The Trauma and Shame Cycle

I believe shame is the most powerful emotion we as humans experience. By “powerful” I mean that shame has a very strong hold over our behavior. As a therapist who specializes in working with Trauma-Focused Therapy services at Thrive Therapy, I have seen the impact shame has on the behaviors of victims of trauma firsthand.

Shame, like any emotion we have, has a purpose.

It was evolutionarily necessary to our ancestors when adhering to social norms was imperative to survival. Shame helps guide us within our groups and communities. It serves as a way to govern our behavior. We will avoid shame at all costs because shame will get us rejected by those we care about. It can leave us with feelings of extreme isolation, unworthiness, guilt, and despair. Shame is about the threat of exposure. However, there are times this can be helpful to us. For example, stealing. If you were to steal something, no matter how small, and that would be made public to everyone in your life, that feeling of shame would be felt. Sometimes the mere thought is enough to elicit shame and therefore guide our behavior. 

Trauma survivors often feel shame about what or how they survived.

There is the sense that if what happened was shared, there would be negative judgment or rejection. I see this often with first responders and sexual assault survivors. 

Keeping all of this in will lead to keeping trauma experiences buried never to be shared due to the immense shame that comes up with those memories. This shame often leads to feeling like a “fraud”, feeling isolated and alone, and even feeling a deep personal sense of guilt. 

Woman sitting against the wall with her arms wrapped around her knees representing the overwhelming emotions that can accompany trauma. Trauma-Focused Therapy in Ohio can help process and overcome these feelings.

The cycle is then born:

If anyone knows what happened, they’ll reject me, feelings of shame, and then an even more of an effort to keep the trauma buried. It’s a vicious cycle. In the meantime, symptoms of trauma can lead to depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Because of the shame, reaching out doesn’t happen to allow this pain to spread into every corner of life. 

This isn’t to say trauma survivors need to share every explicit detail of past trauma with just anyone. However, sharing some of what happened with those close to you can be deeply relieving. If that person is supportive and validating, it can even help strengthen the relationship. If that person happens to be dismissive or responds in a way that is less than ideal, this does not mean hiding in shame is the only option. It may be an indicator that finding new people to be in your life is necessary. 

Every emotion has an associated action or behavior.

Shame causes us to retreat, isolate, edit ourselves, and hold back. When it comes to trauma, shame is often a major component of keeping survivors feeling “stuck”. Doing things opposite of what shame is telling you can be helpful and relieving. It allows us to find support instead of fearing rejection, and to fight that feeling of isolation with togetherness. 

How can Trauma-Focused Therapy help?

Now, what if what we did during trauma violated our own moral code and would (most likely) get us rejected? This can be tough to sort through alone and is where trauma-focused therapy can be extremely helpful. Here, you can work through trauma without judgment and learn how to manage the potential shame that you may have. You are not alone, and hope and healing are possible. 

A group of people sitting at a table supporting each other and enjoying each others company representing the importance of connecting with people during the process of Trauma-Focused Therapy Services in Ohio.

Begin Trauma-Focused Therapy Services in Ohio 

Here’s the bad news: Trauma sucks. The good news is: Trauma is highly treatable.

If you’re at a point where you are considering trauma therapy, it’s probably safe to bet you’re struggling to manage day-to-day. We’re also willing to bet that you’d like to know something is available to help you and give you some relief. The Trauma-Focused Therapy services offered at Thrive are evidence-based and shown to be effective. You can access Thrive’s services using online therapy in Ohio or online therapy in Kentucky. Please know that help is available. To get started, use the steps below.

  1. Book a free 15-minute consultation call.
  2. Meet with a Thrive therapist to see if we’re a good fit for therapy.
  3. Reduce your symptoms from trauma and live in the present once again