Can Shame Keep You From Finding Your Direction in Life?

Many people are burdened by feelings of shame. They feel there is something deeply wrong with them, even though they often can’t identify what it is. What they often don’t recognize is how their feelings of shame can prevent them from finding their direction in life. Dr. Jane Rubin explains how shame can interfere with your ability to make good life choices.

How Has Shame Affected Your Clients’ Ability To Find Their Direction in Life?

It has affected them in many ways. One important way is that it has interfered with their ability to find and pursue their personal ambitions. In order to find our direction in life, we need to know what our goals are and we need to have confidence that we can achieve them. When my clients are burdened by feelings of shame, they have great difficulty with this. The difficulty usually takes one of two forms:

1. Many of my clients have a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives, but they don’t have the confidence to pursue their goals.

2. Many of my clients can’t identify anything that they want to do. They feel confused, lost, and directionless.

Do You Have Examples Of These Scenarios?

I do. I had a patient who was a very talented graphic designer. She had many opportunities to advance her career, but she always found some reason not to pursue them.

My patient was the youngest child in a large, religious family. When she was growing up, she was taught that she should always put others’ needs ahead of her own. As a young child, she took care of her father, who suffered from a chronic illness, as well as her grandmother.

Until she began therapy, my patient didn’t know why she continually undermined her opportunities to have a successful career as a designer. However, as we began to explore her choices, we realized that, whenever she did anything for herself, she felt that she was being terribly selfish. Her shame that she was a bad person caused her to sabotage whatever success she achieved.

Another patient had a lifelong dream of starting his own business. He successfully started the business and very quickly had lots of customers. However, he didn’t charge enough for his products and was always just barely scraping by financially.

My patient’s parents divorced when he was very young. His mother worked hard to support the two of them, but she spent many evenings out drinking while he stayed home alone. This history of neglect made my patient believe that he didn’t matter to other people. He felt so grateful to have customers at all that he didn’t think he could charge them a reasonable amount for his products.

How Do You Treat These People?

It really varies from person to person. As the case examples above illustrate, people can come to experience a debilitating sense of shame for many different reasons. I always try to understand what, specifically, is causing each patient to be burdened by a sense of shame. From there, I can help each person find a path towards easing that burden.

What Do You Recommend for People with Shame?

I recommend psychotherapy with a therapist who is trained in psychodynamic forms of therapy. Other forms of therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, can often be helpful for treating symptoms. But shame isn’t a symptom. It’s a feeling that colors a person’s sense of him or herself that is largely out of that person’s awareness. Therapy with a warm, caring therapist can help you to recover a positive sense of yourself that will allow you to find your direction in life and pursue your goals with confidence.

Click here to learn more about finding direction in life with Dr. Jane Rubin.

Jane Rubin, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Berkeley, California. She works with individuals in Berkeley, Oakland, the East Bay and the greater San Francisco Bay Area who are struggling with depression and anxiety. She also specializes in working with people who are trying to find meaning and direction in their lives.