Shame is one of the most universal human emotions we experience. It can also be one of the most painful.
And when feelings of shame become chronic, some clients start to believe that they are somehow defective or flawed – sometimes beyond repair.
So in the video below, Ron Siegel, PsyD, shares a few strategies to help ease feelings of shame and begin to shift clients away from feelings of defectiveness.
Take a look.
So this really points to one way to work with this feeling of being defective, to really start to see the universality of defective feelings and find a way for people to share them with one another. There’s nothing quite like talking to a friend or a colleague or a family member and being able to share our feelings of defectiveness and they reciprocate and they start telling us about theirs. And particularly if this is somebody who we’ve respected or looked up to in some way because of some positive quality that they’ve got and realize, oh my, they feel this too? It’s such a relief. It completely transforms the experience for us all. So this is really just one variation on the great power of social connection to heal our wounds when we’re really seen by others and when we really see others then and we sense a sense of mutual love or connection, it goes such a long way toward being able to help us work with whatever we feel in pain about. So there are other complimentary approaches that arise from this.One of them is to start to look at the trauma that’s connected to feelings of defectiveness. There’s almost always some painful injury in our past. It can take many forms. It could be frequent criticism that we’ve received from parents or siblings or peers. It could come from having been part of a marginalized group that’s given all sorts of messages about inadequacy in one way or another. It could be about having weaknesses that have led to some kind of repeated failure. And perhaps it’s simply from marinating in an environment that has set ridiculously high standards for what’s good enough and feeling like we can never meet them. So just exploring with a client when they first started feeling defective in a given realm can be very, very revealing. And then the task is within a zone of tolerance to go back and revisit those times when they felt defective in the past, to recall them as vividly as possible, but through current eyes.And with the presence of a supportive therapist, to begin to look at what exactly was going on there. And typically when we do this, the defective parts start to look not so bad. We can become compassionate, the client can become compassionate toward them. And another related approach is just a little bit more cognitive. And that’s to say, where did the idea that you’re defective in this area or that being defective in this area is problematic? Where did that idea come from? Because very often people absorb the idea somewhere and they don’t recognize the origin. And then we can get into who wrote the rules? Whose value judgment is it that says that this is horrible to be this way or that way? And sometimes it can be tricky because the person may live in a dominant society or in a local society that still holds onto or reinforces the view that causes their pain.
And we see this a lot in marginalized groups who so often benefit from liberation movements that will push back on this kind of messaging and say, hey, wait a minute. That’s not true. And that can be very, very helpful to help people get free from these kinds of toxic messages. Or people who have particular limitations or disabilities. It can be really, really helpful to connect with other people that experience these and have experienced the same pain of judgment around this. So these are all ways of examining, getting perspective on and starting to push back against the narratives that they keep us trapped in thinking that we’re defective. And almost always we start to see that they’re arbitrary, that they reflect a particular perspective and that there’s particular historical reasons why whatever this quality is has come to be seen as problematic. And there are other approaches too.
There are so many of them. We can help teach self-compassion to bolster a sense of common humanity and ability to soothe ourselves when we’re feeling defective. We can help people to cultivate gratitude, to notice all of the bounty that they have in their life that may have been overshadowed by preoccupation with thoughts of defectiveness. But whatever angle we’re pursuing, I think more than with any other difficulty, judicious use of self-disclosure on the part of the therapist can also help with feelings of defectiveness. Because almost always in a therapy relationship, the client assumes that we somehow don’t feel defective. That we are somehow okay and they’re not okay in this realm. And finding some kind of judicious but honest way to talk about our own feelings of defectiveness, particularly if they’re in some kind of area that parallels the one that the client’s struggling with, can be enormously helpful. Because that again brings up this power of safe social connection. And knowing that we’re really in this all together.
For additional insight and practical strategies for helping clients who feel defective, please take a look right here How to Work with Feelings of Defectiveness.
Now we’d like to hear from you. How do you help clients address feelings of shame and defectiveness? Let us know in the comments below