How do you deal with shame?

Shame is relational, it happens between people. Shame is triggered when we believe we have been observed doing something we consider to be inappropriate (Lee & Wheeler, 1996).

I am going to suggest shame comes in two forms:

  • The first is healthy shame – this occurs when we act or speak outside our values, it causes us to feel uncomfortable and it is healthy because the discomfort acts as a reminder not to do or act in that way again.
    Healthy shame concerns our behaviour 
  • The second is toxic shame – this occurs as a result of taking on beliefs about ourselves that suggest we are inappropriate. The messages (among others) we give ourselves around this might include such beliefs as, I am bad, I am unacceptable, I am unworthy, I am unlovable, I am not enough or I am too much. These beliefs are generally so painful and debilitating that it is natural to do anything to avoid the shame of being seen for who we believe we are by others. We create masks, we project ourselves to others as someone we think they will approve of or admire. We become who we are not in an attempt to make genuine contact but are unable to fully achieve this contact because we are not being real.
    Toxic shame is debilitating and it concerns the very core of who we believe we are.

Remember shame is relational – it develops in relationship with another. “We exist as part of a relational field…and our healing likewise only takes place within the context of a relationship” (Lee & Wheeler, 1996, p.19). Therapy is a place where some of our most sensitive and painful issues can be brought into the light in a nonjudgmental, supportive and confidential therapeutic relationship that helps activate the possibility for healing and for change.
We can come to understand and accept ourselves as we are – as humans who are fallible but also perfectly acceptable just as we are.

If this information resonates with you and you would like some support please call me on 0419 041 624 or email me at

Lee, R. G., & Wheeler, G. (1996). The voice of shame: Silence and connection in psychotherapy. Santa Cruz: Gestalt Press.