5 Ways to Deal With Shame in PTSD Recovery

September 11, 2014 Michele Rosenthal

Shame in PTSD recovery is driven by a fear that others will discover what you are most trying to hide. Here are 5 ways to deal with shame in PTSD recovery.

Psychologist Helen Block Lewis said, "Guilt is about doing. Shame is about being." In fact, shame in PTSD recovery and otherwise is an emotion that is tied not to a specific behavior but instead to whom you feel you are deep inside. Most often it comes from an imagined defect in who you are. That's right, imagined. Trauma creates so many lies, myths and distortions it's easy to lose sight of fact and reality. That's when shame can really sink its teeth and start shaking you around.

Shame Is Part of Being Human, Shame Is Often Part of PTSD Recovery

At its base, shame drives the fear of not being good enough, plus a sense of humiliation, both of which are very powerful messages that affect all aspects of life. Shame has roots that are both social and political; it equally finds strength in the personal, meaning what you bring to a situation, plus the attitude of the culture in which you live.

While guilt is driven internally by a disruption in your own moral code, shame is driven externally, often by a fear that others will discover what you are most trying to hide. While we gain strength joining together in anger, grief or fear, shame isolates you by driving you into silence, inaction and hiding.

Resolving Shame in PTSD Recovery

Resolving shame in PTSD recovery is a complex process, but it can definitely be done. To start exploring what your personal resolution strategy will be, test out these options for moving toward the elimination of shame.

1. Form a statement: Only you know your most deep self and the internal chaos you feel at any the time—which means only you know the truth about the imagined defect, too. It comes from a lesson you learned from your trauma; a lesson that (especially if you were a child) is almost 100% certain to be inaccurate. In assessing what others think of you, remember that they only see the public you; they can't see the (imagined) defect to the degree or intensity with which you are aware of it. Form a statement that reminds you of this and repeat it whenever you feel shame rising up.

2. Add some grey: Shame can feel enormous and incredibly catastrophic, but that's just it: Shame is only a feeling, which is tied to a thought. The next time you feel shame, pause for a moment, take a step back and identify the thought that preceded it; write it down. Trauma causes black and white thinking, which can lead you to accept that shame statement. But there is no black and white in the real world; there are always shades of grey. Look at the statement you wrote out. Shade in some grey: Write three other interpretations of the situation/moment/idea that produced the original thought.

3. Explore: Start exploring your shame so that you name, clarify and organize your thoughts about it in order to begin working with it. Take some time to think about:

a. What is the shame about, specifically (list as many statements as you can)?

b. What's the first time you remember feeling this shame?

c. Who made you feel this way?

d. What perceived personal defect do you feel the shame comes from?

4. Define and describe: What do you feel the shameful issue says and means about you? Get a pen and paper and write for as long as you can to get a full description. The more clarity you have around this subject, the more efficiently you'll be able to work with it. When the description is written, assess it: How accurate is what it says about you as a person overall? (Remember: there is more to you than this "shameful" element; factor that into your answer.)

5. Take a step back: Imagine you have a friend struggling with shame around this subject. Take a look at him or her. What do you see? What's the truth about the shame, where it came from and what it means about that person? Write a letter offering empathy, understanding and compassion to that person.

PTSD Recovery Lessens Shame

Psychologist Helen Block Lewis also said, ". . . What we believe is most shameful and unique about ourselves is often what is most human and universal."

This is true for pretty much every aspect of life after trauma. The temptation is to live in silence (and hiding) in the hopes that no one discovers that shameful thing about you. But here's the truth: There are others just like you--others who have the same issue, others who feel the same way. For any thought, feeling or post-trauma experience you have, I promise you, there is someone else with it too. That's what it means to be human.

The poet Adrienne Rich says, "When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her."

That's equally true for men. Telling the truth about humiliation and its origin—as tough as it may at first seem—can be the first step to shrugging the shroud of shame. Speaking your truth, standing in it, living and being it, builds pride and self-esteem—major antidotes to shame while staying silent perpetuates shame and gives it fertile ground in which to grow.

Want to get beyond shame? Stop hiding. Start talking, sharing and telling. Choose a safe space and let some light into the darkness.

Michele is the author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity. Connect with her on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and her blog.

APA Reference
Rosenthal, M. (2014, September 11). 5 Ways to Deal With Shame in PTSD Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 from

Author: Michele Rosenthal

October, 26 2015 at 3:45 am

After 40 years I have finally realised shame is who I am and there is nothing anyone else can say to change that. As much as I would like to believe otherwise there is nothing in my soul that can change that belief

July, 3 2015 at 1:42 am

This is simply excellent, helpful, and the crux of trauma. Thank you for being a beacon of concern. Much appreciated...

Mark Bwire
September, 17 2014 at 1:53 pm

great info....thanks for caring enough.

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