt like my back was dirty. But every time I took off my clothes, my fears were not confirmed. And yet, standing in the store, from time to time I experienced a feeling of discomfort, thinking that others noticed something that I could not see.

If he burns with shame, you will also begin to experience this feeling at the moment when you are seen together. By loved ones, for example, parents who drink or are overweight, a partner, and even children who drive you into the red with their behavior are meant.

Gender, 52

My brother suffered from spastic paralysis and had to sit in a wheelchair. Once, in childhood, we as a family went for a Sunday walk. All the way I walked either in front of everyone or far at the end, pretending that I was alone here and did not know anyone. On the one hand, it was scary that they would notice me with my sick brother, on the other hand, I felt like a terrible person, because I did not want to be near my loved one.

Hanna, 32

When my father got up to make a toast, I wanted to hide under the table. I had to stare at the napkin in the hope that people would not notice how ashamed I was - they say, I'm just focused.

You may be ashamed of a situation in which you do not participate at all. For example, a drunkard urinating in a public place causes embarrassment to those passing by. A person may experience discomfort if his interlocutor freezes stupidity. The same goes for situations where we see a man talking with his mouth full, or a husband humiliating his wife. Embarrassment is related to shame in the same way as awkwardness, embarrassment and shyness.

As mentioned earlier, these examples do not describe all possible life situations. I just listed a few real cases. In fact, shame comes from a variety of situations, and these stories can put you on the right track.

The difference between shame and guilt

If guilt is related to actions, then shame reflects a state. Feeling guilty, you most likely realize that you did something wrong or neglected something. Shame is different. You can blush like a tomato and still not really know what the problem is. Sometimes you only feel a vague discomfort, coupled with a fear of being exposed and ostracized.

In the same situation, both feelings of guilt and feelings of shame can emerge. Suppose you insulted a loved one. You are tormented by guilt for an act that you would not want to do. But in the situation that has arisen, you feel shame for yourself: “What does this act say about me as a person? Am I an idiot? Or just a badass?"

You can take the blame: “I am guilty. Sorry". This will be the right decision on your part. But if you are ashamed, then most likely you will want to justify yourself: “It was not me,” because you will be afraid of the consequences that can damage your reputation.

To partially get rid of the unpleasant aftertaste, you can apologize and try to change the situation for the better. For example, buy flowers or cook a delicious dinner. You can't do that with a sense of shame. It will hang over you like a sword of Damocles, instilling self-doubt and self-importance for others.

  • Talks about your actions
  • Influences self-confidence
  • Encourages action
  • Apologizing improves your situation
  • allows you to correct the situation
  • speaks of you as a person
  • affects self -esteem
  • discourages and puts a dead end
  • apologies does not help
  • only aggravates the situation

Although wine and shame often arise at the same time, it is important to be able to be able to be able to distinguish them. To get rid of them, fundamentally different methods and methods of therapy are required.

Shame as an alarm

Imagine that you have a sensor inside you, like a thermometer or a barometer, that constantly measures the level of tension when you are in a particular social group. It monitors the facial expressions of people looking at you and controls who and how speaks about other people present. For example, in one social group, people support a person who has found the strength in himself to stand out against the background of the gray mass and seem completely different. In such an atmosphere, your social radar will only work at half its capacity. But if others begin to criticize and condemn, say, the unemployed, then you hardly want to admit that you once sat at home or, perhaps, are now living on welfare. In such a society, you are likely to want to keep everything a secret and nod silently along with the rest of the participants in the conversation.

When the internal sensor indicates that the conversation is moving into dangerous territory, the device sounds an alarm: a sense of shame creeps up on you. You look down in embarrassment, blush or turn pale with horror, your heartbeat quickens, and only one thought is spinning in your head: get rid of embarrassment as soon as possible.

The sensor helps to set a line of behavior in which a person does not turn out to be a black sheep. When you are calm, the device goes into sleep mode, but at the same time it can suddenly turn on and cause horror and panic.

There are also false alarms, since the sensor operates according to the old algorithm. For example, his program contains information that you can be expelled from society if you show cowardice. But our society is structured differently compared to the times when the human brain was just developing. Now it is not at all necessary to be strong in order to win the fight. The first place was taken by a person who knows how to gain strength and admit his weaknesses, because this is how he will quickly get closer to those around him. It is especially important to be able to notice your weaknesses in time and talk about them to people with whom you are in a close or loving relationship. Living in the savannah, we only thought about survival. Later, the need for happiness was added to it, and love is the key feeling on the way to it. Unlike ancient times, today it is important to share problems with loved ones who can help with their solution.

Among other things, the sensor falsely triggers in situations where you do not feel the support of others, which makes you doubt your psychological stability. It seems to him that you are in a precarious position and are about to lose your temper. About the occurrence of such dangerous situations - in the next chapter.

Shame as a social feeling

People with a weak social sensor do not think at all about their behavior in society. It is these characters who chat non-stop, forgetting about the listeners, ask uncomfortable questions that make the interlocutor blush, when they meet, they hug for an inexcusably long time and stuff like that.

Experiencing shame at an acceptable level and for a short time, you get an extremely positive effect. In this way, your behavior adapts to the environment, and you do not need to ask people whether you did well or badly. In this context, shame keeps you on your toes and reminds colleagues, neighbors, or family members of your presence.

Problems can arise if the internal sensor activates the shame function when you want to stand out from the crowd. Then the desire to do something completely fades away, despite the tempting opportunities to express themselves and get closer to those present.

On a desert island, you will never experience shame, because this feeling is social in nature. Overly shy people prefer solitude and often arrange their lives so that most needs can be met on their own. However, this can awaken in a person a sense of shame for his own loneliness! Check if you find yourself in this vicious circle when, in order to avoid unnecessary problems, you decide to live on your own, but as a result you begin to be ashamed of your own way of life.

You don't have to be alone to feel lonely. Sometimes people suffer from this ailment even in a crowd where no one knows your thoughts or feelings. An exaggerated sense of shame leads to isolation.

  • Make a list of situations that make you blush.
  • Think about whether your inner sensor exaggerates the danger of being a black sheep?
  • Recall a time when you experienced guilt and/or shame. Try to separate these concepts from each other.


Shame can manifest itself in varying degrees, from mild discomfort to nightmarish embarrassment and even awareness of one's own worthlessness.

Behind shame is the fear of being exposed - by a partner or social group of any size.

Unlike guilt, the feeling of shame will not disappear if you apologize and correct the situation.

Shame is social in nature. At best, he sets the desired line of behavior when interacting with other people. At worst, the internal sensor will give false alarms too often due to any little thing, constantly driving you into the red.

There is no exhaustive list of situations that cause feelings of shame. But each of them differs in its degree of discomfort. Often it is expressed in a feeling of impotence and helplessness.

Feeling of shame: conditions for the emergence of

"Shame on you!" - others reproach, but you cannot understand what you have done. Shame is an individual thing.

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In such conditions

Everyone knows how shame manifests itself – blood rushes to the face, hands get cold, and the head thinks: “Now someone will definitely consider me and the owner to be idiots or bitches.” That is, there is a strong stress and moral torment. And where do they come from?

Psychologists and even psychiatrists have long studied the feeling of shame. So, they found out that several conditions are necessary for its occurrence.

You realize that you did something bad.

For example, you throw a candy wrapper on the road without finding the urn. You know that you can’t do this, and you feel a pang of conscience. This is the top level of shame: it arose not in front of others, but in front of oneself. A moral censor woke up in you and said: good girls don't do that. The ability to say “ay-ay-ay” to yourself is a sign that you have learned ethical standards of behavior and made them part of your personality. Well, the top level with a bonus track is the ability to feel a sense of shame simply because you had bad thoughts: for example, you envied a friend or wished evil on a harmful boss. For the first time, such high demands - to monitor both one's deeds and thoughts - were presented to a person by religion.

You did not commit conscious evil, but at the same time you got into a situation where others might think badly of you.

Let's say you broke the dress code rules at an important meeting or loudly announced your intimate problem without noticing that a male colleague was in the room. That is, you either did not know about some rules, or you misjudged the situation. Then your inner censor again says: ah-ah-ah, good girls don’t behave like that! This is a normal level of shame. You have learned the rules of behavior in society and you know that they must be followed.

You accidentally reveal something that you think should be hidden.

It can be terribly uncomfortable for you if someone sees your unshaven legs, finds out that you are wearing washed-out pajamas at home or biting your nails. .. There are dozens of reasons for everyone!

It will come with time

Shame is not born. He is brought up. The baby does fine without a potty, burps, puts his feet in his mouth and throws things. He does whatever he wants. About what behavior is acceptable and what will be evaluated negatively, adults tell a small person, repeating the same thing a hundred times, and life itself teaches.

Feelings of shame usually develop "from simple to complex". The baby is unfamiliar. Older children learn to be ashamed of formal things like showing their genitals or stealing. And to feel remorse for thoughts is already the lot of an adult developed personality. By the way, not all citizens reach the highest level, someone should teach this too: if not parents, then at least books. It is common for a mature person to experience a sense of shame only meaningfully, because she, the person, is not a slave of the attitudes received in childhood. Let's say that with age, many people reconsider many aspects of the "shameful" in intimate life, however, in order for this process to start, a person needs to see that he is not alone in his ideas about the Universe.


A well-mannered girl

In the same situation, one will blush, and the other will not even move his ear. And the point here is that the feeling of shame is the result of upbringing. What exactly is indecent is taught to us by our parents and our immediate environment. Let's suppose that in one family it is not forbidden to slurp loudly, and in another, a girl can be stigmatized simply because her underwear got into the eyes of her father or brother.

Cultural differences also matter. In one society, it is a shame to "goof off" - to appear without a headscarf, and in another one can safely walk around topless. The more developed the culture, the more shameful is transferred to the moral sphere: for example, it is not good to offend the weak, to wish harm to one's neighbor, and so on.

What is there! Moral norms are different even in two equally developed cultures: in an American school it is a shame to cheat because you "steal your neighbor's success", and in our school it is a manifestation of the brotherhood of students against the despotism of teachers.
Shame norms change over time. For example, just recently it was indecent for a girl to take the initiative in relationships or have premarital relationships, now - please! It is because of such cultural differences between generations that grandmothers grumble at the youth that they have all “lost their shame.”

And for that guy

You can be ashamed not only for yourself. Parents may be embarrassed for their children, perhaps you blushed for mom and dad when they talked with your friends or boyfriend's family. Sometimes we are ashamed of fellow citizens who misbehave abroad. The feeling of shame for others arises when you consider yourself part of the same group as the person who does the bad deed. But if your child spits, you are ashamed, if a stranger is unpleasant. If you see a vulgarly dressed woman on the street, you don't care. But if it's your mom - oh-oh-oh! By the way, in a globalized world, a sense of shame helps to decide on citizenship: when you feel uncomfortable for the government, it means that you are talking about your homeland.

This is already too much

Shyness, that is, the ability to feel embarrassed about every sneeze, is already a pathology. It is a shame to look into the eyes, it is a shame to stand nearby, it is a shame to accidentally touch... In a modern metropolis with such attitudes, it is not easy to survive, but in many traditional cultures, this is the behavior of a girl that is considered correct.

False shame often leads to concealment of information. Even if a person understands that he can harm himself. Some, for example, put off a visit to a gynecologist or proctologist. Or they are ashamed to tell the doctor about some habits or manifestations of the body, thereby complicating the diagnosis. “Everyone lies,” said Dr. House, and we see that the reason most often is shame. Because of it, many may not admit that they need psychological help. False shame is a common problem among teenagers. They worry about the long nose and growing chest. And it is difficult for them to realize that in their experiences they are not unique: the lack of life experience affects. But, when an adult is so ashamed of his physiology that he is secretive both with his closest ones and with the doctor, this is a sign of personal immaturity, it is worth working with a specialist on this.

The important part

Do we even need to feel shame? Maybe, well, him? That would be great: no burning cheeks or anguish about stealing a towel from the hotel as a keepsake!

But a normal person cannot live without a sense of shame, because it regulates his behavior and is part of his personality. You should not cut this feeling to the root in order to become like everyone else.

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