What is a Shame Spiral?

What is a shame spiral?

At various points in our lives, we will have to deal with negative emotions and experiences. However, there comes a time when some of us begin experiencing these negative emotions more intensely, lasting prolonged periods and affecting our daily lives.

Many people begin to feel or experience shame when they believe they are currently not good enough or doing well enough in life. Often the guilt can feel as if it is too heavy to handle with no one to turn to for help. Individuals can begin feeling such hardship of guilt that they begin to lose control of themselves and begin messing up on simple tasks they have a million times entirely; this will quickly lead to an individual beginning to spiral out of control.

Shame spirals are a specific type of intense negative emotion that, if not dealt with immediately, can quickly turn very destructive for the individual and their loved ones. The guilt or shame the individual is experiencing leads to them feeling completely worthless, which in turn creates a more intense shame emotion and will eventually lead to the individual isolating themselves as a way to deal with their intense emotions. Once the downward spiral begins, it can often be challenging to break out without some medical intervention.

Shame spirals can often be triggered by negative feelings such as:

  • Failure
  • Rejection
  • Abandonment
  • Disconnection

Often, these intense feelings stem from a common mental health illness known as anxiety.

How to recognize a shame spiral 

It can be challenging to recognize if a loved one or yourself is experiencing a shame spiral, especially if they are prone to experiencing negative emotions or resentment towards themselves. However, like with all mental health illnesses, there are a few telltale symptoms and signs to look out for that could be a strong indication that an individual or yourself is currently in the midst of a shame spiral:

  • Acting out in various destructive ways 
  • Feeling isolated and alone 
  • Feeling humiliated
  • Feelings of intense shame
  • Unworthy feelings towards themselves
  • Difficulty regulating negative emotions 

Steps to breaking the shame spiral

There is no one fits all perfect way to stop an individual or yourself from shaming spiraling, as every person and situation is unique. However, a range of general steps can be helpful if implemented.

Truly acknowledge the feelings

First and foremost, you must recognize the intense feelings you are currently experiencing. Often it can be challenging to recognize the difference between negative emotions and spiraling if you often talk negatively about yourself.

Many individuals will often ignore their shame spiral entirely, believing they are simply experiencing temporary intense negative feelings. However, the longer you ignore the spiral, the harder it is going to get to break the spiral. You must recognize the difference between negative emotions and a shame spiral.

Talk to yourself like a loved one

It may sound like an odd experience; however, talking to yourself in the third person can help alleviate negative self-talk and adverse emotions. The older we get, the harsher we begin criticizing ourselves; if we do not recognize and put a stop to it, it will quickly get out of control.

Stand in front of a mirror, and begin imagining that you are talking either about a friend instead of yourself or to a friend, recognize how you would respond to the things you are saying and how you would give yourself forgiveness and understand that you are trying your hardest.

Get support from loved ones

Isolation is one of the main traits that come along with shame spirals; the intense emotions force you to feel as though you need to be alone to survive in your head and keep you in this negative space.

Try your hardest to reach out to your trusted loved ones and connect with friends you trust. No matter who you choose, you must feel confident enough to confide in your feelings; they will often help you break through your emotions, see things more clearly, and begin to be kinder to yourself.

Get yourself grounded

Grounding yourself means getting out of your mental mindset and into your own body. This method is used for individuals who experience anxiety; it is a fantastic way to focus on yourself and your breathing.

A typical exercise is to breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and breath out for four seconds. Repeating this exercise a few times is beneficial until you feel more relaxed and grounded. Other common exercises will often have you sitting on the floor with your back against something sturdy and allowing yourself to feel the ground. Feel what is around you and begin to relax.

Build your self-confidence

It is possible to stop shame spirals and begin rebuilding your self-confidence, but it will take time and a lot of effort. We have listed some steps below that can help you start your healing journey:

  • Understand and recognize that you are not the only person going through an experience like this. Many other individuals have experiences shame spirals at one time or another.
  • Ensure you give yourself enough time to heal. Things like this do not change overnight; it can take several weeks, if not months, so set realistic expectations.
  • Be gentle with yourself, and do not rush the process

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