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Do you feel inadequate, wrong or unworthy and is it linked to a perception of not living up to your own or others' expectations? Here we look at what shame is and what you can do about it.

What is shame?

Shame is a deep and often painful feeling that occurs when a person judges themselves as inadequate, wrong or unworthy. This feeling is usually linked to a perception of not living up to one’s own or others’ expectations and standards.

Shame involves an inner criticism and can lead the person to feel less worthy than others. Unlike guilt, which focuses on specific actions or behaviors, shame concerns the person’s self-perception as a whole. Feelings of shame can have a negative impact on an individual’s $1, social relationships and overall mental health, and can arise in many different contexts, including social interaction, failure, or not achieving personal goals.

Working on understanding and managing feelings of shame is often an important part of psychological therapy and personal development.

Our basic emotions

Basic emotions are universal feelings that people everywhere experience, regardless of cultural background. These innate emotions include joy, interest, sadness, fear, anger, shame/guilt, surprise and disgust. Each of these emotions responds to specific stimuli and has a unique function, from warning us of danger to motivating us to act against obstacles or injustices. They are fundamental to our ability to navigate social environments and directly influence our actions and decision-making processes, making them central to the human experience.

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Why do people feel shame?

Feelings of shame arise from a mix of internal and external factors, including social and cultural norms that set standards for acceptable behavior, early experiences of criticism or neglect, the individual’s self-esteem and personality, failures in various areas of life, social comparisons often exacerbated by social media, and internal conflicts around personal values or identity. These feelings are deeply rooted and affect individuals’ self-image and psychological well-being. It can be part of other mental health problems such as depression and relationship problems. Managing feelings of shame can involve exploring underlying causes through psychotherapy or personal reflection.

Do feelings of shame serve a purpose?

Feelings of shame act as a social regulation mechanism, encourage self-reflection, promote the development of empathy and relationships, and are central to moral development. They help us adapt our behavior to social norms, learn from mistakes, and understand how our actions affect others. While shame can contribute to personal growth, it is important to manage these emotions in a healthy way to avoid negative psychological effects such as low self-esteem and depression. Processing shame in a constructive way is crucial for emotional well-being.


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How can you deal with feelings of shame?

Managing feelings of shame involves a process of first identifying what triggers these feelings for you. Openly expressing and sharing these feelings with someone you trust can be an important step to gain perspective and start processing them. A key strategy is to challenge and reassess the negative thought patterns that contribute to shame, replacing self-criticism with self-compassion and understanding. It also helps to see shame as a natural, if painful, part of the human experience and not something that defines your worth as a person.

Adjusting your goals and expectations of yourself to make them more realistic can reduce the pressure and shame that comes with failure or not living up to a certain standard. For those who find the feelings of shame overwhelming and hindering in everyday life, professional help through psychotherapy can offer deeper insights and effective tools to manage and process these feelings. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques can also be helpful in reducing the anxiety and stress often associated with shame.

Working with shame is a gradual process that requires patience and commitment. By building a foundation of self-compassion, and actively working to understand and accept yourself, you can reduce the impact of shame on your life and well-being.

Treatment for feelings of shame

Treatment for shame includes psychotherapy using techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, schema therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), all of which aim to address negative thought patterns and explore the underlying causes of shame. Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is also an important approach, specifically designed to help individuals develop self-compassion and reduce self-criticism by encouraging a more compassionate approach to themselves and their experiences.

Group therapy offers additional support by reducing feelings of isolation. Self-help strategies, including the practice of self-compassion and mindfulness, facilitate an accepting attitude towards feelings of shame. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, a balanced diet and good sleep hygiene also play an important role in supporting mental health. For those cases where shame is linked to other mental health conditions, medical treatment may also be relevant. Actively seeking professional help to address feelings of shame is crucial to building a stronger and more compassionate self-image.


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12 common questions and answers about shame feelings

What is shame?

Shame is a deep and often painful feeling that occurs when a person judges themselves as inadequate, wrong or unworthy. This feeling is usually linked to a perception of not living up to one’s own or others’ expectations and standards.

What is the difference between shame and guilt?

Unlike guilt, which focuses on specific actions or behaviors, shame concerns the person’s self-perception as a whole. Guilt says ‘I have done wrong’ while shame often involves thoughts that ‘I am wrong’.

What are our basic emotions?

Basic emotions are universal feelings that people everywhere experience, regardless of cultural background. These innate emotions include joy, interest, sadness, fear, anger, shame/guilt, surprise and disgust.

Why do people feel shame?

Feelings of shame arise from a mixture of internal and external factors, including social and cultural norms that set standards for acceptable behavior, early experiences of criticism or neglect, an individual’s self-esteem and personality, failures in different areas of life, social comparisons, and internal conflicts about personal values or identity can contribute to feelings of shame.

What is the function of shame?

Feelings of shame act as a social regulation mechanism, encourage self-reflection, promote the development of empathy and relationships, and are central to moral development. They help us adapt our behavior to social norms, learn from mistakes, and understand how our actions affect others. If you have unrealistic or strong shame, it may be a sign that you have shame that is not functional and you may need therapy.

How can you deal with shame?

To manage shame effectively, it is important to identify its sources, share the feelings and actively work on replacing self-criticism with self-compassion. If feelings of shame become overwhelming, psychotherapy can offer tools to process the feelings and reduce anxiety.

How can shame be treated?

Feelings of shame can be treated with different methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, schema therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT). Lifestyle factors, self-help, group therapy and, if necessary, medication can also be helpful.

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that aims to change negative thought patterns, emotions and behaviors that contribute to mental illness.

What is CFT?

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is a treatment method that focuses on increasing and strengthening compassion, both towards oneself and others, and thus managing and overcoming psychological distress and feelings of shame.

Are feelings of shame part of mental health problems?

Feelings of shame can be part of different types of mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and relationship problems. Contact a psychologist or therapist to get an assessment based on your situation.

Can you get therapy online?

It is possible to receive treatment online, at Lavendla we have psychologists and therapists who work digitally.

Where can I seek help?

If you want to get therapy, we recommend that you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist. You can book a first appointment with one of our therapists here at Lavendla. We make the hard things easier.

Treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy

Treatment approaches can differ between different schools of therapy. This is what a treatment can look like with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is a method that can be used for many different problem areas and conditions:

Understanding and assessment

The first step is to understand the problem and that it is okay to seek help for it. A licensed psychologist can help you assess your situation based on your life situation. You can also fill in assessment forms.

Psychoeducation and objectives

You will learn about the problem and how it affects you both physically and mentally. It is important to understand what is happening in your body, thoughts and feelings. It also involves setting goals for treatment.

Tools to change behaviors and patterns

This works on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to the problem. This will help you develop a more nuanced picture and increase your ability to manage emotions, thoughts and change behaviors. Together with your therapist, you will explore situations and learn how to deal with them. You will also be given homework to practice between sessions.

Monitoring and evaluating progress

You will have support from your psychologist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time. Feel free to book a first session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.