How to Deal With Shame

Learn about the science of shame to understand where it comes from and how to deal with it.

Shame stems from feeling flawed and inadequate, but it can be hard to recognize as it often operates outside of awareness. Shame is associated with depression, anger, inferiority, helplessness, and interpersonal anxiety, among other negative emotions (Goss, Gilbert, & Allan, 1994; Lewis, 2004).

Understanding the Two Forms of Shame

‘Shame can be classified into two types: state shame and trait shame. State shame is a momentary experience of shame in response to an event, while trait shame acts more like a personality trait that we carry with us wherever we go. Both types differ from guilt, which arises from some action we took or didn’t take and motivates us to change our behavior to avoid feeling guilty again.

Shame arises from negative evaluations from others, leading us to feel small, worthless, or powerless. Unlike guilt, changing our behavior does not help reduce shame, and it can cause us to hide or retreat from others. Over time, shame can lead to the belief that others disapprove of us, resulting in negative evaluations of ourselves through the eyes of others, even if we have positive views of ourselves.

State shame occurs in response to a single event, such as being ridiculed or judged, while trait shame develops over time as a result of repeated negative evaluations. Trait shame can become a part of us and significantly impact our sense of self-worth.

Understanding the differences between state and trait shame can help us recognize when we are experiencing shame and develop effective coping strategies to deal with it.

“Why Do We Feel Shame? Understanding the Underlying Factors”

Shame can result from various experiences where we compare ourselves to our standards. Research suggests that scrutiny or ridicule from powerful others, especially parents who withdraw love or express contempt, can increase shame in children.

In a given situation, we might experience shame after unconsciously asking ourselves a series of questions:

  • First, we ask “Is this caused by me, or is this caused by something outside of me?”
  • Second, we ask ourselves “Can I change the cause of this event?” Our answer is either, “Yes, this is controllable,” or “No, this is not controllable.” If we determine that this thing is controllable, then we might be more likely to experience guilt.
  • Third, we ask ourselves, “How stable or permanent is this thing?” If there is no changing this thing then we are likely to feel more shame (Tracy & Robins, 2006).

Tips for Dealing with Shame

  1. Understand and Label the Emotion of Shame
    Shame is often unconscious, making it challenging to address. One of the crucial steps in resolving shame is to identify and label it. By doing so, we can better understand ourselves, our experiences, and our behaviors. This process of labeling emotions is helpful in dealing with emotions in general (Beck, 2011). Therefore, to start resolving shame, we can begin by naming it. We can write down, “I felt shame when…” and describe a few situations when we felt shame. Although it may be painful to acknowledge, it is a crucial step in resolving these emotions.
  2. Understanding the Pattern of Shame for us
    Once we have identified and labeled our shame, we can take further steps to address it. By understanding the patterns and triggers that cause shame, we can work on building our self-esteem and developing a more positive self-image. We can also seek support from trusted individuals, such as friends, family, or therapists, to process and work through our emotions. Over time, with intentional effort and support, we can reduce the impact of shame on our lives and improve our emotional well-being.
  3. Practice Self-Compassion – 
    Practicing self-compassion is crucial in combating our inner self-critic and improving our self-views. However, given that shame often involves negative views of the self through others’ eyes, a modified approach to self-compassion is necessary.
    Writing a self-compassionate letter to yourself, imagining it from the point of view of someone more powerful than you, can help cultivate this type of self-compassion. This person could be someone who shamed you in the past, an imaginary figure, or a boss, parent, or teacher. In the letter, include kind, supportive, and compassionate words that validate your worthiness of love and success.
  4. Challenge Negative Self-Beliefs
    Shame often arises from negative self-beliefs. To combat shame, it’s essential to identify these negative beliefs and work to reframe them positively. By challenging negative self-talk and redefining self-beliefs, we can break the cycle of shame and improve self-esteem. This may involve replacing negative beliefs with more positive self-talk, recognizing achievements and strengths, and seeking evidence to support positive beliefs. By taking steps to challenge negative self-beliefs, we can promote emotional well-being and develop a healthier sense of self.
  5. Seek Support
    Reach out to trusted individuals, such as friends, family, or a Coach/ therapist or an NLP Practitioner to process and work through your emotions. They can provide a safe space for you to share your feelings and help you develop healthy coping strategies.


Shame is a complex and challenging emotion. However, by addressing it proactively, we can strive to reduce its impact and enhance our overall well-being. By acting on the suggested tips, we can work towards healing from shame and improving our emotional health.

  • ​Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Second Edition: Basics and Beyond. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045-1062.
  • Goss, K., Gilbert, P., & Allan, S. (1994). An exploration of shame measures—I: The other as Shamer scale. Personality and Individual differences, 17(5), 713-717.
  • ​Lewis, M. (1995). Shame: The exposed self. Simon and Schuster.
  • ​Lewis, D. (2004). Bullying at work: The impact of shame among university and college lecturers. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 32(3), 281-299.
  • ​Scheff, T. J. (2003). Shame in self and society. Symbolic interaction, 26(2), 239-262.
  • ​Tangney, J. P., Wagner, P., & Gramzow, R. (1992). Proneness to shame, proneness to guilt, and psychopathology. Journal of abnormal psychology, 101(3), 469.
  • ​Tracy, J. L., & Robins, R. W. (2006). Appraisal antecedents of shame and guilt: Support for a theoretical model. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 32(10), 1339-1351.​​

Sajid Ahamed is a “Certified Trainer of NLP” and organizes John Grinder approved New Code NLP and NLP Master Practitioner Certifications  Courses in India and the Middle East. He has more than 1000 hours of coaching experience and is an ICF accredited Professional Certified Coach (PCC). Apart from the Trainings, he covers a  wide niche of coaching including Relationship Coaching, Parenting Coaching, Leadership Coaching.

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