Breaking Free From Shame and Secret Keeping

What is shame?

Shame is a powerful emotion that affects our behavior and mental health. It is different from guilt, which is an emotion that arises after we evaluate our actions or behavior, shame arises after evaluating our self-worth as a person. When shame goes unaddressed, it leads to a feeling of vulnerability, which often leads to secret keeping. This can lead to negative emotions such as:

  • Worthlessness
  • Unlovability
  • Isolation

To break the cycle of shame, it’s important to recognize when we are feeling shame, practice self-compassion, seek support, and reflect on our values and beliefs. Breaking the cycle of shame is challenging, but it is possible with effort and support. When shame is not addressed, it can leave us feeling vulnerable, raw, and exposed, leading us to keep secrets. This can have negative emotional and physical effects, such as feelings of:

  • Worthlessness
  • Unlovability
  • Defectiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Isolation
  • Depression
  • Panic
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Powerlessness

Why do we continue to hold on to shame instead of breaking the secret keeping cycle?

Keeping secrets can be used as a way to avoid criticism, judgment and rejection from others. Also, family dynamics, such as intergenerational trauma, may contribute to the habit of secret keeping. Sometimes, the belief that sharing a secret will make us feel worse or not having anyone to confide in can also contribute to secret keeping. Additionally, feeling powerless due to external factors such as a bully, an abuser, or a system of oppression can also contribute to keeping secrets.

It is important to note that all our behaviours make sense (yes, even the behaviour that we are most shameful of). In order to survive and/or feel accepted and loved, we have learned to adapt to our environment by engaging in these behaviour(s). Since it is engrained, it is normal for the healing process to take time. Patience and self-compassion are key components.


How do we break the cycle of shame and secret keeping?

Breaking the cycle of shame is challenging AND it is possible. Here are some steps we can take to start healing and move towards a life free from shame:

1. Identifying shame can be challenging as it can present as other emotions such as guilt or fear. To recognize shame, pay attention to physical sensations and associated emotions, words, and images. Once identified, acknowledge the feeling and see if the internal monologue is coming from our inner critic and/or our perfectionistic part(s). See if it is possible to extend some curiosity by asking why the emotion is there (i.e. what event activated the feeling of shame).

2. Self-compassion is a powerful tool in overcoming shame. Instead of being harsh on ourselves for our mistakes, treat ourselves with the same kindness and understanding we would offer to a friend. Remember, everyone makes mistakes and it is a normal part of being human.

3. Reaching out for support can aid in breaking the shame cycle. Consider talking to a therapist, coach, or a trusted friend or family member.

4. Examining personal values and beliefs can help understand the causes of shame. Reflect on core values and beliefs and determine if they are beneficial or detrimental. Additionally, consider the origin of these values and beliefs, such as family or religion.

Breaking free from the cycle of shame is possible. By acknowledging and recognizing our shame, practicing self-compassion, and seeking support, we can begin the healing process and work towards a life without shame and regain our sense of self-worth.

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