Shame and Social Anxiety

Chronic Shame

Social anxiety reflects the belief that other people are not safe.  We can learn that others are unsafe from receiving a rejecting or indifferent response at the very moment we need someone’s caring interest and recognition. In the wake of such lack of attunement to our inner worlds, the insidious feeling of shame can flood our systems.

Shame feels like the self is falling apart.  It brings with it a desire to be swallowed into the ground and cease-to-be. The worst part of shame is the message it delivers:

“If I can’t get the response I need from others, then there’s something wrong with what I need and with who I am.“ 

When someone experiences this kind of shaming response consistently, they develop beliefs that they are defective, unworthy, odd, or even hideous.  In such cases, CBT alone can be like putting the cart before the horse.  People must begin to heal the wounds that led to their socially anxious thoughts and behaviors before they can productively use the CBT tools to carve out a life lived from their ambitions instead of fears. 

Relational Psychotherapy can be an effective solution for shame-based social anxiety and here’s why:

Shame started with the repeated experience of feeling disconnected from others, so it can be healed by restoring that connection.  When past and present shame-filled experiences are talked about in our sessions, the reflex to hide yourself will begin to lift.  Our new empathic understanding of where your shame came from will result in a gentler view of yourself.  You will learn to hold others accountable for not providing the responsiveness that you needed in your life’s story.  It’s not that your needs were wrong, the response you got was wrong!

In my psychotherapy practice, I help my clients overcome shame with others by taking the following steps with them:

  • Establishing an attitude of curiosity and empathy about your experience
  • Building a shared understanding of how you came to expect shaming responses from others
  • Paying special attention to what happens between us that might evoke shame so that it can be talked about.
    • This is powerful because it demonstrates in-vivo that you can hold others accountable for not meeting your needs instead of blaming yourself for “expecting too much”. Through our exploration of your experience of the therapy, you can learn that relationships do not require you to relinquish or disavow your needs but rather champion them.
  • As the above takes hold, you may feel capable of making use of CBT methods to overcome the thinking and behavioral patterns that have kept social anxiety in the picture

Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC).  Contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation if you are dealing with any of these issues.


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