Overcoming Shame through Connection

I have written before about how much we all need human connection  (see: Family of Choice, Connection Heals, Relationships after Severe Trauma: Making Healthy Choices)and how forming positive relationships can be an important step towards developing self-love. The following research describes the role connection plays in overcoming shame, one of the core issues for trauma survivors.

Dr. Jessica Van Vliet conducted a study, published in  Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, that indicates that shame results from internalizing and over-personalizing a situation. The individual also seems to believe they are powerless to change their feelings or their fate. Shame in turn can lead to social isolation, with resulting decreased opportunities for having one’s faulty beliefs challenged by others or new, positive experiences.

Van Vliet states that connection (to family/family of choice, friends, a higher power, humanity as a whole) plays a crucial role in overcoming shame:

Connecting to others helps to increase self-acceptance, and with self-acceptance can come a greater acceptance of other people as well. People start to realize that it’s not just them. Other people do things that are as bad or even worse sometimes so they’re not the worst person on the planet. They start to say to themselves, ‘This is human, I am human, others are human.’

The implications of this research for trauma survivors are clear. This is why establishing and building a support system is such a crucial part of the first phase of trauma therapy. Support groups and connections with other trauma survivors can also play a powerful role in establishing one’s sense of being part of humanity, not completely “other”. The good news is that you can overcome shame!

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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University of Alberta (2009, September 9). Overcoming Shame: Making Connections Is The Key, Says Researcher. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/09/090908193523.htm

Van Vliet, K. J. (2009). The role of attributions in the process of overcoming shame: A qualitative analysis. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 82, 137-152.

This entry was posted in Abuse, Childhood Abuse, Family, Health, Mental Health, Psychologist, Relationships, Therapy, Trauma and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Overcoming Shame through Connection

  1. Tracie says:

    The connections that I have made in the survivor community have helped me to be stronger, more self assured, and have more understanding of the healing process. I have learned to speak out the truth without shame, knowing that there is a support system of people there who understand me and love me no matter what. They are invaluable.

    Thanks for submitting this to the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse.

  2. Blue Morpho says:

    Community and connection is so amazingly strong. It’s tough for those who suffer co-morbid depression, since that pushes us away from people – people we desperately need. Finally moving forward on all fronts gives a chance to be with people, everyday people, and see ourselves as another normal person in the pool of humanity. It can be a difficult thing to try to achieve, but so powerful when it happens.
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

  3. A great post for the carnival. Thanks so much for letting us use it!

  4. Support for an abuse survivor means so much. Finding out that you are not alone in your struggles and with the effects of abuse allows you to begin to open up and reach out to others who can support your healing. Thanks for sharing this post.

    • Thanks for reading Patricia 🙂

      Connection is so crucial to healing, isn’t it?

      • Patricia says:

        Thought I would work on SHAME today. It occurred to me that I am a walking “luggage set” of shame, designer and seasonal appropriate, but never the less…shame! The trigger for me was decorating my living room this weekend. Thought I would look for some family photos to frame a put up on my fresh white walls. Wow…lots of bad memories that I have packed away for so very long. Writing this and sending it out into the world is huge for me. Thank you for reading.

  5. Tom says:

    shame and guilt impedes my everyday normal functioning to the point of even getting dressed in the morning…it effects everything… I have been disconnected from people for so long because of trauma that I am emotionly detatched even numb (not realizing it) until recently…us combined with this I have ocd which compounds the shame…

    • Karrie says:

      Hi Tom, i do very much identify with what you are sayiing and suffering. I too have the same problem inclusive of OCD, but i also have PTSD symptoms. im reading as much as i can and become aware as much as i can and trying daily to overcome all my problems , inclusive of actively trying to reach out and overcome the emotional detachment you speak about. The shame identity is especially worthy of our attention and daily efforts in over coming and bring it out of hiding. Im responding to your post years later, would be lovely to keep in contact and see how we are both progressing……

  6. Kate says:

    I just found your web site and am grateful for the information contained within. I am an Adult Child and have been attending Alanon for several years. I just recently found information on Complex PTSd and its symptoms. I am relieved to have finally found a name for all my symptoms.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The observation that connection disarms shame is astute and very useful. The dark irony that people suffering from depression are least well able to pursue the “connection cure” on their own might suggest that the therapeutic relationship is a critical foundation to build on for these patients? The counselor can perhaps offer sufficient re-assurance to give the patient enough strength to seek out other support, breaking down the vicious cycle of depression -> isolation -> shame -> depression.

    One pitfall I have experienced that arises from relying solely on interconnections to mitigate shame is that it leaves my happiness dependent on the vicissitudes of other people’s moods. Relying on the ability to connect with others to produce the feeling of belonging is not always a reliable antidote to the experience of shame, since other people have their own problems and even close friends won’t always be available to interact.

    This makes transformation of shame into a recognition of broader freedom, akin to what the Buddhists call “boundless compassion,” critically important to wholeness and health. The bright irony is that the near universality of shame in the human experience is the root for understanding the perpetual interconnection we all share. The suffering itself becomes the interconnection, one that is not dependent on the availability of friends or family. Or caring therapists like you seem to be, Dr. Young!

    • What a wonderful comment! Thank you.

      You describe this dilemma so very well:

      “The dark irony that people suffering from depression are least well able to pursue the “connection cure” on their own might suggest that the therapeutic relationship is a critical foundation to build on for these patients? The counselor can perhaps offer sufficient re-assurance to give the patient enough strength to seek out other support, breaking down the vicious cycle of depression -> isolation -> shame -> depression.”

      I also agree that if one’s sense of well being stems only from the status of relationships with others it is vulnerable to constant fluctuation. You have inspired me to write more about this, how I think connection helps us internalize other skills and capacities.

  8. Pingback: What Comes After Connection? | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma

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