Three Helpful Ways to Overcome Shame

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Three Helpful Ways to Overcome Shame

On a recent radio interview with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine, I was asked to share my story of growing up with a father who was an alcoholic and who suffered with PTSD from serving in World War II. In many ways my dad was my hero. I thought he was brave, smart and funny—he was. But he also had a dark side that terrified me and my siblings. As I unfolded my history, it dawned on me that I was now able to share my story without catapulting into a shame hangover. Shame has been the hardest of the narratives to be rewritten within the unseen parts of myself. Shame became such a normal part of who I was that I did not known how to live without it. So how did the shame, which has a very addictive nature to it, subside? Well subside may be too strong of a word, how about lessen significantly?

1.     Practice self-compassion. You see, I actually blamed the younger me for the trauma and abuse. I thoroughly believed that if she­­—if I—had been smarter, prettier, kept my room cleaner, my dad would not explode or hurt me. It wasn’t until I stopped blaming myself that I started to heal. I spent many years nurturing self-blame instead of nurturing compassion. Making friends with the younger me changed my life. After all she was a person with feelings who needed a voice to tell her story. Have you made friends with your younger you? I would advocate that if you haven’t, today would be a good day to start. 

2.     Recognize what shame is costing you. Shame can be debilitating. Shame can make it nearly impossible to see hope, to believe in a future, to believe you are someone worth advocating for—someone worthy of respect. Shame sends people into depressions, rages, binges, and even suicides. Shame is expensive, demanding, and a cruel, merciless taskmaster. Shame is costing you your life. Have you considered letting it go, forgiving yourself, placing responsibility where it belongs? I would advocate that if you haven’t, today would be a good day to start.

3.     Put empathic people around you. You need professionals, mentors, and friends who will show you empathy. Empathy heals shame in powerful ways. You need people who will give you a different perspective on your shame narrative. Years ago, a counselor changed my shame narrative. He asked me to describe my childhood, which I did unemotionally, after all it was my fault so why cry over spilt milk, I reasoned. His tears showed me something different. His tears melted my defenses and made it safe for me to open up and gave me permission to know what I knew and feel what I felt. If you don’t have empathic people around you, I advocate that you find several and practice letting them in.


Reducing shame isn’t a one-time event. Shame is universal, and deeply embedded feelings of shame take time to heal. Your shame feelings may be a result of your own misbehaviors or the misbehavior of others. Either way, your life is worth living without the toxicity of shame. Would you be willing to take to heart these three simple steps of practicing self-compassion, recognize what shame is costing you, and putting empathic people around you so you can live, really live? 

Nancy Houston1 Comment