According to Stephen Porges, PhD, some of our traditional psychotherapeutic approaches to working with shame may inadvertently amplify it.
So in the video below, Stephen outlines a Polyvagal approach that can help us avoid reinforcing shame, and instead, resource clients to regulate themselves as they process that shame.
Have a look.
And those would become those neural exercises that would enable that person not to be, I would say, fearful of touching that shame. The shame is not deadly. The shame is just a disrupted feeling. It doesn’t feel good, but it loses its power, because the shame becomes really powerful in people’s lives and the protection of shame can be so aggressive that it can be very hurtful to loved ones around them.
So what you’re doing is developing a toolkit for the client to regulate their state so if touching shame puts them into a defensive state, they can get out of it. Now when they get out of it, you as a therapist are there giving them the cues of co-regulation. But if you try to give a person cues of co-regulation and their body is in a sense too intensely defending itself, those cues are going to be misinterpreted by the nervous system as violations of trust.
And shame is often associated also with violations of trust, and what is needed is that the person has to have some resource and then has to have the ability to go to the therapist as a resource but they’re not saying the therapist… The therapist is present and compassionate and a good witness, but the client is the one that has to be doing the state regulation. If the therapist becomes too intrusive and the client is destabilized, that intrusiveness will result in greater destabilization and reactivity. So the issue is the therapist has to be present, has to have cues that are non-evaluative, and has to allow the client to regulate the states to experience them, and part of the therapeutic model is to allow the client to talk about their visceral, their bodily experiences as they visit these states.
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Now we’d like to hear from you. How do you work with clients with deep feelings of shame? Let us know in the comments below.