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Breaking the Cycle of Shame and Self-Destructive Behavior

Breaking the Cycle of Shame and Self-Destructive BehaviorShame is: “I am bad” vs. “I did something bad.”

Shame involves an internalized feeling of being exposed and humiliated. Shame is different from guilt. Shame is a feeling of badness about the self. Guilt is about behavior — a feeling of “conscience” from having done something wrong or against one’s values.

Shame underlies self-destructive behaviors:

  • Hidden shame often drives self-destructive behaviors and other psychological symptoms such as rage, avoidance, or addictions.
  • Self-destructive behaviors often are an attempt to regulate overpowering, painful feelings but lead to more shame, propelling the self-destructive cycle.
  • Secrecy, silence, and out-of-control behaviors fuel shame.
  • Shame makes people want to hide and disappear, reinforcing shame.
  • Shame is created in children through scolding, judging, criticizing, abandonment, sexual and physical abuse.

Breaking the Cycle of Shame

Breaking self-destructive habits requires action, not just willpower:

  • Changing destructive behaviors requires trying out new, affirming behaviors to replace them.
  • New behaviors that generate positive feedback and reward create new connections in the brain, creating the momentum for ongoing growth and change. (Learning on a neurobehavioral level)

Shame can be relieved and healed by:

  • taking healthy risks to be seen and known authentically, acting from a positive motive and trying out new behaviors in a safe (nonjudgmental) setting.
  • taking actions that generate pride — the antidote to shame.
  • breaking secrecy with people who understand.
Breaking the Cycle of Shame and Self-Destructive Behavior

Lynn Margolies, Ph.D.

Dr. Lynn Margolies is a psychologist and former Harvard Medical School faculty and fellow, and has completed her internship and post-doc at McLean Hospital. She has helped people from all walks of life with relationship, family, life problems, trauma, and psychological symptoms including depression, anxiety, and chronic conditions. Dr. Margolies has worked in inpatient, outpatient, residential and private practice settings. She has supervised others, and consulted to clinics, hospitals, universities, newspapers. Dr. Margolies has appeared in media -- on news and talk shows, and written columns for various publications. Dr. Margolies is currently in private practice in Newton Centre, MA. Visit her website at drlynnmargolies.com.

APA Reference
Margolies, L. (2016). Breaking the Cycle of Shame and Self-Destructive Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 19, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/breaking-the-cycle-of-shame-and-self-destructive-behavior/

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jul 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Jul 2016
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.