Shame: Exploring the Depths of Our Emotions

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Shame is a complex emotion that many of us experience, yet it is not easy to recognize or identify within ourselves. It’s typically derived from the perception that one has done something immoral, dishonorable, or improper.

To face this humiliation, people often hide what they feel ashamed of rather than express themselves openly and honestly. But while shame can leave us feeling downbeat and powerless, its origins are essential for preserving our species.

In essence, shame helps us respect others and ourselves by creating boundaries that articulate our values and boundaries for how we should behave – ultimately allowing us to coexist peaceably with one another.

Shame can negatively impact a person’s mental health and well-being, yet in many cases, it is an internalized feeling. While individuals will assign themselves worth or importance based on what they may think is wrong, this does not necessarily need to be the case.

These feelings of worthlessness are often accompanied by other related emotions such as embarrassment, humiliation, and guilt. To maintain a healthy balance of emotion and associated responses, understanding the underlying causes of shame and addressing them appropriately with professional help may be beneficial.

What Are Self-Defeating Shame Reactions? 

Shame is a complex emotion to manage, leading to self-defeating reactions that only worsen the situation.

According to psychiatrist Peter Breggin, these shame reactions can include feeling sensitive or worried about what others think of you, feeling unappreciated or used, worrying that you aren’t treated with respect, wanting to have the last word, and feeling like you can’t be your true self.

Understanding these reactions is essential to recognize better and manage them when they arise. 

The Power of Perfectionism

One common self-defeating reaction is perfectionism. Perfectionism often arises as a result of feeling inadequate or not good enough. Individuals may strive for perfection to mask their perceived flaws or inadequacies.

This type of thinking leads them to set unrealistic expectations for themselves and become easily frustrated when those expectations are not met. Thus, perfectionism can be both an escape from shame and a source of more humiliation at the same time. 

Losing Your Identity

Another self-defeating reaction is losing your sense of identity due to feelings of shame or worthlessness. Individuals may question their values, beliefs, actions, and decisions when they feel this way.

As a result, they may become unsure of who they are or how they want to live. They might second guess themselves when confidence is usually present due to fear of displeasing others or appearing inadequate. 

Hiding Inconspicuous

Finally, another example of a self-defeating shame reaction is hiding inconspicuously. People may try to hide from the world out of fear that others will judge harshly if they reveal too much about themselves. This behavior limits social interaction because people are too afraid or ashamed to open up and expose who they are deep down inside.

This type of behavior has long-term negative effects on relationships because it prevents people from connecting on a deeper level which is essential for healthy relationships in any context, including romantic partnerships and friendships.

Understanding Shame and Its Behaviors 

Shame is a powerful emotion. It can be caused by negative experiences, criticism from others, or even our inner dialogue. While shame can be a natural response to specific events, it is often destructive and can lead to feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and fear. We’ll look at some common behaviors associated with shame and what you can do to address them. 


Avoiding Eye Contact

One of the most common behaviors associated with shame is avoiding eye contact. Feeling ashamed, people may keep their heads low and avoid looking at others when they speak or interact with them. This behavior sends a message that the person does not feel worthy of another’s attention or respect.

If you notice someone avoiding your gaze, try smiling or making small talk before engaging in conversation – this will help them feel more comfortable and reduce their shame. 

Soft Voice & Stuttering

Another behavior often associated with shame is speaking in a soft voice or stuttering. This behavior usually indicates someone feeling embarrassed or intimidated by the situation they find themselves in.

If you notice someone speaking softly or stuttering if they talk, try to make them feel more comfortable by using non-threatening language and giving them space to express themselves without interruption. 

Hiding & Crying

Hiding from others and crying are also common behaviors associated with shame. These behaviors indicate that the person is feeling overwhelmed by their emotions and unable to cope with the situation they find themselves in.

If you witness these behaviors in someone else, it’s essential to provide comfort rather than judgment – let them know that it’s okay to feel emotions like embarrassment and anxiety, but also remind them that there are ways to manage those feelings positively rather than retreating into isolation.

Categories of Shame Behaviors

Shame is a universal emotion everyone experiences at some point in their lives. The authors of Shame, published by Oxford University Press, identify four distinct categories of shame behaviors that can be seen in everyday life. Understanding these categories is essential to recognizing and managing feelings of shame effectively. 

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The Hot Response

The hot response is the initial reaction to shame and can take many forms. Typical physical manifestations of this behavior include blushing, sweating, or trembling. Other signs can be increased heart rate or difficulty speaking due to the overwhelming emotions associated with humiliation. This behavior is often involuntary and can be hard to control. 

Coping Mechanisms

To cope with feelings of shame, people often employ coping mechanisms as a way to mask or avoid the feelings altogether. Examples of coping mechanisms include avoidance tactics like trying to distract yourself from the situation or using humor to deflect your embarrassment onto someone else.

Another common coping mechanism is engaging in negative self-talk to minimize the event’s impact on self-esteem. 

Safety Behaviors

Safety behaviors are employed in order not to experience further embarrassment or exposure during times when you feel ashamed.

This could include trying to blend into a crowd so that you do not stand out, avoiding social situations where you fear being judged by others, or even avoiding eye contact during conversations for fear that people will see the shame reflected in your eyes.  

Repair Strategies

Lastly, there are behaviors meant to repair feelings of humiliation after they have occurred. An example would be apologizing for mistakes made during an embarrassing situation to try and “make it right” afterward. People may also seek reassurance from friends or family members regarding how others perceive them after an experience involving shame.

Understanding the Different Types of Shame

To better understand shame, it is essential to understand the different types of shame and how they manifest in our lives.

ashamed problematic man

Shame About the Self

Shame about the self is a chronic type of shame with long-lasting effects. It usually involves feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity, and guilt. Someone who feels this type of shame may struggle to build relationships or trust others due to a negative perception of themselves.

This type of shame can be caused by neglect, abuse, or other traumatic experiences in childhood that lead to feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy.

Transient Shame

Transient shame is a fleeting feeling that usually passes quickly and doesn’t create problems. This type of shame can be experienced when you make a mistake or feel embarrassed about something.

For example, if you trip on your way up to give a presentation, you may feel embarrassed, but the feeling will pass quickly once you get up and continue with your presentation.

Unrequited Love and Public Humiliation

Unrequited love is another form of shame that arises when someone has strong romantic feelings for another person who does not return those same feelings. The experience can be embarrassing and humiliating because it highlights an area where someone feels powerless or vulnerable.

Public humiliation is another type of shame that often occurs in social situations where someone feels embarrassed or exposed in front of an audience due to their behavior, words, or something another person does to them in public view.

Chronic Shame

Chronic shame is always with you and makes you feel like you are not good enough. Chronic shame is often rooted in childhood experiences such as physical or emotional abuse or neglect from parents or caregivers. This type of shame can linger for years if left unchecked and unprocessed, leading to feelings of worthlessness or low self-esteem.

Failure, Disappointment, Exclusion, and Social Anxiety

Failure is yet another cause of shame; when people fail at something they have worked hard on, they may feel ashamed because they feel like they have let themselves down or failed to live up to expectations set by themselves or others around them.

Disappointment can also lead to feelings of shame if expectations are not met for oneself or somebody else (such as a loved one). Exclusion from social groups can also make people feel ashamed about not fitting in with others around them; these feelings of exclusion can also cause social anxiety.


Humiliation is one of the most intense forms of shame and comes about when we are critically embarrassed about something, either by ourselves or someone else. Humiliation often goes hand-in-hand with public embarrassment, where other people witness your humiliation making it even more difficult to process and move past.

Internalized & Toxic vs. Healthy Shame

Internalized and toxic shame are similar in that they involve feeling something wrong with you on the inside; it’s like an internalized form of humiliation based on personal beliefs rather than external sources such as other people’s opinions.

On the other hand, healthy shame causes you to have humility or laugh at yourself without any real emotional distress – for example, lightheartedly poking fun at oneself during dinner conversation instead of taking offense at criticism from someone else.


Defeat can cause us to feel shame, for example, losing a sporting match or not getting promoted at work.

defeated in life

Defeat can be hard to bear because it reinforces any negative beliefs we have about ourselves, such as “I am not good enough” or “I am worthless,” which can lead to deeper feelings of shame if these beliefs are allowed to fester without being addressed directly.

Shame Around Strangers/Shame In Front Of Others

Shame around strangers reflects a feeling that they will discover something wrong with you, while shame in front of others refers to the type of shame experienced when one feels embarrassed in front of others.

These two types of shame tend to go hand-in-hand as they both involve fear or insecurity in social situations, which can lead to avoidance behaviors like not wanting to leave the house for fear of interacting with strangers or avoiding parties altogether for fear of being judged by those present there.

Causes and Effects of Shame

In psychology, shame is a powerful emotion that a myriad of causes can trigger. It can manifest as a short-term response to childhood trauma or neglect. Mental health disorders that involve inner critic or judgment (e.g., social anxiety disorder) can also lead to feelings of shame. Let’s explore the various causes of shame and how they affect us. 

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Self-Imposed Expectations

We often set overly high standards for ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, which may lead to feelings of shame when we cannot meet them. Sometimes, our family or friends may have placed these expectations on us to strive for excellence or perfectionism in specific areas such as academics, sports, or career success.

In other cases, the pressure we put on ourselves may result from internalizing societal norms and expectations through media messages and cultural influences.

Revealing Flaws and Weaknesses

Feeling as though our flaws or inadequacy will be revealed is another common cause of shame.

This could be due to feeling like an outsider in one’s family/social group, not meeting certain physical appearance standards, being judged harshly by others, experiencing public humiliation (e.g., because of something we said or did), being the victim of bullying, etc.

All these experiences can leave us exposed to and judged by others, making us feel ashamed about who we are and what we stand for. 

Failure & Rejection

Experiencing failure or rejection from others can also cause a person to feel ashamed.

Feeling like you failed yourself or someone else (e.g., disappointing your parents), not living up to expectations set by yourself or someone else (e.g., failing an exam), feeling slighted by another person, being rejected from an opportunity/job you wanted—all these scenarios can lead feelings of disappointment and shame if they are not managed properly.

Additionally, even if all your expectations are met, but you still don’t receive validation from others, it can cause you to feel undervalued, which may lead to feelings of insecurity or inferiority, resulting in shame if left unchecked over time.

The Long-Term Effects of Shame

What are the long-term effects of shame? How does this emotion affect our lives in the long run? We will discuss the potential consequences of enduring shame for an extended time. 

The Effects on Mental Health

Shame may have long-term effects on our mental health. It can lead to social withdrawal, as we become too afraid to face ridicule or judgment from others. It can also lead to addictions such as alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as compulsive behaviors like spending, sex addiction, and gambling.

mental health

Shame can also cause us to become defensive and lash out at others to avoid feeling ashamed of ourselves. This may lead to bullying behavior if we have been subjected to bullying ourselves. Furthermore, severe and sustained feelings of shame can even lead to narcissistic personality disorder over time. 

The Effects on Physical Health

Shame is not only damaging to our mental health; it can also affect our physical health in several ways. Prolonged feelings of shame may result in depression, sadness, lowered self-esteem, trust issues, avoidance therapy, physical health problems, and even perfectionism or overachievement.

These things can harm our lives if they are not addressed and managed correctly.

Understanding the Difference Between Guilt and Shame 

Guilt and shame are distinct emotions, yet they are often confused. Guilt is an emotion felt when someone believes they have done something wrong or harmed someone else in some way. On the other hand, shame is an emotion that arises when someone feels that they are not good enough or worthy of love, respect, or success.

Understanding guilt and shame is essential to learn how to manage your emotions better and cope with difficult situations. 

How Guilt Differs from Shame

Guilt is about something we have done, a feeling of regret or remorse for an action or decision. It focuses on specific behaviors rather than on our worth as a person. We may feel guilty for breaking a promise, hurting someone’s feelings, or making a mistake.

In most cases, guilt reminds us that we should take responsibility for our actions and try to make amends if necessary. 

Shame, on the other hand, is about who we are as people—it is an internalized feeling of inadequacy or unworthiness rooted in negative messages we may have received growing up (e.g., “You’re not smart enough”).

Shame creates embarrassment and humiliation due to its association with avoiding failure; it can lead people to believe that they are fundamentally flawed and unworthy of love or success. It can be hard to differentiate between guilt and shame because both emotions produce similar physiological responses, such as anxiety and depression. 

Learning To Separate Guilt From Shame

Learning to separate our guilt from our sense of self-worth is the key to reducing shame. When faced with a situation where you feel guilty for something you did wrong (e.g., lying about your whereabouts), remind yourself that you do not deserve shame just because you made a mistake—everyone makes mistakes!

Try reframing your thoughts by thinking about what lessons you can learn from this experience so that you don’t repeat it in the future; focus on forgiving yourself and improving your behavior moving forward instead of beating yourself up over what has already happened.

Healing Shame Through Exploration, Embrace, and Acceptance

Instead of allowing shame to take over your life, you can learn to heal it through exploration, embrace, and acceptance. We’ll discuss the importance of understanding your emotions and using self-love and acceptance to overcome shame. 

Exploring Your Shame

Exploring your shame is the first step towards healing it. Start by paying attention to how you feel in different situations and write down thoughts or feelings. This will help you understand why certain things make you feel ashamed or embarrassed.

guilt and shame

This exploration can also help identify which areas of yourself need extra care and attention so that you can begin working on them with self-love and acceptance. 

Embracing Your Shame

After exploring your shame, the next step is to embrace it. This involves showing yourself love and acceptance despite any mistakes or imperfections you may have made. It’s important to understand that everyone makes mistakes—it’s natural!—and that it doesn’t make you any less worthy of love or acceptance from yourself or others.

Finding people supportive of your journey toward healing yourself can also be incredibly helpful during this time. 

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Achieving Acceptance

The final step in healing from shame is achieving acceptance. Reexamine any limiting beliefs you have about yourself and replace them with positive affirmations about your worthiness and acceptability, just as you are right now. Understand that no one is perfect—we all make mistakes—but we are still worthy of love regardless of our flaws or imperfections.

By accepting yourself unconditionally, you will be able to start living a happier life without being weighed down by the burden of shame anymore!

Recognizing and Overcoming the Signs of Being Shamed

When someone tries to shame you, they make you feel bad about yourself to gain control or power over you. Here are some signs of being shamed so that you can recognize it when it happens and take steps to prevent it from affecting you negatively. 

Signs of Being Shamed

If someone is trying to shame you, certain behaviors may indicate this. They may speak in an overly loud voice, point their finger at you, or even glare at you. They may also mock you or belittle your thoughts or opinions in front of other people. These types of behavior clearly show that someone is attempting to shame you. 

As an adult, it’s essential to recognize shame for what it is and realize that the other person is trying to shame you. However, it does not mean that the shaming needs to internalize or affect your feelings about yourself negatively.

You can take steps towards preventing the shaming from negatively affecting your feelings by calmly confronting the shamer and letting them know their behavior is inappropriate and unwelcome.

It’s also important to remember that while shaming might make someone feel temporarily powerful at the moment, ultimately, it shows a lack of respect for another person and should not be tolerated. 

It’s also essential to understand how we might unknowingly contribute to shaming situations and how we can help others experiencing shaming behavior themselves. We should strive to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves without fear of being shamed for who they are or what they believe in.

This starts with recognizing when shaming occurs and taking proactive steps towards creating an atmosphere where everyone feels safe and respected regardless of their beliefs or backgrounds.

How to Apologize After You Have Shamed Someone?


We all make mistakes, and we all have moments when our words or actions hurt someone else. In those moments, it can be difficult to know what to do. The best way to handle a situation in which you have shamed someone is to apologize sincerely and take steps to make amends. Let’s take a look at how you can do this effectively. 

Apologize Sincerely

The most important thing you can do in this situation is to apologize sincerely. Acknowledge the hurt that your words or behavior caused and express remorse for your mistake.

Make sure your apology is heartfelt and genuine, rather than simply saying “I’m sorry” without meaning. Your apology should also be specific; don’t generalize it by saying, “I’m sorry for everything I did wrong.”

Explain Your Actions, If Possible

If there was an explanation behind your actions, now is the time to provide it—but only if doing so will not cause further harm or offense. Explain why you responded as you did—perhaps because of stress or a misunderstanding—but still emphasize that your behavior was inappropriate regardless of the circumstances.

Take responsibility for your mistake and any damage done as a result of it, regardless of whether or not there was an explanation for why you acted as you did.

Offer Restitution or Make Amends

If possible, offer restitution for the damage done by apologizing with more than words. Ask what action would help repair the relationship and follow through if appropriate and possible.

This could mean offering something tangible such as money or goods, but it could also mean doing something intangible such as performing an act of service or volunteering somewhere to make up for the mistake that was made.

Give Something That Will Make Them Happy

Finally, give something that will make them happy, even if it’s something small like a card expressing how sorry you are about what happened. This gesture will show them that you genuinely care about repairing the relationship between you and making things right again.

The goal here isn’t necessarily to buy their forgiveness but simply to demonstrate how much their friendship means to you by providing them with something they enjoy or appreciate in some way.

Overcoming Shame for a Brighter Future

Shame is a complex emotion to overcome, but it is possible. It can come from many sources and be triggered by different things. When dealing with shame, it’s essential to recognize that it does not define who you are but rather an experience that has been internalized in some way.

Here we will discuss how to identify and move past feelings of shame to create a brighter future. 

Understand the Source of Your Shame

The first step in overcoming shame is understanding the source of your shame – whether it’s something you did or said in the past or how someone else treated you.

Once you know the source, you can start accepting the emotions associated with it and begin to move on. We all make mistakes, and if someone else has judged us due to those mistakes, they do not have the right to determine our self-worth.

Seek Professional Help if Needed

Depending on the type of shame and how deeply embedded it is within one’s psyche, seeking professional help may be necessary. A trained mental health professional can help you explore your feelings around the situation and help get to the root cause of why you feel ashamed about certain aspects of yourself or experiences in life.

This can provide insight into why these feelings exist and give you the tools to move forward without feeling burdened.

Practice Self-Love & Self-Acceptance

Another critical aspect of overcoming shame is practicing self-love and self-acceptance. If feeling ashamed about some particular part of your character or something others have judged you for, healthy self-love may be necessary.

Taking time for yourself each day, engaging in activities that bring joy and pleasure, appreciating your strengths and accomplishments—these are all ways that we can practice self-love, which can ultimately lead us out of shaming ourselves for our perceived flaws or weaknesses.


Shame is a complex emotion to manage, but it is possible to change how shame affects your life. Start by examining your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about yourself and work on changing the negative messages to more positive ones. Seek supportive people in your life who will help you through this process.

With time and effort, it is possible to lessen the grip that shame has on your life and learn to love yourself more.

About Norman Anthony Balberan

I am a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy graduate turned full-time web developer and designer. Although my professional background is in pharmacy and tech, I have a passion for writing and am excited to share my insights and thoughts through my blog. I write about various topics that I am knowledgeable and passionate about, and I hope to engage and connect with my readers through my writing.

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