NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Shame is at the Root of Most Emotional Problems

Shame is at the root of most psychological problems (see my articles: What's the Difference Between Healthy Shame and Toxic Shame? and Healing Shame).  I will begin an exploration of how shame develops and how psychologically debilitating it is in this article, and I will discuss how psychotherapy can help in a future article.

Shame is at the Root of Most Emotional Problems

So, when we're discussing deep-rooted shame, which is also called core shame, we're talking about toxic shame, the type of shame that erodes a sense of self and makes people feel that they are not "good enough," they are unlovable and undeserving of love (see my article:  Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

No one is born with shame.  Shame is rooted in childhood psychological trauma, which is also known as developmental trauma (see my article: How Developmental Trauma Affects How You Feel About Yourself). 

The Connection Between Developmental Trauma and Shame
The Connection Between Childhood Trauma and Shame
Infant research has shown that toxic shame develops in childhood and it can affect infant brain development  (see the article: Early Shame Experiences and Brain Development by Allan N. Schore, Ph.D).

An example of this is when a baby reaches out to his mother and the mother's habitual response is to turn away or ignore the baby due to the mother's emotional problems, including postpartum depression, major depression or her own unresolved trauma (see my articles: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect? and Psychotherapy and Intergenerational Trauma).

When this happens often enough, the baby learns that it is shameful to have emotional needs and, after a while, he learns to suppress these needs and to stop reaching out.

This type of developmental trauma can occur at any time in childhood. When this dynamic occurs in infancy, the trauma is preverbal, so that baby can't express the shame he feels in words.  Initially, he might cry out for the mother and even scream.

But after a while, if the mother does not respond, the baby learns to stop seeking nurturance.  If there are no mitigating factors like a nurturing father or grandparent, that baby grows up to be an adult who suppresses his emotional needs out of deep-rooted shame.

This is adaptive in childhood because the emotional pain of seeking love and nurturance when it's not forthcoming is too emotionally devastating for a child.  So, this need is suppressed in order to avoid feeling devastated.  But while this suppression is adaptive to keep the child from being overwhelmed, it's not adaptive in adulthood.

As an adult, this individual often continues to feel that he is unlovable and that even wanting love is emotionally dangerous because he believes he cannot have it, and it is too shameful to even want it. So, unconsciously, this individual not only hides his emotional needs from others.  He also hides his emotional needs from himself.

He might tell himself that he is "strong" or emotionally "independent" and he doesn't need anyone (see my article: Emotional Strategies That No Longer Work: "I Don't Need Anybody" and Seeing Yourself as "Independent" vs Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Shame).

But this is a pseudo-independence.  It's a defense mechanism to hide the emotional pain of feeling unlovable as well as to hide the shame and ambivalence that is attached to wanting to be loved at the same time that he believes he doesn't deserve it (see my articles: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past and An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

This often results in an avoidant attachment style or he gets into relationships that are retraumatizing with people who hurt him.

Recreating the early trauma is an unconscious process, so it is out of the individual's awareness.  Each time this occurs it will reinforce the existing trauma that he is unlovable and undeserving of love, which intensifies the shame.

Most skilled psychotherapists know that shame is at the root of many emotional problems.  The problem might be labeled as depression, anxiety or any one of a number of other diagnoses, but at the core lies shame.

It's understandable that many clients will resist the painful process of looking at their shame in therapy because by the time they come to therapy, they have spent many years suppressing it.  But if the shame is not worked through in therapy, it will remain an unresolved emotional block (see my article: Working on Emotional Blocks in Therapy).

So, in order to help a client to uncover the shame at the root of trauma, the therapist must first develop a trusting relationship with a client.  The client must have confidence in the therapist and know that the therapist has the client's interests at heart before the therapist asks the client to begin the painful process of working through the underlying shame (see my article: The Creation of the "Holding Environment" in Therapy).

In future articles, I will continue this discussion about shame.  I will also discuss how shame is worked through in experiential therapy (see my article: What's the Difference Between "Top Down" vs "Bottom Up" Therapy?).

To read the next part of this discussion, see my article: Overcoming Shame With Experiential Therapy.

Toxic shame develops at an early age and it's usually at the root of most psychological problems.  Most people, who have experienced early shame, have learned to protect themselves from feeling the emotional pain of shame using defense mechanisms, like denial, for instance.

Although an individual can protect himself from becoming aware of deep-rooted shame, the effect of that shame can be pervasive in all his relationships, especially in romantic relationships where an individual can feel the most emotionally vulnerable.

Whether the individual is aware of his or her shame or not, shame doesn't usually resolve itself.  So, in order to work through shame, s/he needs the help of an experienced psychotherapist who can assist the in uncovering and working through shame.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been unable to resolve your problems on your own, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist.

Once you have established a trusting relationship, a skilled therapist can help you to identify and work through shame which keeps you from living fully.

Rather than suffering on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has experience helping clients to overcome shame.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy and What is a Trauma Therapist?).

I work with individual adults and couples.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.