Reduce excessive shame, continued from p. 1

        How can you tell if someone (like you) has the psychological wounds of excessive shame and/or guilts?

  Typical Symptoms of Excessive Shame and Guilt

        There are many signs - all caused by the Shamed Child, Guilty Child, and their tireless Guardian subselves. These symptoms are suggestive, not proof of these crippling psychological wounds. The more of these traits a person has, the more likely s/he is shame-based (ruled by a false self) and needs to hit bottom and commit to personal wound-reduction (Lesson 1).

        See if you recognize any of these traits. Option use this as a checklist and to track your healing progress...

__ 1)  Having a rigid core belief, like...“I am a bad, weak, unlovable, undeserving, inept, unattractive, stupid, powerless, worthless (person / man / woman / partner / parent / child).

__ 2)  Being excessively zealous, defensive, rigid, dogmatic, and/or “preachy” about "sin," moral righteousness; God; the Devil; the Bible, Torah, or Koran; Hell; “the one true religion,” and/or about being “damned” or “saved.”

__ 3)  Habitual self-centeredness: significant egotism.

__ 4)  Having one or more active addictions to substances (including fat, sugar, and some carbohydrates), activities (e.g. work, spending, gambling, pornography, or working out), certain relationships (codependence) and/or emotional states (e.g. excitement, rage, spiritual ecstasy, or sexual arousal and release). 

__ 5)  Constant belittling, discounting, and criticizing one’s self and/or others.

__ 6)  Repeatedly choosing menial jobs below personal capabilities; Avoiding “responsibilities” excessively. 

__ 7)  A compulsion to rescue needy or hurting others; championing and identifying with “the underdogs.”

__ 8)  Having few or no real friends; and/or being consistently drawn to other (unrecovering) wounded, needy companions and partners.

__ 9)  Excessive social isolation or a compulsion to socialize and be charming and the center of attention.

__ 10)  Excessive sensitivity and defensiveness to imagined or actual criticism or rejection.

__ 11)  Habitually avoiding eye contact, and being apologetic or defensive about that. 

__ 12)  Often misperceiving neutral feedback as criticism, and/or wrongly assuming unspoken criticisms.

__ 13)  Excessive concern with personal and/or social blame and fault-finding.

__ 14)  Feeling "irrationally" guilty and/or anxious about earned successes (The "Imposter Syndrome").

__ 15)  Obsessing about “my rights” or "I (don't) deserve...," or “equality" or "fairness." 

__ 16)  Endlessly focusing on past “mistakes” in private or publicly.

__ 17)  Habitually putting one’s own opinions, needs, and welfare last (vs. equal).

__ 18)  Having an unreasonable fear of “failing,” "losing," or “making mistakes.”

__ 19)  Never admitting “mistakes” or apologizing or reflexively apologizing all the time.

More common symptoms of excessive shame and guilt... 

__ 20)  Habitually unflattering, inappropriate, and/or “sloppy” clothing, grooming, and/or hygiene. 

__ 21)  Obsessive concern with personal, professional, social, vehicle, and/or dwelling appearances.

__ 22)  Compulsive perfectionism ("I can't help it"), and/or a driven need to "win," and/or “be the best," or "be number 1.”

__ 23)  Compulsively “shading the truth” or lying  directly or by omission, and denying it to avoid expected ridicule, criticism, or disapproval (also a symptom of excessive fears).

__ 24)  Notable self neglect - e.g. resisting or avoiding appropriate medical care: rarely or never seeing a doctor, dentist, gynecologist, or eye specialist for checkups or illnesses; not get-ting or taking prescribed medications; poor personal hygiene;.

__ 25)  Choosing unhealthy diets, habits (e.g. smoking), lack of exercise, and/or toxic environments; and ignoring, deflecting, minimizing, explaining, analyzing, or joking about this

__ 26)  Rarely buying anything “nice” or “special” for one’s self, or taking fun trips or vacations.

__ 27)  Deflecting and/or rejecting deserved compliments, and “being very hard on myself.”

__ 28)  Chronically giving time and energy to others, and getting little or nothing in return.

__ 29)  Avoiding self-assessment for psychological wounds, and/or true personal recovery.

__ 30)  Repeatedly choosing, justifying, and tolerating relationships, situations, and/or environments which promote major shame, guilt, and anxieties.

__ 31)  Repeatedly taking risks that result in self-harm, humiliation, and/or loss of self and social respect. Denying or justifying an active addiction is a common example.

__ 32)  Rarely requesting or demanding what one wants, or doing so anxiously and expecting rejection, rather than asserting calmly; Being timid, passive, quiet, reserved, or aggressive, self-centered, and/or a bully.

__ 33)  Not setting and/or enforcing wholistically-healthy limits (boundaries) with one's Self and others.

__ 34)  Tolerating and/or justifying a core belief like “I don’t deserve or expect success, love, security, comfort, friends, and/or nice things.”

__ 35)  Self-sabotage - repeatedly “setting one’s self up” for failure, disappointment, frustration, and/or losses, and feeling or saying “I can’t help it,” "it doesn't matter," "I don't care," or "I deserve it."

__ 36)  Frequently choosing long-suffering victim, saint, or martyr roles in key relationships and social settings, and not questioning why.

__ 37)  Choosing a direct-contact human-service profession - e.g. clergy, counseling, medicine, education, law enforcement, consulting, coaching, training, driving public vehicles, customer service, casework, ... (yes, there are exceptions!)

        The more of these shame-traits you or another person has, the higher the odds you or s/he is dominated by a false self (wounded). That's the primary assessment goal, not just testing for excessive shame and/or guilt. To reduce the odds of protective false-self distortions, fill out all the other Lesson-1 symptom checklists before drawing any conclusions on significant woundedness.

Typical Shame-reduction Goals and Options

        If you find credible evidence of significant false-self dominance, the overarching goal is to implement an effective plan to free your Self (capital "S") to lead and harmonize your other subselves (personality).

        This healing takes many months' work toward replacing habitual distortions with clear self-awareness, experimenting with more productive attitudes and behaviors, and learning from the results. As you're getting your subselves to trust your Self and other Manager subselves, focus on healing the other five wounds over time - in this case, reducing (vs. "curing") excessive shame and guilts to healthy levels.

        Goal: convert excessive shame to healthy self-respect and self-love. Promote yourself from inferior to equal, while nurturing equal respect and love for other people and living things.

        Premise: excessive shame occurs because...

  • when your Shamed Child and/or your tireless Perfectionist and Inner critic subselves perceive that you've "been bad," they activate - cause stressful thoughts and feelings. These may be amplified by a stern Moralizer/Preacher subself. One or more of these normal subselves...

  • disable your Self, flooding you with their feelings and thoughts of your worthlessness and unlovability. If other people saw the external reason for this ("At the party last night, I forgot my best friend's name!"), other subselves may add their own feelings of intense guilt and shame  (embarrassment and humiliation).

  • These thoughts and feelings may trigger a well-meaning Catastrophizer subself, who exaggerates and generalizes them ("No one could possibly love or care for me. I'll die alone, unloved, and probably homeless."); and...

  • Other Guardian subselves work ceaselessly to distract, soothe, numb, and comfort your Shamed and/or Guilty Inner Children. These young subselves and their Guardians are often the hardest to access and heal, and they can bring the greatest relief in true wound-reduction.

        There are many ways to improve self-esteem and self-respect over time. From 20 years' clinical experience, I propose inner-family therapy as an effective way to achieve those, via steps or subgoals like these:

Goal: Reorganize and Retrain your Subselves

        Confirm that your Shamed and Guilty inner Children and their Guardians are sources of your excessive shame. Also assess for the (probable) presence of Inner Critic and Perfectionist subselves who constantly proclaim stern beliefs of worthlessness which activate the young subselves.

        Explore whether any subselves are living in the toxic past, and are using outdated perceptions and beliefs. If so, build such subselves' trust in your Self, your Higher Power, and other key subselves (e.g. your Nurturer) and work to bring each subself safely to live in the present and join your inner family.

        Train your Inner Critic to trust the judgment of your Higher power and your Self, and to switch from sarcastic criticism and self-blame to constructive feedback and encouragement. Options: (a) evolve a Bill of Personal Rights, and teach it to all your subselves; and (b) apply these practical options for increasing your self-confidence.

        Then learn the communication skills of respectful assertion and empathic listening and experiment with asserting and living by your Rights. Expect and confront inner and outer "resistance" to these new values – they'll disturb insecure subselves! Learning to assert and problem-solve effectively is the focus of self-improvement  Lesson 2. If you come from a low-nurturance ("dysfunctional") childhood, your caregivers probably never knew or modeled effective-communication attitudes and skills.

        Identify any subselves who promote self-neglect ("I don't deserve to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled.") These often include a Saboteur ("Oh come on – another slice of cake won't hurt!"), a zealous People Pleaser ("Always think of the other guy!"), a Good Child ("We can't disagree with Mom or Dad!), and/or an Addict who pairs up with your reality-distorting Magician ("You are not addicted – you can quit any time. Don't sweat it.") Work with each of them to grow trust in your Self, Higher Power, Nurturer, Adult, and other subselves and selected people to keep your group of Inner Kids safe.

        Facilitate the relationship between your resident Nurturer (Good Mom / Good Dad) and the Shamed Child and Guilty Child. The Nurturer's gift and ceaseless goal is to care for needy subselves and people. As recovery progresses and inner-team awareness and harmony grows, redirect your Guardian subselves' energy to more productive roles in your personality - e.g. to become or assist a Health Director or equivalent.

        Patiently help your shamed subselves to change their inaccurate beliefs to genuine self-acceptance, respect, appreciation, and compassion – i.e. to non-egotistical self-love. I have witnessed this life-changing transformation (over time) in many Self-directed clients in true (vs. pseudo) recovery. Skillfully used, the powerful inner-family therapy technique of redoing can help achieve this vital permanent change.

      For more detail on effect5ive psrts-work with your Inner Kids, see this after yo-u finish here.

        The second major way to reduce this epidemic psychological wound is to...

Learn to Avoid Sources of New Shame

        Develop an effective strategy to (a) avoid shaming (wounded) people, and (b) evolve and assert respectful boundaries and consequences with them. This subgoal often results in reducing or ending toxic relationships with significantly-wounded mates, relatives, friends, and/or employers.

        It can also promote healthy shifts away from shaming religious beliefs, practices, and environments ("You're a weak, selfish, unclean sinner by nature. Only a gracious God can save your soul from damnation.") Excessive shame seems to be one taproot of codependence (relationship addiction). The other root is young subselves' outdated terror of abandonment. True recovery reduces both of these over time!

        Protect your integrity. Define  the core values by which you want to live your life, like honesty, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, self-nurturance, and respect for your body, Spirit, and the environment. Living by these values consciously promotes healthy pride and self respect. Ignoring these values (violating your integrity) promotes shame and guilt. This brief YouTube video amplifies this point.

        If you feel like a (shameful) scapegoat or black sheep in your family and/or another group, see these options.

        Bottom line: excessive guilt and shame are common signs of protective false-self dominance in survivors of low-nurturance childhoods. Unseen, they combine with up to five other psychological wounds to lower life and relationship quality, and potentially injure vulnerable descendents. Each of these wounds has distinct behavioral symptoms.

       Patient self-motivated personal wound-reduction can convert  excessive shame and guilt into true self acceptance and respect, self-love, and forgiveness over time. Excessive shame and guilt are reduced differently. See this for options on the latter 

        Recall - this is one of several wound-assessment checklists in Lesson-1.


        This two-page article is one of a series on six common psychological wounds incurred by typical survivors of too little childhood nurturance (Grown Wounded Children, or GWCs). It offers perspective on the normal human emotions of shame ("low self esteem") and guilt, and on the epidemic psychological wounds of excessive shame and guilts.

        The article proposes (a) experience-based answers to common questions about this wound, (b) common symptoms of it, and (c)  practical wound-reduction goals. This article and Web site differentiate shame from guilt because they're caused and reduced differently, tho they feel the same.

        Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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Updated October 20, 2013