A reader recently wrote in to our community about feeling depressed and having some self-injury issues, and fairly frequent suicidal thoughts, so I write back and forth with her a little bit as I have been doing, trying to understand things better. Repeatedly, she refers to herself as being "stupid"; "Nothing is wrong" in her life, to justify the way she is feeling and behaving, she thinks, so her conclusion is that she is stupid. Apparently only people who have been grossly abused are allowed to feel badly for themselves. It's an unnecessarily high standard to hold yourself to, I think to myself.

In fact, the reader's writing is pretty good and she's in college, suggesting someone who is reasonably intelligent. Obviously, her coping repertoire is not optimal if she's cutting on herself, but that is not at all the same thing as being stupid. And besides, no matter how you slice it (pun intended), the word stupid always implies an insult; it is never a respectful way to talk. I suggest to her that maybe the word "stuck" is a better term to use than stupid, but she has rejected that alternative and less judgmental formulation of the issue. It seems she is invested in putting herself down for the time being.

I'm thinking to myself, where does this sort of need to put yourself down come from? I know that it is normal to think this negative way when you are depressed, but it is also the case that thinking this way can make you depressed. Feeling "stupid" in the manner the reader is using that word is perhaps another way of saying that she believes she's failed to pass the test for being an acceptable human being. Believing this about yourself can make you ill. And it brings up the issue of shame pretty squarely, at least for me. Because shame seems to be the right word to describe what this young woman is experiencing right now. She's feeling pretty low, and punishing herself for feeling this way. She feels she is not an acceptable person.

Shame is a Social Emotion

Let's talk a little bit about shame, then, as shame seems to be a fairly central negative emotion in the lives of many people who visit our website. It's certainly not an issue limited to this reader.

Shame is a common and pretty much universal human emotion but it is not what psychologists call a basic emotion. Basic emotions, such as disgust and joy, are hard-wired into the brain and body, are pretty much present from birth, and are "selfish" in orientation. I do not mean to suggest, through my use of the term selfish, that people who experience basic emotions are acting selfishly. Rather, I'm trying to suggest that all the basic emotions can occur in the complete absence of other people; They are reflections of and reactions to people's own internal states and do not refer to anyone other than the person experiencing them. The contorted face characteristic of disgust reflects a baby's revulsion at tasting something nasty, for instance. The face is about how the baby feels, and about the baby's experience and nothing more. The face communicates emotion if someone is around to see it, but it is not necessary that some audience be present in order for the baby to make the face.

Shame is a more complex emotion than disgust, because unlike disgust, shame is an inherently social emotion that depends on an awareness of social relationships before it can occur. It is impossible for a newborn baby to experience shame because a newborn has no concept of a social world yet. There's just the baby's needs and that is pretty much it. Only through gradual interaction, frustration and slow social-emotional development does a baby eventually realize that it is a separate being from other people. It is only after this realization of self as part of a web of social relationships that shame can occur.

Shame as a Failure to Measure Up

Consciousness of others is a necessary part of shame. Most definitions of shame suggest that shame is the emotion that is experienced when people realize that they have failed to measure up to some social standard that has been set out for them by other people to achieve. This meaning is present in the Wikipedia definition, for instance where:

"Shame is the consciousness or awareness of dishonor, disgrace, or condemnation."

and also in this definition from Merriam-Webster

1 a: a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety b: the susceptibility to such emotion 2: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute : ignominy 3 a: something that brings censure or reproach; also : something to be regretted : pity b: a cause of feeling shame

When you haven't yet figured out that there are other people in the world who matter (as is the case with newborns, narcissists and sociopaths), you do not yet recognize that such a thing as social standards exists (or are important) and thus there is no solid basis present for shame to occur.

I guess part of the point I want to make here is that shame is often talked about as a problem of self-consciousness, but it is additionally inherently also a problem of other-consciousness (of the consciousness of the self as a social object). Self-consciousness and other-consciousness are two sides of the same coin when it comes to shame, and neither can be discussed without also talking about the other.

How does Shame occur?

Shaming happens when one person judges another person in a negative fashion. Because at least two people are involved in the process, each has a role to play in making shame happen. First, one person has to communicate a judgmental message to the other person which says in some fashion that they have failed to meet an important social standard. Then, the person receiving the message needs to accept the judgment of the sending person. In this sense, shame is a message or a communication. If the person receiving a shame message accepts that message, he or she will feel ashamed. If he or she rejects the message, however, the feeling of shame may be avoided.

Rejecting a shaming message is difficult to do, because most people derive a large sense of their self-esteem and identity through their relationships with other people. Even if those relationships are not intimate; even if they are contentious or jealous in nature, so long as people look up to others or need them in some emotional fashion, it will be hard for them to not take seriously what those respected or needed people have to say.

We can draw an example to help flesh these ideas out from my essay on the long term effects of bullying. A bunch of kids run after you as you exit the school bus, knock you down and proceed to kick and punch you for a while. There isn't any explicit message, but what comes across is something like, "You're weak and vulnerable". "We think you are pathetic", "You're not one of us", "We're powerful and you aren't", "We're having fun and you're in pain". These are the messages being sent which communicate that you've failed to meet a social standard. It is very difficult to not take these messages seriously; to not internalize them and start believing them when the evidence that you are not wanted by others is so concrete.

Shame is not always communicated through physical abuse. It can also communicated through sexual abuse and other forms of abuse such as neglect; through name calling and insults; through exclusion from a group, and (when it comes from someone you care about) through stern judgmental talking, or through a refusal to talk or to forgive. The social standards that are communicated in shame-inducing interactions can be very subtle and may never be spoken out loud. Alternatively, you may be literally hit in the face with them.

Why do people shame one another?

As near as I can determine, people shame one another because shaming is an effective way of gaining power over others and altering and shaping their behavior. Shame communicates who is outcast and who is elite; who is one-down and who is one-up. Most people can't help but care a lot about their relative social standing. They derive a whole lot of their own self-esteem from how other people treat them, and if other people start treating them badly (or otherwise communicating outsider status), they will start to question their own self-worth.

Shaming is not all bad. Some shaming has a teaching and socializing purpose. When shame communications come from people who love you, they often take the form of teaching corrections designed to make you aware of how your actions impact others. You may be acting thoughtlessly and hedonistically (as many of us do) and your parent or loved one may come along and tell you "don't pick your nose", or "stop beating up your little brother", and you become embarrassed and ashamed in front of your parents or loved ones and others because it never occurred to you before that what you were doing was unacceptable or you thought you'd gotten away with it at least but no, you're busted instead. In this case, shame functions to expand your social and emotional awareness by making you aware that your needs are not so special (that other people have needs too), and this knowledge ultimately helps you to grow as a person and enter into successful and long lasting intimate relationships because you stop acting like an entitled immature person.

When shame comes from people who don't care about you, however, the message is destructive rather than constructive. Abusive people communicate through their abuse that they are using you like an object for their own pleasure and that puts strong pressure on you to start thinking of yourself as an object (a punching bag, a slut, an object of ridicule, a nothing). The more you buy into the proposition that you are an object for others to take advantage of, the more easy it becomes for those abusive people to take further advantage of you because you start cooperating with them in taking advantage of you.

Case in point. In college, I knew a girl whose father incested her repeatedly from the time she was a young teen. Her reaction was to make herself unattractive as possible, but she never called the cops on him. She became grossly overweight, and didn't wash much. Her father's abuse of her; his use of her as a sexual object; communicated to her that her needs were not important; that she was an object to be used up; that she was dirty; that she was not able to control her environment. Her active attempts to make herself ugly may have been a way for her to make her internal impression of herself (as dirty) become the external impression other people would get. It may also have been a passive way for her to try to ward off further rape. If that was the case, it wasn't a very effective coping strategy.

Institutional uses of Shame

The use of shame as a strategy to control people's behavior is by no means limited to small one-on-one or group interactions. Shame strategies are widely used to influence people at every level of culture, including religion, shopping and politics. Consider the case of "original sin" for a moment. Religions which affirm the doctrine of original sin suggest that people are corrupt by nature, a condition which can only be made right through wholehearted uncritical acceptance and active practice of the religion itself. This practice would be innocent enough if it was done in a purely teaching mode (e.g., in a way similar to how many parents end up shaming their children as a method for socializing them), but some religious leaders use the process of religious shaming to enrich themselves, or project and amplify their political views by saying that they speak for God when they endorse one candidate or one policy over another.

As another example, consider how cover models used to sell magazines are photoshopped (digitally altered) so as to look impossibly thin and young. Notice how in the July 2007 Redbook photo cover of singer Faith Hill, what was photoshopped away was her crow's feet eye wrinkles and her arm fat (not that there was much arm fat there to begin with). In these subtle ways, an impossible cult of female youthful perfection is foisted on the public, who are then primed to do whatever they can do to look more that way, including purchasing the makeup and skin products heavily advertised in the magazine. This is a non-verbal shaming process that is very deliberately orchestrated for commercial purposes. An interesting twist on this particular variety of shaming is that the actual shaming message (e.g., that you are fat and old; that this is unacceptable; and that you'd better use makeup products to make yourself presentable) is never explicitly spoken. The message is just so prevalent in the culture already that the marketers don't have to hit anyone over the head with it; it's already there latent in women's minds just waiting to be activated by a photoshopped image.

The Urge to Keep Shame Secret

The antidote to shame is fairly simple in theory but hard to do in practice. People who are feeling ashamed need to become aware of that shame in a conscious way, and then they need to reject it or eject it from their minds and bodies. It's hard to become aware of what we feel ashamed about, however, and it is also hard to reject that shame. There are several reasons why this is so.

Shame is highly anxiety provoking, for one thing. We avoid thinking about things that make us anxious. Why would we want to think about how we are fat or old or slutty, or going to hell or vulnerable if we can avoid doing that? It is much easier in the short term to push shaming beliefs away from our consciousness rather than to look at them squarely.

Another reason is that when we are ashamed, we think we will make our shame worse if we share that shame. Remember, shame is a social emotion. If we are feeling bad about ourselves because of a message that was communicated to us by one group of people, we are likely to think that if other people knew about our secret shame, they'd look down on us too. By sharing our shame, we'd be magnifying it and spreading knowledge of it around so that more people would judge us negatively, is what we often think.

Recall how important other people's opinions of us are to most of our self-esteems, however, and you will see that the process of sharing shame could go either way. It could make us feel more ashamed than ever before (because now new people are looking down on us), but it could also make us feel much better about ourselves (because now there are people who know our secret and don't look down on us, but instead accept us). This is the power inherent in therapeutic witnessing, and also the danger.

Recovery from Shame and some Traps that people fall into

The way out of shame feelings is generally to talk about them with other people who will not reject you for whatever it is you feel ashamed about. But it is anxiety provoking to do this because of the risk that such other people will reject you. For this reason, great care needs to be taken in terms of choosing who you speak to about the things you are ashamed of. A therapy group or a therapist's office is often a helpful setting in which to share shame memories, because the people who are to be found in such settings are generally understanding and unlikely to turn on you. vSome people are so ashamed of themselves that when they share their secret shames with other people and those people do not reject them, they can't believe that could be happening. Rather than see this acceptance as evidence in favor of there being no good reason to believe the shame, many ashamed people instead turn on the people who have just accepted them and find fault with them. They may say, "these people who have accepted me; they are losers because only losers would accept me". They may say, "these people who have accepted me don't really know me, because deep down I am really a bad person. If they really knew me, they would reject me." They then may feel a compulsion to go out and do something shameful to sabotage themselves so as to reconfirm their negative self-image. These are psychological traps some people fall into, particularly when they have been abused and deeply believe in their own awfulness.

I knew a woman who had been out on the street prostituting herself and getting high on heroin before she came into our substance abuse treatment program in New Haven, CT. She lasted about two weeks and then relapsed, in part because of the pull of the addiction and the cravings, but I think also because she really believed she was a bad person, and though she really wasn't a bad person, she needed to prove to herself that she was a bad person. Prostituting herself and using drugs was consistent with her deepest self-image.

I'll end this essay, as I have many others, with an appeal to you, the reader: Please contribute a story or comment about your own experiences dealing with shame. Having reader input appended to this essay makes the essay much more useful to other readers who will come upon it later, because it is then not just some guy lecturing about shame; it is also then a human document filled with experience and wisdom that other people can really relate to. Please help us by contributing your own story.

  • How did you come to experience shame in your own life.
  • How has that shame affected you?
  • How have you dealt with that shame? What has helped to reduce it? What parts of it are you stuck with. What makes it difficult to cope with?
  • death4o

    Your article is exactly how I feel now. And because of this shame that I am feeling.... (I feel I am incapable, ugly, stupid and not worth living in this world)

    Though people ard me keep giving me support but I feel more and more useless... and it is making my body weak.. prone to illness and making my whole body system in chaos.

    And yes.. i tend to share the shame though i know the people ard me do not know what I am feeling but I will tend to think that they know what I am feeling shameful about and then I make myself feel worse than ever.

    I dun know how to cure myself and I need help. I have many many thoughs on death and I pray so hard for one.

    I am feeling shame because of work and because of the way I looked and behave.. I feel very very silly and I feel I shld not do this.. or should not do that. I feel that I shld not exist in this world.

    As recently my workload is getting more and more heavy. My inconfidence and shame increases ermonously.

    I am trying to find a cure so I chanced upon this website...

    (p.s.. in the past.. i suffered from verbal abuse that left me attempted sucide but was saved, however, emotionally, i am still not recovered)

  • Cindi

    I am 43 years old. I never really felt that I felt shame but after reading this, it is exactly what I feel. I was sexually abused by my stepfather, as a teen.

    This occurred on a regular basis. I resorted to staying out all night and became involved with drugs and alcohol. My step father had a heart attack in the process of molesting me and he died. His penis was hanging out of his pants and I was being questioned, why this was. I lied and told them that he must have been going to the bathroom.

    I have only told a few people about this. I have never told my Mom. She would be hurt. I have told her of the abuse, in the midst of heated argument and she seemed to not believe me. She does not know about the circumstances surrounding his death.

    I always have had a negative opinion of myself. I became sexually permiscuous (sp). The ass actually got me pregnant and I had an abortion. He took me to the clinic to have it done. I feel shame for that and feel like I am being punished for it almost everyday of my life. Due to my promiscuity I had other relationships, if that's what you want to call them? I became pregnant on 2 other occassions and aborted both of those children. I was young mind you and my Mom did not want me to have children. There is shame felt for that also. I really need some help. My whole life, has been like this. I just wrote something and then arased it because I could not stand to see it in black and white. I am so humiliated.

  • No Name

    Shame is a tool of brainwash and control.

  • Kaudio

    Hello Mark. I just want to thank you for the "Shame" and "The Long Term Effects of Bullying" articles. They were very interesting to read and encouraged me to think of how other people see things. I felt this consideration of other viewpoints was especially emphasized in the "Shame" article. Now I try to understand the positions of others when I try to work out tasks that need to be done.

    There is a part of me that wishes you also discussed how to deal with bullies themselves, but I think you were right to suggest one focus on things that can be done. With regard to your discussion of institutional uses of shame and the use of photoshopped images, I found it interesting how knowledge of the way one is manipulated by information may not be enough to enable him to do anything about it. As you say, to address shame requires a conscious awareness and rejection of it, but it is generally difficult to recognize immediately - especially if the cause of shame is considered the norm.

    Advertisements are an accepted part of our culture. I've been taught to accept them as a tool for businesses to reach out to potential consumers and invite them to try their goods. But, I find it difficult to recall if I have ever been encouraged to view adverts in more emotional terms by suggesting that they are capable of shaming potential consumers into buying product. In doing so, I realize that for all situations, the way I view the world around me affects how I feel and behave.

    From my experience of shame, it is difficult to deal with alone. The situation becomes compounded when I feel I can't share my concerns with anyone or that I cannot share my concerns with someone who can understand or try to understand. As a solution, I now try to express myself in a journal to provoke thought and feeling. This way, if I turn out to be frustrated over something long enough to actually write into my journal, I can take it as a signal to address the problem. If not, it should be considered part of my daily landscape that I have to learn to work with.

    Thanks again.

  • Anonymous-1

    Interesting article.

    My two cents: I've found there is comfort in telling the truth (sets you free), and I've also seen that trying to do good deeds is helpful because it gives you humility, so at least your shame will have a buddy. :)

  • dan

    look man, i know how you feel. i know other people dont understand how dehabilitating your shame is. it compounds itself when it interupts your daily life, when you miss events, social activities, and work etc, it calles attention to the problem. and people in your life my get angry with you for "shirking you responsibilities" you must understand that they dont understand. your stuck, its a bad spot to be in. my best advice is to try and stick it out. as you go through your day, if you dont escape from your shame (getting high, masturbating, video games, endless sleep...etc) and do yur best to furfill your duties (work, school.) you will gain keen insight into what is causing you shame. try not to spread it around to everybody, keep it to yourself and write it down. live through the akward moments as best you can, and you will gain insight into whats shaming you. oce you begin to gain insight into what the cause of your shame is, go see a theripist. its somebody who wont judge you, and you can spill the beans, and talk with somebody who will listen, and that person you wont have to see everyday after you feel better. it can be hard to recover when you tell people around you, 1 because they dont know how to help, and 2 because you may feel that they are judging you after you tell them. you may feel ashamed when you see tham next. try, and dont give up, dont spend more time then you have to riddled with your shame. it hurts so bad i know. you may even want to try anti depressants for a little, it drags you out of the depression so you can (and HAVE TO) deal with the issues causing you shame. if you take them to stabilize yourself, then dont deal with things, you may sink back into depression again. and then your fighting a two sided battle.

    please feel free to email me at if you want to talk to me about anything, i dont know you, but thats the whole point. and it may help to talk. i feel for you man, coming from somebody who has been just there... your in between a rock and a hard place. i wish you the best

  • Jay

    Hello all who suffer. I've read your pain and I have to start by saying that I love you all. I have carried alot of shame my whole life. I was raised by a loving but super control freak of a father. He himself was shame bound (I'm starting to trace it back). I know the pain of the severe self-consciousness and self judgement. I never felt like I fit in anywhere and downplayed any of my good qualities. Always felt 'not good enough'. I'm 29 now and just beginning to heal the shame that has bound me for so long. It's sabatoged my self expression because, as a child, I was punished for expressing myself. I was the very well manered, charming boy. Well, when I got into adulthood, I realized that I was living in a world where the rules were a bit different than the ones that 'got me by' as a child. I'm learning to assert myself (by means other than violence). Not agreeing with everything everyone says (developing an individual self), etc.... Don't get me wrong, this is a life altering task. For me, my whole 'downward spiral' was triggered by my ex leaving me. I fell apart. I was then surprised by the way I reacted and felt ashamed by it. Which drove me into hiding. I slept as much as possible, sometimes 18 hrs a day. I went off into a drinking bender (which led to more shame). My father is more understanding now but it's still hard to open up to him and really express all the rage I have toward him. At this point I wonder if it would just make him feel more ashamed so 'is it worth it?' Anyway, here's my e-mail if anyone wants to talk.... I'm serious, if anyone is feeling down, shoot me an e-mail and we can talk it out. Just so you know that you're not the only ones who feel 'worthless'. It's truly an illusion, I know that may be hard to fathom but it's true. LOVE ALL OF YOU!!! -Jay-

  • Mags

    When we become adults, we can accept or reject the internal or external messages we listen to. I'm finally getting it, and on the road to recovery.

  • malign

    Thank you, Mark. You helped me see just how much I've been participating in my own abuse.

  • Flow

    ...because I still have a lot of shame, and a lot of shame I have dealt with.

    Shame has come into my life in many ways, but started in my childhood from abuse, and also from being severely shamed in my acting out behaviors as a child.

    I first started dealing directly with my shame in a therapeutic setting, and it was tough to do. I dealt with the shame of promiscuity in my teens, and extra-marital affairs in my early 20's. Talking to someone about it was painful and frightening, but I did release the shame and forgive myself in the process, but I had to have a lot of reassurance at the beginning, and I did test the waters before I was able to just go right into it.

    I'm still dealing with shame in my life, but no longer do I let it effect me behaviorally in the way I used to by acting out persay because I have no desire to recreate, or go through such shame and pain again that is gone and forgiven. Back then I dealt with the shame by acting out more, by hating myself, by being someone I was not, by not knowing who I was living more disconnected, deep depressions, I felt horrible and dirty, unworthy, owned all the guilt, self-balmed, and felt totally responsible for all problems, I became more of a dumping ground for other's shame, and I just really reduced myself to the lowest standards, even behaviorally.

    Even though I still harbor shame I intend to face head on eventually I will never, ever let myself be used or abused again in such ways because I am more worthy than that.

    What makes it difficult to cope with shame is the isolation that surrounds shame, and the fear that surrounds the isolation.

    The parts i am still stuck with is the shame in the mis-managements of my life, and others I am too ashamed right now to disclose, and some that I would rather when I'm ready, or I can disclose therapuetically/directly.

    Thanks Malign for poviding the link, and Mark thanks for the article on shame,


  • Ann

    I have dealth with shame on a couple of levels. First, I was a promiscuous teenage girl who slept with 11 guys in high school. This has followed me even though I became a Christian in college and waited to get married to have sex with my husband. Shame holds me back from believing in myself or letting myself experience success. I fear what comments some of my guy "friends" that I slept with might say about me. I still shame myself with messages of condemnation instead of grace. Writing that I slept with 11 guys makes me gulp and cringe.

    The next level of shame came from being verbally and emotionally abused from mean rich girls at my school. Each day that I went to school, I was teased for what I was wearing and made to feel less than in so many ways. To this day, I am fearful of rich, put together people for fear that I do not measure up.

    The way I am dealing with getting free from shame is to acknowledge truths about me. God loves me....I am His daughter. It is okay for me to be successful. I am okay. I can lead. I am not my mistakes.

    There are good days and bad days and I am realizing that shame has a lot to do with it. The more free I become of shame, the more free I will be to live the life I desire to live. Those will be great times!!!

  • Alias

    My intense feelings of shame have recently been triggered after a relatively successful period of masking them or avoiding situations where they might be brought to the fore. I was heavily involved in drama and performance in high school, and I was very successful in this context. I began to suffer the effects of multiple sclerosis shortly after high school and felt shame at the loss of the abilities that helped form my identity as someone worthwhile and successful--and even graceful. I loved to dance.. I distanced myself from everything from my "before" life and went on to have a relatively "normal", graduate school, marriage, the usual.,and though I always feels some shame when I am in public because I am so visably disabled now. I also have friends and have worked and I participate in life. I know that I am loved by others. It doesn't seem to matter.

    My feelings of shame havre recently intensified, with a vengence , when I have suddenly come into contact with a lot of people who knew me "before" on account of Facebook, which I got on to avoid hurting someone's feelings who asked me. All of a sudden a lot "friends" who knew me "before", when I was not disabled, started to contact me. I am glad to hear about them and to reminisce about that happiy and healthy time of my life, but I also just want to crawl under a rock. A few mentioned they are glad to see that I am alive since they had heard I was DEAD!! This is how well I hid from my former life! They ask what I have been doing and suddenly I feel like the only thing I have done since high school is become crippled! Some mention wanting to see each other and I am mortified of being "outed". I realize that I should take this as an 'opportunity' for personal growth and just acknowlege who and what I am, but it feels so terrible.....I am ashamed of my bodily self and even of who and what I am. I wanted to have such a different life story to tell. I don't want to be crippled and even though I am, I don't want to be seen this way

  • ashamed

    I am ashamed of my promiscuous past. My first sexual experience was with a guy in my senior year of high school who I had idolised for years (and dated at stages)- he followed the act of having sex by telling me he had an older girlfriend and I had 'ruined everything' for him. I felt my virginity had been 'wasted' and I think this was the first step in losing my grasp of sexual conduct. I didn't have another relationship for 18 months after this, but found a guy I thought was lovely - we had sex after 3 months and he broke up with me the next week. I was devastated and this once more reinforced to me that sex was nothing special - not a gift and something to treasure and enjoy in a loving relationship - but something that meant nothing. Following that relationship I became promiscuous. I got drunk alot and hit the party scene, during this time I slept with 10 guys during my 2nd and 3rd years of college, 'fooling around' with another 3 (but not going 'all the way').It pains me to write that so much.

    I contracted herpes sometime during this stage and have had mild, intermittent symptoms which I always mistook for dermatitis or allergies, but have, after 9 years recently been diagnosed otherwise.

    I have been happily married to a loving and wonderful man for 3 years now (we have been together for 7) with 2 beautiful children and are currently dealing with the herpes bombshell - my husband is so supportive and is dealing with it so well. He isn't upset as he knows we both had partners before meeting and that we both took the right precautions (we were tested for std's early in our relationship and were clear- apparentlyherpes is not included in regular testing). He is assuming he has also contracted the disease, but is one of the 80% of sufferers who is asymptomatic.

    He is not an angel himself, having had at least 7 partners and regularly experimenting with marijuana, cocaine, speed, ecstasy, hallucinogens etc as well as years of alcohol abuse over his college days.

    He doesn't blame me for herpes but the fact that he thinks I'm unlucky and feels sorry for me kills me. He doesn't know about my promiscuous college days and this absolutely tears me apart. I have always felt such a horrible psychological guilt keeping this from him, but now there are physical issues it is just devastating.

    I am so deeply, deeply ashamed.



  • Anonymous-2

    Through having critical parents I always felt that I was not good enough, they would often compare me to other children and my mother use to say that I was empty with no personality. I was never academic, but felt I had potential, and felt ashamed of this,leading to feelings of worthlessness. I enjoyed travelling and met many academics around my age which made me self conscious and wanting to hide my true self, I would lie about my qualifications as i felt that if i did not people would look at me in disgust and reject me. I avoided job interviews as I hardly had any qualifications and so was a tempory worker for much of my life. Things have changed, now I am a psychotherapist in private practice and work in a prison as a counsellor. I also teach counselling. Through my counsellor providing the space for me to explore my feelings i was able to work through the shame and begin to accept myself. She did not reject me when i told her things that i was ashamed of or judge me. These days i can laugh at my mistakes without feeling shame because of self acceptance

  • Anonymous-3

    I felt full of shame as a teenager. I felt alienated, utterly alone, unworthy, lost, wretched, violated and ultimately a ruined and worthless human being. I felt trapped and unable to talk about these terrible feelings.

    I felt so ashamed that I began a pattern of feeling socially frozen and awkward, unable to express myself or relax, unable to be myself and unsure of my identity. I then started to have fears that people would notice this about me and would think that there must be something wrong with me, that I was hiding something. Then I started to wonder whether I was in fact hiding something that even I didn't know about! Maybe I just hadn't quite discovered yet why it was that I was such a bad person!!! In retrospect, I was hiding something - that being these intense feelings of shame.

    So, I just plowed on and on through life. It was rocky and I lacked a sense of stability and permanence. My thought patterns and fears continued to morph in an unhealthy way over the years. I kept trying to push on. I would seem to repeat the same mistakes over and over. I forced myself into awkward situations that didn't feel quite right. I didn't trust my own instincts. But then how could I trust my own instincts? I mean, my instincts and fears were often extreme and yet somehow irrational. Subsequently, I was willing to ignore some real dangers.

    I was also looking for escapism. I was scared (and ashamed) that people would sense my unease. The fact is they probably did. My personality flailed around some more. I would look to acceptance from anyone, look to anyone to help find my identity and save me. I fell in with the wrong people - mostly with the guys I ended up with. But of course, this just confirmed my notion that there must be something wrong with me or that I'm in some way a bad person.

    Now, in reading this back to myself, it all has a tone of tragedy to it and I can't say that all my life is bad or that I haven't experienced good times. I realise that I am privileged simply to live in the west and not have to worry about where my next meal will come from or where I will sleep. While I can experience happiness fairly often, I still have issues.

    I'm still kind of sketchy about my identity. I don't go out much and have a small circle of friends. I'm a mother of one and I'm proud of the job I do. I doubt that I really live up to my true potential. However, that said, being a mother has given me a sense of security and an identity that I never had before. I enjoy it very much but I also realise that I need to expand my horizons, not only for my sake but also for my sons sake.

    It's funny but I've managed to cover up the inner voice of shame for the most part. We train ourselves not to 'hear' it but it's there, buried but alive and kicking! If I look at my life and my sense of identity, it's still quite evident that something still grips me and holds me back. I believe it is shame. I believe that I am on the beginning of a road of discovery and recovery. I'm sending out hope and peace to anyone out there who has felt any of these feelings that I've described.

  • August

    Shame is a central issue in my life. Although I am very private, I unfortunately have worn a life struggle in a public way. I have gained and lost 140lbs, 3 times, in the last 15 years. Very fast and dramatic that brought lots of reaction at work, then usually after 18 months of being thin I have gained all that I have lost. Again, lots of reactions but this time the double takes come with silence. I personally never discuss my weight or my efforts at all and steer clear of comliments and discussion related to what I am doing. I am sure it is because I have little faith in my long term ability to keep it off. Shame makes me want to disappear and I rarely leave my house on weekends. I don't have friends or family so I have a very quiet life. My closest relationships are with Mr. netflix and Mr. amazon.

    rather than being preoccupied with this state of my life, I prefer to try and find peace and contentment in my choices. It was nice to see this article.


  • Anonymous-4

    No one looking at me would imagine the shame I feel I seem successful and strong to them. However, I feel as though I am essentially dirty and repulsive. Like the other poster, I avoid people because I know they will be repulsed. I live like a hermit now. My attempt to live a normal life was a disaster. I'm anxious about touching, even my own children, because I think I will contaminate them. I don't expect to ever overcome these feelings, they are too deep. The best I can do is to make sure I don't hurt anyone. I have no expectation of happiness for myself. I can't even imagine feeling as though I am a good person.

  • Explorer

    Hi Dears , I am also one of the guys who is suffering a lot from Shamness. Confronting with others is my big issue.

    Mostly , when I have to talk infront of the crowd , this will be my worst experience in life. My heart start beating with high speed and I sweet like an Ice cube under the sun. Sometime I Forget my dialog and my memory will go away. I am getting problem with my family and freinds , since that feelings stop me to communicate properly with others.

    I can't explain them my feeling , but that realy bring me down and will take my energey So can't focus on real things... Does any one has the same feeling of me ?

    I would like to share some Experience



  • Anonymous-5

    yeh i had come to this conclusion with shame and i felt that no matter who i talked to i would never be able to be understood. Now i realise that i don't really care but that i just want to get stuff off my chest.

    I am in foster care and my parents have beaten me since i can remember the problem is I could never stand up to them as a teen they stopped beating me. But by this time i was already pretty much a mess inside in everyway and did not socialise with people and I further destroyed my self esteem further by stealing porn magazines streaking and abusing myself sexually, being very religious i was very ashamed of this but it became a sort of addiction which i couldnt control. I stopped when i was 18 and i had to go to A&E because of something stuck in my rectum. How embarrassing now i'm 21 and i only learnt to masterbate a few months ago. Well there you go, this forum has really helped me because i thought this guilt and shame would haunt me forever thankyou so much.

  • jean

    Hi i would just like to say thank you to all for such a powerful pice of work and thank you for your declosure, it as been very helpful to me as i am doing my masters in Psychotherapy. For me i had issues of shame around my primary educationwhich always held me back, so i am know researching in to the effects of shame and the effects it as on us as trainees.

  • Apuratha Pandiyan

    Well tanx for d post. Its really good. I can feel a change in me. Tank U.

    I am 21 and i tend to be perfect, atleast in my mind. I have set real high standards for myself and wen i dont reach them i get ashamed of myself. Even a small hint from othrs of my fears nd inability to have performed makes me very angry. Sometimes externally and sometimes internally. And watz even more irritatn is ppl perceive me to b grt and xpect soo much outta me. Thatz wat i think. Sometimes i do doz deeds n i feel happy outta it. But manytimes i think of doin it in my mind bt i fail to do it, n i feel very very bad bout it and keep agonizing about it all day long. Another day lost. I keep telln maself not to think bout it. But somehw i end up thinkn bout it and start feeln down again.

    Now i read this, n its real good. Tank U.

  • paul

    6 years ago I f*cked up a relationship with a woman I could have spent the rest of my life with. (mabye.) At least a few more years. We had sex at a party and I was drunk and began thinking of another girl during. I confessed to this very bluntly the next day as if she would just take it like nothing was wrong and thank me for my honesty. There was no closure. I just saw a picture of her a week later happily in the arms of another man who I could tell was a rebound.

    It cripples me to this day. I feel like such a f*ck.

  • Anonymous-6

    I too have struggled with shame and it has caused several breakdowns that put me in the mental ward, further increading my low self image because of the stigma I placed on people that had mental problems in my own mind. With no insurance and feeling the need to distance myself from whatever diagnoses the Dr (who never really had any dialog with me, just medicated me to the point I did not really know what was going on) I rejected the need for help and plowed on. It is now to the point I can hardly function, I am looking for a group to join that is free and helpful. I am leary of the county organized groups but it may be a place to start. I hope to move forward and resolve this issue.

  • Uncle Phil

    How did you come to experience shame in your own life:

    The therapy I am following since the last few months has shown that it has been a constant experience since my childhood and I am abou to turn 33. I always have felt different than everybody, was bullied because I was more intelligent, taller and had ugly teeths before I got them fixed with braces... The only thing I was good at was school and sports. If I didn't have basketball to give me a light to hold on to, I would propbably have killed myself. Basically, my parentsw were there for my basic needs but on the affective level or as confidents for my emotional trauma I was going through when was young... they didn't do anything, they were too busy with their own demons

    How has that shame affected you?

    The biggest impact is that I came to realize that I could achieve everything I wanted in school and in sports and I would use that as a slingshot to get out of the hell I was living in younger. I thought that avoiding ppl that were hurting me, friends, girlfriends were distractions to my path. I never saw people or relationships as instrumental in my life or important until I started to like a girl and went nuts about her... Then everything started to make less sense with the years. Sports didn'T fuel me as much or wouldn't disolve the wounds like it used to. The real world of work and school are two different things, you don't get good grades and just feel good about it if your boss doesn't like who you are (got passed by for a promotion even if worked 10times more than the guy who got it because he was more friendly). People skills were more and more important and I felt more and more incompetent to fit in that world...

    I can say the same thing about my love life. I am still virgin, even if i fell in love with 2 close friends because of their larger trust they had in me. I couldn't make the difference and I hesitate to get close to anyone because I don't want to experience the pain of losing such quality confidents but I do understand the value of ppl in or lifes now. and I am all lost and ashamed because I have no clue on how I am going to find a woman in my life with the bagage and judging personality I have about myself...

    How have you dealt with that shame? What has helped to reduce it? What parts of it are you stuck with. What makes it difficult to cope with?

    I am still in therapy and i think it is going to be for a while. I have to take some actions that I really am not OK with but this is the only way I am going to grow out of it. I am an excepotional person somewhere but I do have to believe it. Sometimesit is really hard to do so... because I am really good at sabotaging myself when I am about to take action or started to but just can't follow through...

    talking to my therapist is one thing that brought it out and I didn't like it but I can say now that it did help me to onnect with my needs, my feeling and myself.

    I am still stuck with how I relate to others and how I would like to find a woman in my life and just be able to make that happen. It is like if that part of me is still not accepting that I have the right to have somebody incradible in my life to be with...

    It is hard to cope with because all the friends I have, my parents or close ones are all used to my old self that didn't take his place and would just shut up and do his own thing with out caring about them. It is like if I need them for that higher problem, I can't talk to anyone except maybe my brother and the last girl I shared more with (but since she still means a lot to me, I am trying to avoid her and it is affecting me somewhere).

    I have the feeling that I have been lying to myself to survive and that not all things make sense or I don't know if really like doing some activities... I have to experience them in another and it scares the shit out of me...

  • David

    I have acne flareups, rosacea and dry skin and sometimes I feel so ashamed when meeting or talking with people face to face. It has been an ongoing problem for years. I have seen dermatologists, try to stay out of the sun and avoid too much stress and this helps somewhat. When it doesn't, I just want to crawl under a rock. Very painful. I know I should get over it, but it's difficult to do. Prayer helps too. I try to be compassionate to myself and remember that most everyone has something they're unhappy about themselves. Also, I am gay and even though I know I don't need to feel ashamed of it, it is hard to deal with the social stigma that still exists. Sometimes I want to hold my partner's hand in public like straight people do and I feel ashamed or awkward.

  • AE

    I have been subjected to tremendous public shame at work for no good reasons. I was brutally punished for trying to reduce government corruption and the abuse of tax dollars. I was also the subject of discrimination (I am an Asian-American female working in the engineerig field). I am in the process of healing myself with the help of a psychologist. I hire a lawyer, start going to church, keep a diary, organize activities, join an art class, and seek volunteer work to help others, read "Healing the Shame that Binds You" by John Bradshaw. Not easy as I am still facing these people every day. God bless me and you all.

  • MaryJane

    I met a man a couple of years ago that I fell in love with. After I fell in love with him, he started to shame me. At least I think that is what he was doing. It sure felt like it. The first time it happened was when I refused to agree to a sexual relationship with no committment. He then started flirting with another woman in front of me and continued this behavior for several weeks, then ended up having sex with her. After that he approached me and tried to be sweet and appear caring. Then it happened again. Another woman, his positive attention towards her, and ignorning me. Then another one and another one. Even going to the extent of professing his love for another woman openly on a public website. A relationship that really didn't exist, just to shame me. I felt a great deal for him, and these actions towards me made me feel deeply hurt. I felt unwanted, unappreciated, undervalued, humiliated, insulted, and degraded. When I would turn away and just leave the man alone, he would pursue me, but if I ever said no to him my punishment came in the form of shame. This is hard for me to get over internally, because I do not understand why this man would shame me over and over again, not only with these type of actions, but with his words as well, knowing that I loved him. I wouldn't treat my worst enemy this way, and more often than not, I want to stay locked away in my house and away from other people so I don't have to worry about being hurt that way again, especially since I am still dealing with a lot of the afteraffects of it. Like anger.

  • Thewayitis

    To delve straight into it, I feel ashamed for getting myself in an awkward situation. I wronged my girlfriend by associating with another woman whilst she was pregnant. The other woman didn't mean anything to me and I didn't have an all out sexual relationship with her as I just needed companionship whilst my girlfriend was away - abroad. My shameful feelings stem from be outed by this woman to my girlfriend and her taking control of the situation. This in turn destroyed the intimacy and trust I had enjoyed with my girlfriend. To make matters worse, my girlfriend broadcasted my behaviour to both my beloved and her beloved ones. I cannot see myself ever facing her family ever again. The thought of it makes me want to dig a hole, get into it and let the soil curve in. I will never be able to face them (her relatives) as we had talk of getting hitched and live happily ever after but now this.

  • jimmy

    hi i m a guy but i i m a wanker. i love to wear women panties and stockings under my cloths and even i m so girly type. i wanna be a girl with boobs and girly figure plz guide me

  • Anonymous-7

    I was shamed as a child. Not by abuse or neglect, but as a tool of guidance. "Shame, shame" was a common phrase in my home growing up. We, my siblings and I, learned to do things that would be socially acceptable. You can't wear that, shame, shame. You can't behave that way, shame, shame. You can't eat that, shame, shame. etc, etc.

    As an adult, I still find myself living my life based on what I think other's expectations of me are. Before I do something, I really have to think about why I am doing it. Am I doing this because I think others will think well of me, or am I doing it from intrinsic motivation?

    Then, even then I find my intrinsic motivation is to gain other's acceptance. What do I really want out of life? To be liked, not to be shunned, to be socially accepted. It's a lifelong process to get out from under shame. I don't believe I did anything to gain this shame, but still it shapes who I am and what I do - how I live my life.

    Writing this even was a stretch. What if someone knows it was me? (Notice it's an anynomous comment?) What if my family finds out? etc. And I hate that about myself. I just want to be who I am and not care what others think of my opinions or how I dress. But I do.

    I continue to grapple with this 30 some-odd years later. And although I am doing better with it, I wonder if/when I will ever live free of shame. I can understand feeling ashamed when I do something I feel was wrong. But to live in the fear of shame before anything has even occured, wondering if I will feel it as I wake up in the morning - what will I wear so that no one will comment on my outfit, what can I do so that I am unnoticed so that I can't face people's judgements, it's exhausting.

  • sue

    Great article about shame - very topical at the moment after Brene Brown TED talk! I found this atricle so insightful and explained this topic very well. I would describe it as false shame and true shame. False shame which has developed through abuse and true shame being a sort of indicator of things not being right in life and relationship.People tend to be more aware of false shame than true shame when it really matters. I beleive that this shame is the root of most behavioural problems and most mental illness and I beleive that as people become more aware that they do not need to be ashamed they will experience more and more freedom in their lives.

  • Becki

    I was shamed growing up. If I acted like a baby as a child my mom would put a diaper on me and go get the neighbor and have her come look at me and make fun of me. I've never felt like I belonged. I was also bullied at school all the way through High School. I would go home and would be told, just ignore them. My shame was all verbal. I'm 53 years old and have never gotten over any of it. I can read really good articles like this one but I'm in so deep I don't think I will ever get out of it.