How to Release Shame

Are you hiding behind your shame and staying at home so you don’t have to face that inner critic that comes out when you are socializing?

Do you avoid having people over because of the intense shame you feel about the state of your home?

Shame shows up in many ways and is a direct result of childhood and life experiences. It’s an emotion that comes up automatically when you’ve experienced trauma. The intensity, how long it lasts, and your ability to transform it depend on many factors. Because it’s such a big topic, I’ll be writing about it for the next few months.

Over the years I’ve seen shame come up with all of my clients. Sometimes just having me in their home triggers so much shame that they struggle with having me back. The embarrassment and the sheer, intense vulnerability of being seen is just too much. When you go out and see friends or allow yourself to be vulnerable to a trauma coach, they won’t see your home. That part of you can stay hidden. Being in someone’s home is highly personal, and seeing their physical space adds another visible layer of the effects trauma has had.

What is Shame?

There are many definitions, each describing the emotion as being intensely painful and uncomfortable. Brene Brown states that “shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” It comes up when we are seen in a way that we don’t want to be seen.

Shame is a primary response to a traumatic event (too much, too soon, too fast, too intense, for too long, or not enough). It can dissipate with love, care and support. It can also turn into toxic shame if we continue to go out of our way to hide instead of changing, or continuously have others make us feel bad about it.   Our inner citic becomes even stronger around the unwanted parts and this constant protection puts you on high alert,  getting stuck in sympathetic mode (fight or flight) or dorsal (freeze or fawn).  Reconnecting to your body, breath, and decoupling from your mind are the first steps to taking your power back and dissolving the toxic shame that lies within you.

What does it look like?

There are common patterns that show up with shame: feeling like you are not good enough or not worthy. Brene Brown reminds us that “shame drives two big tapes in your mind: ‘Never good enough’ and ‘Who do you think you are?’” These inner voices are a direct result of being shamed for your behaviour, feeling shame because of a traumatic experience that has happened to you or both. The effects trauma has on someone often outweigh the traumatic experience itself.  The role of shame is to protect, however, when it turns into toxic shame it ends up making you feel like there is something inherently wrong with you.

When this cycle begins at a young age, because of family or community dynamics, you can’t express yourself authentically because it’s not safe. If you do you will be critized, shamed, punished or scapegoated. This then creates another level of shame because you learn to  shame yourself on top of being shamed by others (the inner critic).

Our emotions create feelings that are then followed by actions, beliefs, stories and behaviours. What usually follows is hiding out and making ourselves small. It binds to other positive emotions and dulls their intensity s. Fear and anxiety increase, creating a wall of protection. For some this looks like being chronically defensive, emotionally unavailable or developing harmful coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs, binge-watching TV, emotional eating and shopping.

Oh my, this is a lot to carry! Luckily, there are ways to release shame and transform it into healthy shame and empowerment. I will explore this a bit in this blog and go deeper in next month’s blog.

The family dynamics of shame

Often families with unresolved trauma and dysfunctional ways of coping  become shame-based family systems. Shame is meant to control others in the family through blaming. Making a family member the black sheep, makes it easier to draw attention away from oneself. It’s a way for someone to deny their own shame. When this happens often to a family member they begin to attack themselves and develop an inner critic.

This toxic shame never goes away. It’s not like other flash emotions (like anger) that come and go quickly and that signal the need for a behavioural shift. Instead it lives inside your head and your heart dictating every move out of fear because if you are not on guard then you are likely to be attacked.This pattern of protection and the inner critic cause you to disconnect from yourself, others, and the world. This bridge between our interpersonal world and the outside world is lost and you are left alone on an island of protection. This bridge can be rebuilt through setting boundaries, healing from the pain and learning how to love yourself.

What is healthy shame? Healthy shame stands on guard instead. It makes us feel bad when we have made a mistake and encourages us to seek responsibility and repair.  As a normal human emotions, shame  is short-lived and less intense. You recognize the harmful behaviour, but don’t judge your entire personality. There is no longer an inner critic that dominates.It becomes ok to not be perfect. We can own up to our shortcomings versus going out of our way to hide them at all costs. Rather the  feeling of shame becomes a small nudge to pay attention and to check-in if you are in alignment with your values.

How does it create clutter in your life?

The different ways shame shows up also play a role in the clutter it creates in your life.


As innate social beings we  have a strong desire to belong and be valued and accepted by others. As children our survival depends on it. If our basic needs of love, boundaries, and safety are not met,we develop unhealthy coping mechanisms as adults. This looks like being frozen and withdrawn in anger because  expressing it was unsafe. There isn’t a sense of inner strength that you can do things on your own, meaning clinging to others no matter how bad it is.

With people pleasing, and any other form of unhealthy coping, you don’t focus on what you need for yourself. Anger is an emotion that tells you someone is crossing your boundary. If you ignore this and constantly focus on others instead of yourself, things get left aside and build up. Everything from your health, personal finances, your career and even your belongings. Taking the time to keep yourself in order is last on the list because most likely you are also enabling someone else’s irresponsibility. Reconnecting to yourself, your power to say no and getting to know your needs are first steps to shifting this pattern.

Attack Self

This is where the strong inner critic comes in and demands that everything you do is “perfect”.  It’s a sense that there is something “wrong” with you and that you’re not good enough, others know better than you, you are bad and you deserve it when something bad happens to you.

What does this look like when we are talking about a cluttered life? For one, way too many products or items to fit a very specific purpose. For example, having a significant amount of cleaning products each basically doing the same thing..  This perfectionism can also look like having an extremely clean home where everything perfectly placed but when you open up the cupboards they are crammed with every item possible to appear perfect or to fill the void that you feel inside of you.


Often if you attack self and tend to fawn, it’s likely that it’s paired with withdrawing. Here you go within and feel sorry for yourself and spend a lot of time ruminating. This creates a lifestyle of isolating and distrust. From this isolation, lack of connection and support you then lose faith and hope.

Not being present for yourself also means not being present to your spaces. Like with most coping strategies, things pile up. Here it’s because you literally can’t because you go so within that likely you are in dorsal and frozen, making it hard to get anything done. Guilt and shame then take over creating a vicious cycle of wanting to get things done, but being frozen with shame and fear of not doing it perfectly, you do nothing.

Getting support from someone you trust and slowly rebuilding your sense of self so that you can trust others is a wonderful way to slowly disarm the inner critic.


If you live in denial then you are disconnected from yourself and your spaces. There is a sense of numbness, and this often leads to addictions. All to keep that numbness going because to feel is too much. It also means pretending that nothing happened or downplaying it. Whether it was something that happened to you or something you did to someone else that caused harm.

This disconnection causes you to literally not see the mess. I’ve had many clients who don’t notice how cluttered and chaotic things are until we’ve cleared and organized things, and they are able to see the difference. Often they are used to having things all over the place, having grown up in homes similar to theirs. I know for myself, sometimes it’s hard to see how bad things are until I’m removed from a situation or I experience something totally different.

Learning how to connect to yourself, others and your spaces allows you to take ownership for what has happened and what is happening in the present moment.

Attacking others

Instead of going within to attack, lashing out allows a person to not take responsibility and also means denying that anything needs to be addressed. Often this is paired with rage, violence, contempt and gas lighting. Being disconnected in a way that you are constantly playing the victimand everyone is against you.

This outward deflection creates chaos in your life and an avoidance to deal with anything. Likely you have someone who cleans up the mess after you, literally and figuratively, meaning you don’t have a true sense of what’s your responsibility and what’s someone else’s. You also don’t see the chaos and clutter you create because someone else is taking care of it for you. It’s time for a wake up call and to drastic steps to calm your inner anger and sooth your possibly broken heart. Getting support to release anger in a healthy way is a wonderful first step to shifting your energy to a more loving, responsible way of being.

First Steps to Releasing and Shifting Shame

  1. Take some time to identify the areas where you feel shame in your everyday life.
  2. See if you can make the connection to the experience of where it started?
  3. What shame reaction did you develop from that experience?
  4. How does this shame reaction affect:
    1. Your relationships
    2. Your spaces
    3. How you spend your time
    4. Your ability to create the life you want
  5. Who can you unpack this shame and coping mechanisms with?
  6. What part can you let go of?
  7. How can you transform the emotion into empowerment and also change the story of what you think and feel about yourself?
  8. What activities, hobbies, practices, books, exercises can you do to build your sense of self, your worth, and be more connected to your power?
  9. Now is that story true of what someone said about you? Or was it them dumping their shame on you?
  10. What do you want to tell yourself now?
  11. Celebrate the changes you’ve made!

Releasing shame takes time and with it you can also release the clutter in all areas of your life making life flow with ease, joy and grace.

the handbook


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