Face to face with shame – Using DBT to face difficult emotions

“In my view, suicide is not really a wish for life to end.’
What is it then?’
It is the only way a powerless person can find to make everybody else look away from his shame. The wish is not to die, but to hide.”

― Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Shadow

Believing that others will reject you
Judging yourself to be inferior or not good enough
Comparing yourself to others and thinking you are a loser
Believing that you are unlovable
Thinking you are bad, immoral or wrong or defective
Thinking you are a failure
Believing your body is too big and/or ugly
Thinking you cannot live up to others’ expectations of you
Believing that your thoughts or feelings are silly or stupid

These are taken from my DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) worksheets and although I have paraphrased, they are “Interpretations of events that prompt feelings of shame”. I zoned in on them because they are true for me.  They are facts.  They are concrete core beliefs I hold.  More than that, they are ME.  My therapist tells me that they are not facts but thoughts and I need to find a way to challenge myself on this. A friend calls them perceptions.

My therapist also says that shame is keeping me in the place of wanting to hurt or punish myself.  It makes me not want to be in the world.  It tells me that I should hide.  It tells me that I don’t deserve to look forward to or to enjoy anything.  Shame keeps me in the place of constantly needing to compensate for who I am.  It tells me not to let anyone too close or they will see who and what I really am.

Sadness was the first emotion I started to be aware of.  I think shame must be the second.  It’s always been there.  I’ve just never been able to see or name it but I can’t remember a time of not thinking that somewhere along the lines, something wasn’t working in me.

Shame kicks in in the most mundane situations.  It tells me that other people deserve happiness and relationships and families and holidays but not me. It tells me that broken people like me should behave and work and keep their head down and hope that no one looks too deep inside.

Shame tells me that the place for people like me is in the shadows.  It watches me criticise myself when the harsh words don’t come from external sources.  Shame sneaks up when something good happens or when someone says or does something kind-it tells me that I don’t deserve the praise.  It makes me defensive.  It makes me step away-back into the darkness.

Shame tells me that I am to blame for everything in my life that went wrong.  It stands and tuts softly while I look at everything I haven’t done on a typical day, the phone calls not returned, the floor not mopped, the appointment not followed through.  It tells me that these things just prove how very inadequate I am.

Shame nods its head as if to say “Yes.  Yes.  You should be ashamed.” It has a tight grip and a sneaky eye.

Shame makes us want to hide. It prevents eye contact, keeps your head down and turns you away from the rest of the world. The “opposite action” to shame is being open, telling the world, or at least someone you trust something that you feel ashamed of.  Let them show you that rejection is not inevitable.  Let your body language breathe and drift upright as you talk.  Let the words chase the bad feeling.

I have been told to challenge the above beliefs. Even just to try in as neutral way as possible.  It continues to defy me.  I feel as if challenging any one of those lines will draw my attention to Shame and his cronies.  He will have plenty to say on every topic we raise.  He will laugh at the idea that any of those beliefs might not be true.  He’ll tell me to get a grip and face reality.  I am useless.  I am wrong.  I should be ashamed.

Shame talks.  A lot.

Here I am-telling the world about it.  Opposite action.



(DBT references from DBT Skills Training Manual-Marsha M Linehan)

What is DBT?

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is a treatment programme aimed at helping people with ongoing difficulties managing intense emotions. Problems in regulating emotions can lead to considerable mental health difficulties such as increased risk of clinical depression, anxiety, deliberate self-harm and suicide and DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) teaches people skills to deal with their intense emotions.

For more information on DBT click on this link from the HSE and also from ReachOut.com via this link

Help information

If you need help please talk to friends, family, a GP, therapist or one of the free confidential helpline services. For a full list of national mental health services see yourmentalhealth.ie.

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Pieta House National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement) or text HELP to 51444 (standard message rates apply)
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)

If living in Ireland you can find accredited therapists in your area here:

Lucie Kavanagh
Lucie Kavanagh
I am an Ambassador for SeeChange and a Mental Health Blogger. I also write poetry and stories and live in Mayo with my 6 chickens, 3 cats and Maisie my dog.