The emotion of shame can be overwhelming to say the least. Shame-inducing thoughts tend to fall into three categories:
- Self put downs such as “I’m stupid,” “I’m fat,” “I can’t do anything right.”
- Catastrophic thoughts about one’s ability to handle the future.
- Critical or shaming thoughts of remorse and regret such as obsessions about past or future failures, and limitations.
Shame-inducing thoughts can be so severe, they can spiral out of control and result in anxiety and depression. The more you obsess the more intense the shame spiral. However, thought-stopping can help you overcome obsessive shaming thoughts.
Thought-stopping is an effective cognitive technique that can help you redirect obsessive shaming thoughts. I regularly help my clients with thought-stopping. Client’s practice the steps with me in counseling, and then practice at home.
STEP 1: Write out a list of shaming thoughts.
STEP 2: Rank the shaming thoughts in their level of severity.
STEP 3: Select the shaming thought that you want to work on. It is important to initially select a thought ranked lower on the list so that you can successfully work through it.
STEP 4: Imagine the thought. Close your eyes and imagine the thought in as much detail as possible.
STEP 5: Interrupt the thought. As you feel the shame, yell STOP to yourself. You might even yell STOP out loud. Make sure to practice deep breathing while doing this.
STEP 6: Substitute the thought. Write out a list of non-shaming, counter thoughts. For example, if you are working on the thought, “I am ugly.” You might write out a counter thought such as “I am unique and special the way I am.” Sometimes it is very difficult think of counter thoughts and it might even be harder to believe them. If this is the case, go to STEP 7.
STEP 7: (Optional) If you have trouble believing the non-shaming, counter thoughts then make the decision to believe all your shame based thoughts. Just sit there quietly while practicing deep breathing. Surrender to this shamed based reality. For more information on how to surrender, check out my post on radical acceptance. As you practice radical acceptance, the shame spiral will gradually slow.
If you need help working through obsessive shaming thoughts, please contact me through my website.