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Friday, June 28, 2013

Overcoming Shame: Is Shame Keeping You From Starting Psychotherapy?

Shame can be a powerful and crippling emotion.  Shame is often the underlying emotion for many people who are depressed and anxious.  Unfortunately, for many people who could benefit from psychotherapy to overcome shame, their deep sense of shame keeps them from beginning therapy.

Overcoming Shame: Is Shame Keeping You From Starting Therapy?

For adults who experience this type of deep rooted shame, the origin of their shame usually stems of unmet emotional needs in childhood experiences at an early age.

Shame Can Begin As Early As Infancy
For instance, shame can begin as early as infancy when a baby makes repeated attempts to get her mother's attention and her mother, who might be depressed, is unable to be emotionally attuned to the baby.  Examples of this type of lack of emotional attunement between mothers and babies can be seen in the attachment research of psychoanalyst Beatrice Beebe.

Overcoming Shame:  Shame Can Begin at an Early Age

The following vignette, which is a composite of many different psychotherapy cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates how detrimental shame can be and also how shame can be overcome in therapy using a mind-body oriented therapy approach:

Mary
Mary, who was an only child, grew up in a household where her mother suffered with longstanding depression.  Her father, who was a merchant marine, was usually away from home.

Even as a young child, Mary sensed that her parents never really wanted to have a child.  Her mother, Ann, made sure that Mary's basic physical needs were taken care of but, because of her depression, she had little energy to play with Mary, read a book to her, or take her to the park.

When Mary was at home, she spent most of her time by herself, and she felt lonely.  Her mother, who barely had energy to feed and clothe Mary, spent most of her time sleeping.  When Ann was awake, Mary attempted to get her attention by telling her stories about what happened in her kindergarten class that day.  She hoped to cheer her mother up, but Ann was too immersed in her depression to really listen.

As a result, Mary grew up feeling like there was something wrong with her.  Although she did well academically and she had a few close friends, as a young adult, she was very shy and felt awkward around people she was meeting for the first time.  She compared herself to other people her age and she felt there was something missing in her, but she didn't know what it was.

By the time she was in her early 20s, Mary longed to be like other women her age who seemed to be so confident around men.  But she didn't know how to overcome her shyness.  Even when men her age approached her and seemed interested, Mary would blush and become tongue tied.

Mary wanted more than anything to overcome her shyness and her sense of embarrassment.  She considered starting psychotherapy, but every time she made an appointment, she cancelled it because she felt too embarrassed to talk to a therapist.  Once, she made an appointment, promised herself that she wouldn't cancel it, but she couldn't bring herself to actually walk into the therapist's office building.  She walked around the block several times, and then she went home feeling defeated.

Overcoming Shame

Then, one day, Mary, who was feeling increasingly frustrated with her lack of progress in overcoming her problems on her own, managed to come to see me for a therapy consultation.  When she described her shyness and awkwardness around people, she was relieved to hear that this is a common problem for many people.  Since she tended to compare herself unfavorably to other people, who seemed so confident to her, she assumed that she was the only one who struggled with these feelings.

Our therapy work began with helping Mary to identify experiences that she had throughout her life, however fleeting they might be, where she had a sense of pride.  Since she did very well in school, most of these experiences involved academic achievements.  Even some of these experiences were tinged with some shame when they involved getting up in front of people to get an academic award.

Using a type of mind-body oriented therapy called Somatic Experiencing, we worked on helping to build Mary's confidence as a first step before we worked on the origin of her shame, which was rooted in her unmet emotional needs as a child.

To her credit, Mary stuck with our Somatic Experiencing work, which was gradual.  Over time, she began to work through her shame so she could begin to feel, for the first time in her life, that she was a person who was worthy of having meaningful relationships and experiences in her life.

The Courage to Come to Therapy to Heal From Shame
When someone is feeling as much shame as Mary did, it takes a lot of courage to come to therapy.  This is especially true for people who have so many unmet emotional needs from childhood.

Many people, who are shy, awkward around other people or who feel easily embarrassed, don't realize that their problems are rooted in shame from early experiences.  A person doesn't have to come from an extremely dysfunctional home to develop shame at an early age.  Shame often develops in children in much more subtle ways without parents realizing it.

Starting With a Psychotherapy Consultation
People, who are afraid to start therapy due to their shame or for other reasons, often don't realize that they can start by asking for a therapy consultation which isn't a commitment to continue coming.  A consultation gives someone a chance to talk about his or her problem in a general way, to ask questions about the therapist and how s/he works, and to get a sense if  it would be a good match.

Getting Help in Therapy
Struggling with shame-based issues is much more common than most people realize.  Some people are better than others at hiding their sense of shame so that they appear confident on the outside when, in fact, they're masking their shame.

Unresolved shame often has an adverse impact both personally and professionally, even for people who have learned to hide it.


Getting Help
Rather than allowing shame to continue to have such a powerful effect on your life, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed psychotherapist who has experience helping therapy clients to overcome shame.  When you have overcome shame, you have a chance to lead a more fulfilling life.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with adults and couples.  

I have helped many therapy clients to overcome shame so they can lead happier lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com