Our therapists at A Safe Place To Heal of McKinney TX offer Guilt & Shame Counseling and Therapy to help you recover from traumatic events that cause this sometime over-whelming feeling.
Guilt and Shame Can Become Toxic
Guilt & Shame are deep, debilitating emotions, with complex roots. Its cousins are humiliation, demoralization, degradation and remorse. After experiencing a traumatic event, whether recent or in the distant past, shame can haunt victims in a powerful and often unrecognized manner. Shame impairs the healing and recovery process causing victims of trauma to stay frozen, unable to forgive themselves for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shame leaves victims with feelings of sadness and pain at the core of their being. They are unable to feel the fullness of joy in their lives.
How Does Trauma Influence Shame?
Trauma allows “shame thinking” to blossom from deep roots in culture, religion, family or our childhood past. As children we tend to blame ourselves for things that happen around us, because we are limited in our capacity to think about others being responsible. In a five-year old’s mind if something bad happened, then she or he must have deserved it, therefore the universe makes sense. It is not until around age 12 that we gain the cognitive capacity to see how others’ actions and behaviors are more complex with varying degrees of culpability. However, there are many confusing messages about responsibility in our culture, causing even adult victims of trauma confusion over responsibility for the perpetrator’s actions. For example, the way a woman was dressed being part of the questioning by a police officer investigating a sexual assault.
Shame Impacts Self-Esteem
Shame can dissolve positive self-esteem and leave victims of trauma feeling different and less worthy and in some cases even bad or evil themselves. The trauma and the resulting shame fuel each other, causing greater intensity in the psychological wounds. The end result is that a traumatized person no longer feels worthy of being loved, accepted, and having good things happen to them in their life.
Survivors of any type of traumatic experience, not just sexual assault, can experience shame. Even people who were heroes during a traumatic event, and may have rescued others from certain death, can feel shame. Their thoughts of wishing they could have done even more can fuel shame. Feeling unique or different because of the hero status can even be associated with feelings of shame. On the other hand, some survivors feel badly about the way they acted during a traumatic event and this can add a layer of shame. A military experience, a car accident, or a horrific natural disaster, all can induce feelings of shame, regardless of how diverse these traumas are, shame is one of the common denominators.
What Purpose Does Shame Serve?
Shame is part of our human experience and emotional repertoire. It can keep our pride in check, but it can also run rampant. It is important that shame be acknowledged and expressed, forgiveness, and then released and perhaps even growth, creativity and honor returned. Shame is a debilitating emotion that piggybacks on top of trauma. Shame complicates the healing and recovery process from trauma on many levels including psychologically (victims blame themselves for being vulnerable) and spiritually (changes relationship with higher power).
Can Therapy Help?
Recovering from shame is an integral part of healing from any traumatic experience. If you are a survivor of a traumatic event and need help in dealing with shame from a traumatic event, talk to a licensed professional therapist with experience in treating exposure to trauma. Once you establish a trusting relationship with the therapist you will be able to express some of the feelings you have kept inside. One of the most powerful interventions to assist in healing from the shame is to express those feelings to a qualified professional and receive their guidance and support in your healing process. A very trusted friend can sometimes substitute and offer help, but you need to talk to someone in order to release the shame. You want your listener to be someone that will show you acceptance, support and a non-judgmental attitude. If you have difficulty trusting someone enough to share these feelings, then that is the issue to focus to begin your healing process. Many survivors, who thought they would never feel safe enough to share their feelings, have successfully created a trusting relationship with someone that helped them heal.
Next, decide to experiment on forgiving yourself and letting go of the shame. How long can you go without reminding yourself about the shameful thoughts and feelings? How would life be different or better if you were able to forgive yourself? Ponder these questions, and take a few notes on what you find out. Share the results of your experiment with your therapist or trusted friend. Finally, have hope, no matter how excessive your guilt & shame is or has been; it is possible to heal. Remember that you can release the guilt & shame, freeing yourself to heal and recover from traumatic events.
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