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Dealing with Shame

Shame processes in clients are a phenomenon not easy to handle in counselling. Shame enormously restricts showing oneself and may even make it impossible. Many people experience shame as a particularly terrible feeling. Competent counsellors are continuously attentive to small signs of possible shame. Overlooking it when someone is ashamed often has consequences. To shame someone directly almost always has a negative effect. The clients become mistrustful, don’t feel in good hands and withdraw internally. What to do? Shame reduces if one knows one is not alone with it. The sentence “That has happened to me!” usually does a little good, in opposition to the sentence “That is not so terrible!”. Shame requires tactful behaviour. Representations in the client which are full of shame usually do not want to talk, often they don’t want eye contact. All pushiness by the counsellor is problematic. A calm presence, sensitively affirming that it is very uncomfortable to be ashamed, is the condition for allowing the clients to engage and to carefully explore what this shame is all about. This is because shame can be an expression of a past, inappropriate shaming. Then it is a substitute feeling for rage. Or it is a signal for revealing something very intimate, then it is the beginning of a new relating possibility.

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