What can we say about shame?

Published Categorized as A look at one emotion, emotional literacy, Videos

I made the video: What can we say about shame? to explore this somewhat less straightforward but powerful emotion. Here are a few notes to support the watching of the video.


Further notes, activities and discussion points.

Shame is an unenjoyable emotion that is triggered when we do something, or something happens that others are involved with or witness, makes us feel and believe we must be rubbish/a bad person/useless etc

  It is not a really straightforward emotion to understand. It involves   different components:

  • There’s a trigger – usually something negative happens
  • There needs to be an ‘audience’
  • The person feeling the shame assumes the audience is judging them in a negative way
  • The assumption of a negative judgement from the audience triggers more feelings of shame.
  • Shame can make a person feel like they are no good and start having negative thoughts about themselves.

Describe a time when you felt shame. Then ask your child if they can   remember a time when they felt shame and describe what it felt like,   what thoughts they had.

What does shame feel like?

  Shame can make us suddenly feel a mixture of:

  • self-consciousness,
  • some rejection
  • like we are no good
  • embarrassment
  • frustration
  • sometimes anger or irritation

Triggers for shame

 Different people can have quite different triggers for shame as shame is   triggered around sensitivities we have; and we are all sensitive about   different things or have different ‘buttons’. What might shame one person   can have no effect on another person.

Common triggers can include:

  • Making mistakes
  • Getting something wrong
  • Someone criticising us
  • Someone insulting us
  • Someone pointing out an error we’ve made
  • Getting told off
  • Someone falling out with us
  • Something that we believe made us look stupid, silly or foolish in front of other people.

Can your child think of things that they don’t cope well with being teased   about? How do they react when/if someone teases them about that thing?   Is it hard to admit to feeling sensitive about some things?

When we have high self-esteem, we are likely to experience shame less often and less intensely than someone with low self-esteem.

 This is because shame is triggered when someone ‘touches on a nerve’ or   ‘presses one of our buttons’. Shame is strong when the trigger (e.g. insult,   failure, mistake) reinforces a negative belief we already hold about   ourselves – either:

  • a specific one e.g. I am useless at writing,
  • or a generic one e.g. I am a bad person.

For example, if we think we are unlikeable and someone insults us by   saying ‘nobody likes you,’ shame will probably be triggered strongly. This   can in turn knock our self-esteem further and make us hold onto the   negative belief about ourselves more strongly.

Coping with shame

  1. Make sure you understand what shame is and become aware of the times when it is triggered.
  2. Try not to become defensive when shame is triggered.
  3. Consider what thoughts the shame is connected to i.e. what negative beliefs or thoughts that you hold about yourself has the trigger touched upon?
  4. Challenge those thoughts – look for proof that it is an unreasonable belief.
  5. Remember when you feel shame, you will notice and think about what happened far more than anyone else.
  6. Remember shaming situations do pass and people forget what happened.
  7. Remember achievements, compliments and things you are grateful for in your life but also forgive yourself for messing up. Also remember nobody is brilliant at everything.
  8. Ignoring shame or denying it can make it worse and make us far more likely to become defensive. It’s better if we can admit that something is a bit of a sensitive issue! If we do this enough, it will eventually trigger less shame as we learn to become aware of and own our sensitivities.