The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

Lest we should see where we are-

Lost in a haunted wood;

Children afraid of the dark

Who have never been happy or good.

(George Orwell)

Abstract Man Body

Shame is considered the most ‘toxic’ of all our emotions. It is also known as the loneliest emotion as it is experienced in secret. We do not share with friends or family the things we are ashamed of. In my experience of working as a therapist for the last 17 years it is also the most difficult thing to change and it often keeps people stuck.

However, it can be changed. Self acceptance and compassion are the two key elements involved in overcoming shame. Shame is often based on feelings of worthlessness, either connected to specific parts of our personality or even to the whole of our personality. Most people who experience a lot of shame often use defences such as perfectionism, people pleasing, overworking and other over-compensating strategies to ward off feelings of shame.

What seems a paradox to most people who experience shame is that one of the ways, maybe even the only way, to overcome shame is to live with your vulnerability out in the open, to stop hiding, running, to show yourself in the full complexity of your humanity. Obviously this cannot be achieved quickly and the therapeutic relationship is the place where that can initially happen with a view to then broadening that out into the rest of your life.

When I say ‘living with your vulnerability out in the open’ I am not suggesting that you become naïve and do not protect yourself. It is more a case of allowing the emergence of the whole of your personality to those whom you trust. To learn not to hide yourself away when you are in a low mood, or obsessional, or anxious, or in despair, or lonely.

Ashamed young woman.