NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, January 17, 2024

How to Overcome Shame Spiraling

In the current article, I'm focusing on how to overcome a shame spiral.

Also, see the list of my prior articles about shame at the end of this article.

What is Shame Spiraling?
Shame spiraling can occur when someone feels intense guilt or shame which leads to negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Overcoming the Shame Spiral

Shame spiraling can occur in any area of your life.

Shame spiraling is common among people who have experienced trauma, especially developmental trauma, which is ongoing trauma during childhood (see my article: How Unresolved Trauma Affects How You Feel About Yourself).

How Does Shame Spiraling Occur?
Shame spiraling can occur in many different ways. 

It often happens when an individual feels they have failed in some way or they feel rejected.

Current feelings of shame trigger old feelings of being inadequate in some way, including feeling powerless or unlovable.

This leads to negative thoughts where a critical part of you engages in negative self talk.

These thoughts and feelings can become so overwhelming that you want to shut it all down as quickly as possible, so you might look for an escape with anything you think will bring relief (or, at least, a distraction) as quickly as possible.  

This behavior could include alcohol or drug abuse, gambling, overeating, out of control sexual behavior, and so on.

How to Recognize a Shame Spiral
Here are some telltale signs that you might be in a shame spiral:
  • Feeling intense shame or humiliation
  • Feeling intensely unworthy, unlovable or powerless
  • Feeling isolated and alone (even if you're around people)
  • Experiencing difficulty with regulating your emotions
  • Acting out destructively
Examples of Shame Spiral Triggers
Shame spiral triggers can occur in many different situations.

Some of the most common situations are:
  • Comparing Yourself to Others: When you compare yourself to people you think are more successful, more attractive, happier or wealthier, you set yourself up for a shame spiral trigger (see my article: The Problem With Comparative Suffering).
  • Receiving Criticism or Negative Feedback: Criticism and negative feedback can trigger a shame spiral when it leads to self doubt.  Even when criticism or negative feedback are in the context of overwhelmingly compliments and positive feedback, if you're prone to shame spiraling, you might focus only on the negative feedback.

Overcoming the Shame Spiral
  • Feeling Rejected: Whether it's an actual rejection or a perceived rejection, feeling rejected can lead to feeling unworthy, which can bring up earlier feelings of rejection. The real or perceived rejection can feel like a confirmation that you're unworthy.
  • Making Mistakes or Feeling Like a Failure: Even though you might know intellectually that everyone makes mistakes and everyone fails at something at some point, when it happens to you and you have an early history of related trauma, the recent episode can trigger a shame spiral (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes)
  • Experiencing Trauma or Abuse: Current experiences of trauma or abuse can trigger earlier feelings, which can lead to a shame spiral.
  • Experiencing Perfectionism: If you feel you have to be perfect, you're setting yourself up for a shame spiral. The need to be perfect usually begins at an early age when one or both parents have unattainable standards (see my article: Overcoming Perfectionism).
Steps to Overcome Shame Spiraling
  • Acknowledge Your Feelings: Rather than trying to suppress your feelings, acknowledge them.  This can be challenging because you might want to get rid of those feelings, but you suppressed feelings come back stronger than before.
  • Feel Compassion For Yourself: This might be difficult to do when you're in a shame spiral, but if you make a habit of talking to yourself compassionately, as you would to a friend you cared about, you can learn to do this (see my article: Acceptance and Self Compassion).
  • Write in a Journal: Being able to concretize your feelings in writing, as opposed to these feelings swirling and escalating in your head, can be helpful. Not only can it help you to discharge your feelings, writing in a journal can also help to make these overwhelming feelings more manageable and contained (see my article: Journal Writing to Relieve Stress and Anxiety)
  • Get Emotional Support: Shame thrives on secrecy and isolation. When you get emotional support from someone you trust, you break the cycle of secrecy and isolation. You can also get a different perspective on your situation (see my article: Tips For Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help).
Get Help in Trauma Therapy
As mentioned above, shame spiraling is usually indicative of unresolved trauma.

If you have been unable to overcome shame spiraling, seek help in trauma therapy (see my article: Mental Health Awareness: Reducing the Shame of Getting Help in Therapy).

Getting Help in Trauma Therapy

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to overcome unresolved trauma and build self confidence (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

As a trauma therapist, I have helped many individual adults and couples to overcome trauma.

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.

See My Other Articles About Shame