Shame

Posted by Kathy Purdy MFTI in News

Shame: we all have it.  But is it helpful?  The answer seems to be, “No.”  Dr. Brené Brown — a world renowned researcher on vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame — has concluded that while a little guilt when we do something “bad” can motivate us to change and act more in alignment with our value system, shame and it’s internal message, “I am bad”, more often causes destructive behaviors and undermines our ability to change.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) therapist at the DBT Center of Orange County, I am interested in what helps support the therapeutic process and what gets in the way of people’s ability to create the life they want.  One thing that’s clear is that when shame is left unchecked, it hinders people’s ability to heal and improve their lives.

Is shame getting in your way?  Through her research, Dr. Brené Brown identified three things that allow shame to grow: secrecy, silence, and judgment.  A first step in fighting shame is to speak your truth to a trusted and empathetic person — possibly a best friend, a minister, or a therapist.  Dr. Brown explains that shame cannot survive being spoken.

Sometimes, speaking up is not that easy.  Maybe it even feels impossible.   Fortunately, through the theory and practices of DBT, we are able to teach clients how to manage shame and reduce its negative consequences using several different DBT skills modules.

One of the primary objectives of DBT is to teach clients to recognize what emotions they are feeling and how to manage their emotions more effectively.  To manage shame, we start by teaching skills in the Mindfulness module.  By teaching how to attend to the present moment, clients begin to recognize when shame is present.  Skills are also taught in the Distress Tolerance module that help clients tolerate the discomfort of their emotion.

In the Emotion Regulation module, we help clients to nonjudgmentally identify the facts surrounding the shame.  We also help them identify the urge to hide or avoid that often accompanies shame.  Also, since shame typically increases suffering and thwarts long term goals, we teach clients skills that help them reduce the intensity of the shame or even replace it with another, more effective emotion.

For instance, one skill might involve identifying and understanding their own personal values and integrating actions, thoughts, and behaviors that help them live in better alignment with their values.  We also often teach a skill called Opposite to Emotion.  For shame, the Opposite to Emotion skill would include Dr. Brown’s suggestions of reaching out to a trusted and safe friend to share their story.  In addition, in DBT, we help clients work to cultivate encouraging internal dialogue, self-compassion, and a nonjudgmental stance, which are all antidotes to shame.

Shame is a subject people rarely talk about, but as Dr. Brown says, “The less you talk about it, the more you have it.”  At the DBT Center of OC, we are here to answer any of your questions you may have about how to speak up and begin creating the life you want.

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