Talking about shame can be a deeply uncomfortable experience . . .
. . . and clients may go to great lengths to avoid discussing or admitting to feelings of shame.
But as we know, shame that stays hidden will continue to grow more powerful, often bringing on even more shame.
So in the video below, Christine Padesky, PhD shares a specific set of questions that can help even the most reluctant clients begin to talk about their feelings of shame.
Have a look.
That’s actually an interesting question because as a parallel, I can say, “Can you think of something you did earlier in your life that could be shameful to some people, but you’ve been quite open about it?” I might give them an example like, “Did you ever get really drunk when you were a teenager or young adult? Or did you ever do something really wild and crazy that now you’re somewhat embarrassed about?” But it’s something that they’ve told people about. Something that people know about them.
Then I would say, “How much time do you spend thinking about that during the past week?”
Usually, they’ll say, “Not at all.”
And then I’ll say, “This thing that you’re keeping secret that you feel ashamed about: how much time have you spent thinking about that during the week? What’s the impact of that on you? How does that you during the week? How does that affect your mood? Does it keep you from doing things that you value?”
Sometimes people have a secret that prevents them from applying for new jobs, or it prevents them from getting more intimate and closer to people, or whatever. Then I’ll talk to them about the interpersonal costs of that. “How do you think this affects your relationship with your partner, with your children, with your friends, your coworkers?”
Oftentimes, people who do have something about themselves that is quite shameful have set up all kinds of interpersonal barriers just so people don’t learn this about them or they don’t get put in a situation where they might have to reveal it.
We start by talking about the impact that it has on themselves in their relationships, and then I would ask them, “What would it feel like to if you could be fully who you are in your own skin and own this your entire life and still feel accepted by others?” This is that idea of, “Could the tribe accept you even knowing this about you? And what would that be like?”
Start by talking about the personal costs of keeping things secret, beginning by saying, “How much time do you spend thinking about this? What would it be like to be accepted by one person who knew this about you?”
I think to really talk about the experiences of the impact that it has of not revealing your total self to somebody in very concrete day to day ways, oftentimes this helps people begin to realize the costs they’re paying by keeping their secrets.
If you found this video helpful and would like to hear how the top experts in the field (like Bessel van der Kolk, MD; Marsha Linehan, PhD; Peter Levine, PhD; Pat Ogden, PhD; and more) work with clients suffering from deep feelings of shame, click here.
Now we’d like to hear from you. What are some ways you help your clients when they find it difficult to disclose feelings of shame? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.
If you found this helpful, here are a few more resources you might be interested in:
Treating Trauma: How to Work with the Shame of Moral Injury
A Simple Metaphor to De-Shame a Client’s Trauma Response
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