I talk to so many people who talk to me about wanting to change their behaviour and the way they react to certain situations. For example: people with addictions or other self defeating behaviours (self harm, eating disorders, issues with spending, etc.), couples who blame one another for their marital strife, low self esteem, patterns of emotional reactivity and so on. Often, it is the feeling of shame that lies beneath those triggering reactions and behaviours.

For most of us, shame makes us feel small and insignificant, like we don’t matter.  We feel like we want to shrink into the background or disappear altogether. Alternatively, there are times when shame is expressed through anger or rage. We lash out at others around us hoping they will distance themselves away from us. It certainly shuts down the possibility of getting closer.

Shame often gets embedded into our psyche through experiences of childhood trauma, chronic criticism, unrealistic demands of perfection, significant rejection, betrayal and other traumatic events.  It often produces in us distrust of others and an internal dialogue of: “I’m not good enough, I’m not lovable, others don’t want me around” and any other messages that communicate there is something inherently wrong with me.

As adults, we have the power to change our thought world. Here are some practical ways to do that:

Don’t ‘should’ on yourself (One of my favs!) 

Change your inner dialogue. Remind yourself of the positive traits you have rather than focusing on the negative. For example, I am strong, determined, persistent, resourceful, kind, etc. If you have trouble coming up with these on your own, ask friends and family close to you what positive traits they see in you

Practice self-care: think about your diet, exercise, sleep, give yourself margin in your schedule and plan enjoyable and fun things you like to do

Separate your productivity and your identity from one another. This gives you power to change your behaviour and not feel your identity is threatened

Don’t get caught in the victim trap! Avoid self-talk that focuses on how others are treating. Take charge of your life, focus on what you can control, and make your life count for the priorities important to you

Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can


Andrea Groenewald is a registered psychotherapist and the founder of Five Star Relationships – a counselling service that helps individuals and organizations unleash their potential.