Shame needs air to heal

Are there situations in which shame is called for?  Of course. But in many of the people I encounter, it’s irrationally applied and a major impediment to moving forward in life.  It’s what keeps us in hiding.  Ironically, the best way of getting over it is to talk about it, and give it air.

Here’s a classic article on this central obstacle to moving forward in life.

The Atlantic Monthly, Feb 1992 v269 n2 p40 (21)


by Robert Karen

For reasons rooted in the values of contemporary culture, the concept of shame had until recently

all but vanished from discussions of emotional disarray. Now it is regarded by many

psychologists as the preeminent cause of emotional distress in our time


as dynamic and rakish but who is at the moment “between lovers,” stands on the subway

platform eyeing an undergraduate. He sees that his gaze is making her uncomfortable. He feels a

twinge of shame over this intrusion, but not enough to stop. He files his behavior under “manly

aggression” and keeps staring. Then a searing thought enters and exits his mind so fast that later

he won’t remember having had it. The idea seems almost to have been waiting there like a hot

coal, and after stumbling upon it and getting singed, he flees in panic. Feeling inexplicably

crestfallen, he looks away from the young woman, buries his head in his paper, and seeks out a

separate car when the train comes in. For the rest of the morning he feels listless and down. He

doesn’t want people near him, and growls if they press. He works methodically, waiting for the

unnamable discomfort to pass. The idea that scorched him was an image of himself, all too

believable, as a hungry, unhappy loner, a man who had wasted his youth and was incapable of

lasting attachments, staring forlornly at a woman who could not possibly be interested in him.

The shame that that image evoked was too hot to handle.

—- If this sounds like someone you know, click here to read the rest of the article:

Shame, by Robert Karen

Dan Quinn, Psy.D.

I’m a licensed clinical psychologist who provides warm, down-to-earth, practical help with: relationship skills, assertiveness, conflict, anger management, anxiety, depression, trauma (PTSD), career counseling, couples counseling, autism spectrum, adult ADHD (ADD) and other psychological challenges.