Bloomington / Normal, IL

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The Truth About Shame


By Jenn Bovee, LCSW, CRADC, CCHt, The Mental Wellness Center

Shame is often described as a very corrosive thread that systemically takes the joy and peace out of our lives. Shame is frequently defined as that feeling or emotion of not being ___________ enough and therefore unworthy of connection. It doesn’t necessarily matter what you fill in that blank with. I have seen that blank filled in with the following concepts with many of my clients: thin enough, productive enough, healthy enough, wealthy enough, popular enough, friendly enough, outgoing enough, happy enough, wealthy enough, sexy enough, etc.

That list could literally go on for 30 pages!

It’s not just that we don’t feel like we are enough right here right now. The bigger issue here is that because we don’t feel like we are enough, we also don’t feel worthy of connection with other human beings. Many of my clients talk about how prior to working on their shame issues with me, they didn’t feel as if they were capable of connecting with anyone but animals. I’ve watched clients develop such a deep awareness of the role shame plays in their lives that they now have deep and fulfilling connections with the people in their lives!

Many people lump guilt and shame together as if they are the exact same concept. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Guilt is a response to a mistake or a bad decision. We are capable of learning and growing from experiencing guilt. Many people take the experience of guilt, and use it as a prompt to grow and change. Shame on the other hand, is not something that helps us to grow. Brené Brown talks about how after decades of research, she has proven that there is no such thing as healthy shame.

One of the difficulties with shame is that it’s typically a challenge to identify because it’s murky, unclear, and avoidant. The other struggle is that two people don’t necessarily interpret shame in the same manner. Which just makes it that much more confusing. Shame can also be described as the filter through which we see and experience the world around us.

A few of the areas where shame is typically prevalent in our lives include the following:

  • Appearance and body image: Many people have such deep shame surrounding their appearance and body image they can’t even begin to see themselves accurately. People can go so far as to have plastic surgery and still see no difference because shame blocks them from seeing themselves anywhere close to reality.
  • Finances and work: When shame is present in your finances and work, you typically experience the sensation of not being able to get ahead or even caught up. Financial shame typically creates blocks to us being able to earn or manage the money we desire.
  • Speaking out: In a society where our political world has become so toxic, many people who have shame issues have found they have lost their voice. What starts out as not having a voice about political stuff, quickly dissolves into not having an opinion about anything in their life.
  • Surviving trauma: Many trauma survivors carry shame about having experienced traumas and the whole emotional gamut that goes with that. It’s not only not helpful, but emotionally damaging to hold on to these types of beliefs. Trauma survivors do not need to experience shame about their traumas.
  • Health issues (physical, mental, and addiction): Many people who live in less than unwell bodies (physically, mentally, surviving addiction, etc.) describe to us the massive amounts of shame they carry for not being perfect. We don’t believe that perfection is an appropriate goal for anyone.

There are many more categories where shame shows up in our lives; these are the most common and the most normal.
Please know that if you are experiencing shame in your life, there is hope!

Next Month: How to heal shame

For more information on any mental health issue, you may contact The Mental Wellness Center at 309-807-5077 or e-mail Their office is located at 202 N. Prospect, Suite 205 in Bloomington. They are invested in empowering you to return to — or achieve, possibly for the first time ever — a state of complete mental wellness.