healing shame

Therapy for Shame
in NYC

Find the strength you need to lift your head up high. 

You’re not alone

What Is Shame?

We Specialize in Therapy for Shame in NYC

The word “shame” covers a broad spectrum — when someone says they’re feeling ashamed, they could be feeling bad, unworthy, flawed, guilty, shy, or embarrassed, in varying levels of intensity. Shame is a normal human emotion. As described by Alen J. Salerian, it is a “complex emotional response” typically formed during early childhood development. 

As normal as it is to experience shame, however, there are times when its severity can impact your quality of life. Shame involves negative feelings about yourself. The addition of guilt (which involves negative feelings about your actions) or embarrassment (which is a reaction to societal expectations or reactions) can further worsen the issue.

Unresolved shame can change the way you see yourself, leading to long-lasting challenges in social, professional, and sexual settings. When shame becomes an inherent part of your self-worth or self-image, it can play a part in anxiety, depression, mental health conditions, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, social phobias, substance abuse, domestic violence, schoolyard and workplace fights, road rage, sexual offenses, and many other issues. 

What causes shame?

Unsure if you’re suffering from a sleep disorder or just a bad string of nights? 

Shame can come from many sources. Some of the most common are:

  • Having a mental health diagnosis — The stigma surrounding mental health can lead to those with a mental health condition feeling ashamed of themselves and their condition, which in turn may worsen their symptoms and make it more difficult to seek help.

  • Low self-esteem — Those that inherently have low self-esteem may struggle with shame, even when it doesn’t stem from a specific source.

  • Cultural norms — Violating the expectations and rules (e.g. stigma against homosexual relationships or a couple living together before marriage) that a culture sets for its members can lead to feeling shame or being shamed by others. In some cultures where collectivism is strong, you might feel shamed by a loved one violating cultural norms.

  • Religious norms — Religions also hold their members to strict religious standards and may use shame to “motivate” them to do better.

  • Trauma and abuse — Being a victim of trauma and abuse (e.g. sexual abuse or assault, childhood abuse, domestic violence, gaslighting, etc.) can lead to long-lasting shame, even years after the abuse occurred. Victims may feel ashamed about their experiences and their inability to “escape” the situation and may blame themselves unfairly for the trauma they suffered. 

 

How Do I Know if I’m Experiencing Shame?

Experiencing shame is often deeply unpleasant. You may feel as though you’re “bad” by nature and consequently worthless or irredeemable regardless of your actions or feelings.

While in others this can inspire change, in some it can be paralyzing. If you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing shame, here are some of the self-defeating shame reactions identified by psychiatrist Peter Breggin: 

  • Feeling unappreciated, inadequate, used, rejected, dishonorable, regretful, or sensitive.

  • Feeling like others take advantage of you, you have little to no impact, you’re an “outsider” or always left out, you can’t trust others, or you can’t be your true self.

  • Worrying about what others think of you or that you’re not being treated with respect.

  • Being a perfectionist, afraid to look stupid, or worried about failure.

  • Not sharing your opinions, feelings, or thoughts because you’re afraid of being embarrassed.

  • Being a wallflower, trying to be inconspicuous or hide from being the center of attention.

  • Wanting to withdraw from others or shut people out.

  • Wanting to have the last word.

  • Uncontrollable blushing.

  • Losing your identity.

In addition, there are common behaviors that people do when they feel shame:

  • Keeping your head low and refusing to look people in the eye.

  • Keeping a poor posture and slumping your shoulders instead of standing straight.

  • Speaking in an overly quiet voice or stuttering when trying to speak.

  • Hiding from others.

  • Feeling unable to move (i.e. being “frozen” or “rooted to the spot”).

  • Being unable to act spontaneously.

  • Crying.

If living with shame has caused significant challenges in your life, preventing you from meeting core needs like self-esteem, hopefulness, friendship, intimacy, and productivity, you may want to seek professional help.

What Does Therapy for Shame Look Like?

How Therapy Can Help heal Shame

In an effort to escape your shame, you may have developed harmful coping mechanisms, such as projecting blame onto other people, hurting other people, or using substances more than you’d like. A therapist who understands the negative impact of shame can guide you on a better path, allowing you to explore your feelings in a safe space and develop healthy coping mechanisms that complement your personal growth. 

One of the main approaches used in therapy for treating shame is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on helping you identify and understand the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

You can learn how to stop expecting the worst, stop getting trapped in negative thought patterns, and stop avoiding your fears. Through therapy, you can better handle situations that heighten your shame and use the skills and tools you’ve learned to enjoy your life once more. 

What if I’m Not Ready To Start Therapy?

Even if you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a therapist just yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t begin healing. Coping with shame includes two main steps: exploration and acceptance.

Instead of avoiding your shame, you need to embrace it in order to identify the root cause. This may sound like a vague process, but the simplest way you can get started is by paying attention to your feelings in different situations. Journaling can also be a good way to get perspective on your experiences.

When you’ve acknowledged your shame for what it is, you want to work on accepting it. This is easiest when you have a safe place to express your feelings, surrounded by people who you know will show you unconditional support.

If you can’t reach out to those around you, you can try searching for online support groups to connect with people who may be experiencing the same struggles. Here’s a list from Mental Health America you can use to begin looking.

The Center for Healing Shame also has a comprehensive resource list that includes audio, webinars, reading lists, articles and more.

Struggling To Break Free from Shame?

We can help.

If you want to address shame and improve how you feel, we can help you develop the coping mechanisms you need to accept yourself and lead a better life. Reach out to one of our therapists who specialize in therapy for shame in NYC today. 

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Amy Schell, LMHC
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Ariel Zeigler, Ph.D
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Caryn Moore, LCSW
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Christina Mancuso, LCSW
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Courtney Cohen, LMHC
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Dimitri Mellos, Ph.D
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Elena Beharry, Psy.D
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Eliza Chamblin, LCSW
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Fanny Ng, Ph.D
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Gary Brucato, Ph.D
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Gavin Shafron, Ph.D
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Jen Oddo, LMSW
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Joanna Kaminski, LMFT
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Josh Watson, LMSW
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Justin L.F. Yong, LMHC
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Kristin Anderson, LCSW
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Logan Jones, Psy.D
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Lucas Saiter, LMHC
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Melanie Palmietto, LMHC
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Monica Amorosi, LMHC
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Peter Gradilone, LMSW
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Salima Ndoye, LMFT
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