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Shame As An Obstacle To Getting Help

by Karen A. Solomon, LCSW, BCD, CGP, CHt

Shame is an internal emotional experience that evolves from feeling exposed and vulnerable. This internal state coincides with a belief that something is wrong, bad and inherently embarrassing about us or a situation we are struggling with. The idea of sharing this information with others is so humiliating and frightening that we feel compelled to maintain secrecy. The more shame we feel, the more we believe we will be judged, criticized and thought very poorly of if we tell anyone. We cannot imagine that anyone else has ever felt or experienced anything similar to what we are going through. The isolation and despair resulting from this may lead to depression, anxiety and a worsening of the original problem.

Shame differs from guilt in that guilt is associated with an externally imposed sense that we have done something wrong. Guilt may lead to shame if we feel what we did wrong is connected with how defective we are inside.

The belief system underlying shame makes it very difficult to ask for help. The first thing we would need to do is expose the secret. It is easy to believe you are safe keeping this deep inside. Ironically, the best antidote to shame is sharing and exposing, thus finding out that we are not alone or as defective and horrible as we imagined. This is risky, however, since there are those who may reinforce our sense of shame by reacting in any or all of the ways described earlier.

What is one to do in this dilemma? Knowing who is safe to talk to is extremely challenging, since shame leads us to believe everyone would judge us harshly. Depending on your relationships with significant others, you may feel comfortable confiding in someone you know. Often, when others have trusted you with sensitive information, you feel safer taking a risk with them. If you feel someone will provide a safe, nonjudgmental space to talk, avail yourself of their support and request they respect your privacy.

This is a situation in which seeking professional help may be a viable option. A mental health professional has a keen understanding of the difficulty inherent in seeking help and may ease the process of sharing by addressing your discomfort before you even talk about the specific issue. Taking this first step will provide much needed relief from the burden you may be carrying. Feeling heard, understood and not judged will probably reduce the sense of shame immediately. Once you have opened the door, options for help will be discussed. Additional therapy, support groups, twelve step programs and other modalities may be evaluated and you will be able to move forward.

Knowing you are not alone and are taking steps to obtain help will provide a sense of empowerment, thus reducing the lonely, powerless feeling you have been experiencing. When seeking a professional, after checking credentials and licensing, pay attention to your comfort level with this person. Sometimes in the initial phone call, you have a sense of ease. Remember in your first consultation, you are looking for someone you will be able to share your innermost feelings and experiences with.

Karen A. Solomon
Office : 631 - 543 - 2050

Commack, New York 11725

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