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3 Painful Thoughts That Lead to Shame and How to Confront Them

Person putting palm on face while holding prayer beads

Shame can work as a tool to keep human beings’ behavior in check.

            The powerful emotion gets employed among groups to moderate how individuals act. If you want acceptance within a particular population set, then requirements around conduct are necessary. Families, cultures, religious groups and nations all regulate folks in this manner.

            Whether we like it or not, it’s an effective method to constrain people.

            However, the shaming feeling can go overboard, especially when it’s used against folks for things they have little to no control over. Unfortunately, individuals can start to exhibit this stigma within their own minds.

            It can trigger the belief their very existence is a mistake.

            I know from experience, it’s a poor place for our minds to reside in for an extended period of time. This article will address three ways shameful thinking comes about in our thought process and three ways to confront these humiliating thoughts.

            Here are three painful thoughts that lead to shame and how to confront them:

  1. One’s interests do not match the group’s desires.

Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies, no two people are exactly the same.

Individuals from the same family or culture may share plenty of similarities but differences between people always exist. Unfortunately, if enough of one’s proclivities are not shared by their group, they run a risk of getting treated like the odd duck.

A Japanese proverb explains it best, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”

Man in checkered shirt hammering a nail
Photo by Kiro Wang:

The meaning? Conform to our standards or get hit with social exclusion. If the guidelines are healthy, then it’s a positive thing. The problem comes when the direction taken could cause destruction.

In these circumstances, staying within the confines leads to a dead end.

Or, at the very least, you forced to lie to yourself about what you really want.  A dehumanization of self in some ways and a disconnection from reality. Your natural gifts and desires are not condoned by those you respect.

Very few moments in life are worse than realizing you don’t fit within the “norm.”

  • Physical limitations

With so much plastic surgery available in modern times, if you have enough money, there are options to address physical limitations. For most of us though, it’s still a measure we avoid taking.

Comfortability around our physical appearance (complexion, facial, height, etc) serves as a major stumbling block for folks.

To look like an A-list actor or supermodel would feel great for most of us but genetic variability does not work that way. The issue really boils down to an unhealthy tendency for us to play the comparison game.

The individual within our gaze has attributes we want for ourselves.

An inability to possess those characteristics causes discontent. If one just had little bit of what so and so had their life would improve significantly. One unknowingly hurts their self-worth by indicating they’re not enough.

Certainly, we all need to acknowledge areas of improvement in our life.

But disparaging our phenotype hits at the essence of who we are. If you’re not good in the skin you’re in how do expect anyone else to appreciate what you have to offer?

Needless to say, the mind of a person who devalues themselves reminds me of a bad neighborhood, you want to leave that area as soon as possible.

  • Living in the past

Everyone makes mistakes in life.  None of us gets to go through our journey without having a level of regret. The pre-frontal cortex in our brain fully develops at the age twenty-six, so until that time, we’re working with less than total capacity.

Our cognitive processing takes place in the pre-frontal cortex, so decision making happens within that region.

Even after leaving our twenties, we’ll still make errors.  However, particular failures of proper judgement hurt more than others.  Sometimes we can replay them over and over in heads, hoping for an alternative outcome.

Yet, what is done is done. Nothing from the past can ever change.

In some cases, an individual can stay stuck emotionally at the traumatic incidents within their world. It becomes a mental prison, where you isolate yourself for a “crime,” and do not have a date when your sentence ends.

The unforgiving nature of this thought process can cause serious depression.

People can reside within this suffering until the day they die. It’s a tragedy but a story we know all too well.

I’ll now explore three ways to cope with shameful thinking:

  1. Honesty

Knowing the truth sometimes makes things awkward. For instance, if everyone in the group has preferences outside of your own, it’s like being on an island by yourself. To surround oneself with people but still feel alone hurts the psyche.

Yet, one needs to deal with that fact one way or the other.

Critical questions regarding whether an individual needs to stay amongst their circumstances or do they need to readjust their priorities comes to mind.  However, none of that will occur unless one truthfully acknowledges to themselves their interests and current group don’t mix.

  • Acceptance

Blaming oneself for natural differences, while not unusual, makes no sense.

We don’t have a choice about genetic inheritance.  You get dealt a set of cards in life and play your hand the best way possible. So, getting realistic with the situation helps more than hating yourself.

Going down the self-loathing road gets dark really quickly.

Envy, jealousy and rage come next if one starts down the self-pity route. You’ll eventually be a person no one wants spend time around. It’s not unusual for people who think this way to become a danger themselves or others.

While suggesting having a party for what one struggles with is ridiculous.

The point of this revolves around taking in the moment for what is. After that you can process the next best move. You could possibly change a few issues or maybe do nothing at all. But it stops you from wasting hours wanting the impossible to transpire.

The saying, “it is what it is,” while annoying sometimes, can bring a measure of peace.

  • Forgiveness

What takes place in the past can never change. Beating yourself up for the next five years cannot reverse anything.  It will only make you a more miserable individual.

A pragmatic solution comes with practicing forgiving yourself.

Try having some compassion for hurtful incidents from the past.  Depending what events took place, other persons may never let go of your prior actions.  This does not mean you have to come to the same conclusion.

 Coming to terms with previous issues can prevent similar episodes from materializing in the future.

Ultimately, the decision to get proactive in regards to proper behavior qualifies as the best outcomes for you and the ones who will cross your path.


The emotion of shame will visit all of us in life. In some circumstances, it’s appropriateness makes sense but the dividing line can get easily get crossed if we’re not careful.

Therefore, when one starts to despise harmless natural tendencies, physical attributes, or past mistakes, a personal alarm should off in our heads.

We should immediately ask ourselves is shaming ourselves behind this juncture going to aid or hinder us? If it’s going to serve as a detriment, try employing the three strategies I mentioned.

Whatever you decide, finding relief will depend on your mindset, so choose wisely.

Vertis Williams is a Positive Habits Life Coach and a Mindfulness Trainer. He is a regular presenter at employee and team development events. Contact him to request more info on his Workshops or on his Coaching Services! Click HERE to Request a Complimentary Habit Coaching Session!

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