Shame and Embarrassment in Counseling

by | Aug 3, 2020 | Mental Health | 0 comments

I’ve been in counseling for a while and started seeing a new counselor in May. It has been an eye-opening experience. The sessions have pushed me harder and further than I have been in the past.

In a recent session, it was mentioned to me that it seemed that I wasn’t offering my full self. At first, I felt offended. I didn’t know how I could possibly be giving less than my full self when the sessions were so exhausting and hard.

The next week, I spent a lot of time thinking about what she said. Then I realized maybe she was right, and that I wasn’t giving everything. Well, shoot. I would hold back small things to avoid feeling shame or embarrassment.

The shame and embarrassment came from the fact that there were things I knew weren’t necessary, small things, but I didn’t have control over myself to stop. Yay for impulsivity! This didn’t really have a lot of meaning until I realized that BPD and shame were friends. For most of my life, I believed I was just a terrible person with hidden motives that I didn’t understand.

Dealing with Shame

Doing what any curious soul does; I took to the internet.

Now, obviously, there aren’t many resources on how to deal with shame and embarrassment during counseling. That is kind of something you work through while you’re there. I did, however, find some good tips on dealing with shame that I believe could be applied to counseling sessions in order to get you started.

Psychology Today published an articled titled: 5 Ways to Silence Shame

The first tip that they gave was to bring shame to light. Take it’s power away! With respect to counseling, I think that’s all that’s required. After opening the door, I believe the next 4 steps (below) can be worked through with your counselor. As long as you’re willing to put in the work.

  1. Untangle what you are feeling.
    • Analyze what you are feeling vs what you should be feeling.
  2. Unhitch what you do from who you are.
    • Don’t put your happiness in the hands of others.
  3. Recognize your triggers.
    • What are your insecurities?
  4. Make connections.

A while back, I came across a book that is worth recommending and is also referenced in the article from Psychology Today. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown is absolutely phenomenal and worth a read, or even a few reads. Honestly, all of her books are great.

Shame and Therapy

Shame can wreak havoc on the therapeutic process. Most obviously, to the extent that clients are inclined to hide shameful thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, important material is missing and the therapeutic process is adversely affected (see, e.g., Sanftner & Tantillo, Chapter 12). As Gilbert (Chapter 14) observed, shame can “hinder accurate formulation because clients are inclined to narrate their stories to minimize shame.”

PhD, D. R., & Tangney, J. (2011). Shame in the Therapy Hour (1st ed.). American Psychological Association.

Letting It Out

I got myself pumped up for my next appointment, I was going to bare it all. As the appointment got closer I began to doubt myself. I got myself hyped up was worried that I wouldn’t be able to follow through.

**Before continuing, I want to say that my biological cousin goes to my counseling appointments with me when he is able to. He is the only biological family member that is truly aware of my struggles and goes to support me in the healing journey.**

Heading into the appointment, I already knew what the topic would be. We were going to continue our discussion on boundaries.

This was my chance. The little things that I was feeling shame about had to come out. I barely managed to get them out. My mind was screaming at me the whole time that I shouldn’t have been sharing these things. I did it anyway, through tears and my cracking voice.

Throughout the session, he brought up a few different issues. I admitted that I knew what I was doing, but didn’t feel as if I could control it. He also expressed his frustration with feeling like I was trying to manipulate him at times. My heart broke when I heard that. I felt as if I had no choice but to share that I say certain things because I feel like I am a burden on him and everyone else and it wasn’t in an attempt to manipulate anyone.

The session continued that way. In the end, although I still felt shame about the different things I had shared, I felt better having it out in the open and knowing that we could start working on it. I left with some tools to start with and to start dealing with those habits that cause me to feel shameful and we have most of our boundaries laid out.

Pushing past the shame is difficult, and it’s no fun. I exposed a lot more in that session than I shared here in this post. Even though it is exhausting, I fully intend to continue to push myself past the shame and embarrassment. It is the only way to get better.


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