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Shame is defined as: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. But I find that many people confuse shame with guilt. Now guilt is when we judge our behavior as being negative or wrong. Meaning that if I told someone we would pay them back, but didn’t I could feel guilty about it because we feel that what we did (or didn’t do) was wrong or inconsiderate. Now shame on the other hand is when we view ourselves as being bad or wrong. It’s much deeper than guilt, and cannot be fixed by simply making amends or following through with what you said you would do. As you can see, guilt can in some ways motivate us to be better, and make amends. Shame isn’t motivating, and in most cases can actually be debilitating. It can cause us to believe terrible things about ourselves and situation, and in turn make our mental health issues worse.
Now moving onto trauma, it is defined as: a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. In order for someone to be traumatized they have to fear for their life or the life of someone else. These can be big events or a bunch of smaller events, but they all can lead to us struggling with symptoms of PTSD.
My Video on PTSD:
I believe that shame is only associated with traumas that we feel we were responsible for or could have stopped. This is obviously dependent on our own personal experience during and after the traumatic event, but if we feel that we could have or should have done something to stop it.. We can feel full of shame as a result. Cause think back to the definition of shame.. And how it can cause us to feel like we are just wrong or bad. If we felt that we could have done something to stop a trauma from occurring, or did something to cause it of course we could struggle with feelings of shame.
Ways to better cope!
1. Because we are dealing with trauma and possibly some unhealthy coping skills we will need to gather our healthy and helpful resources first. Research shows us that the freeze state happens because we don’t know what else to do in that moment, and don’t have any resources to help us out. In order to even consider talking through all we have been through, we need to have internal resources available to us at all times.
2. Next is, mindfulness & Grounding: When we have been traumatized and are struggling with intense feelings of shame it can be hard to stay present. This could mean that we are unable to stay in our body and dissociate, or that we struggle to stay in the present time, and have a hard time discerning past from present. I put these 2 tools together because they can work in tandem.
3. Next, explore the trauma and situations that created shame for you. Because shame is often attached to a lot of other more uncomfortable emotions, and could be what’s keeping us held in our PTSD response, we have to figure out what situations caused us to feel shameful. Obviously this needs to be done slowly and carefully, but your therapist should walk you through, and help you see the other side of the encounter. Perhaps we aren’t taking into consideration why someone would do that to another person. I know talking through each encounter that may have caused us to feel shame can seem tedious, but it’s important that we do it so we can see the other side of it, and let it go.
4. Developing new and healthier relationships and ways to protect ourselves. Shame often gets passed around from hurt person to hurt person because it’s often too difficult to deal with, so we inflict on it onto others.
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