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#56: Emotions Explained: Shame

Shame is one of the most painful emotions we can experience. 

This episode explores what shame is, when the emotion is useful (and when it’s not), and skills to help you cope when shame threatens to overwhelm you.

Shame is a social emotion that motivates us to repair transgressions that might result in us being excluded from a group we want (or need) to belong to. Many of us, though, experience a lot of unjustified shame, where we assume we will be rejected if parts of ourselves are revealed.

Show Highlights

  • Differentiating shame from guilt
    • Guilt is about violating our own values; shame is about being excluded from the community you are a part of or want to be part of
  • Children are not able to differentiate between “I did something wrong” and “I am wrong”
  • Less intense shame may show up as shyness and more intense shame may show up as mortification or humiliation
  • Comparing ourselves to others and feeling less-than is a common trigger for shame
  • Rejection can activate shame
  • Shame can come up when aspects of our behavior that we are unaware of are pointed out by others
  • Experiencing emotions that were invalidated when you were young, such as sadness, can evoke shame about feeling that emotion as an adult
  • Notice what happens in your body when you feel shame, such as blushing, cowering, or looking away
  • Self-consciousness can be a hangover effect of shame because you are trying to police yourself to not do something that will bring shame on again
  • Often, our shame does not fit the facts
  • When shame does fit the facts, we can share transgressions and apologize
  • If you fear you will be rejected by your community if you reveal something about yourself, you can keep quiet, find a new community to join that will not reject you, or work to change the values of your community
  • Find someone safe, open, and understanding to share the “shameful” things with

DBT Skills Discussed


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Please note that questions, and this podcast in general, are not a substitute for individual mental health treatment.