How to Get Out of a Shame Spiral

shame spiral - girl in white shirt sits with face in hands

Everyone experiences negative emotions, and everyone has to learn how to cope with those emotions. But some negative emotions are more intense and lasting than others.

When you experience shame, it can feel like you aren’t good enough. It might feel like the shame is too great and no one will help. You may feel so bad that you become afraid to do anything because if you mess up, the shame could spiral out of control again.

When you feel yourself falling down this dark line of thinking, it’s known as a shame spiral.

What Is a Shame Spiral?

Shame spirals are a particular type of negative emotion that can be very destructive. They are often brought on by a sense of embarrassment or unworthiness. The shame leads to feelings of worthlessness, which in turn lead to more shame and isolation. This downward spiral can be very difficult to break out of without help.

Shame spirals can be triggered by shame triggers such as failure, rejection, and disconnection. They often stem from feelings of perfectionism and anxiety.

How to Recognize a Shame Spiral

Shame spirals can be hard to recognize, especially if you already commonly feel negative emotions toward yourself. However, there are a few telltale signs that can indicate that you are in the midst of one. They include:

  • Feeling intense shame and humiliation
  • Feeling like you are worth nothing
  • Feeling isolated and alone
  • Difficulty regulating your emotions
  • Acting out in destructive ways

Recognizing Your Triggers

Shame is an emotion we feel when we think we aren’t enough. It’s not only a feeling of embarrassment or guilt, but it’s also a feeling that you yourself are not of worth, as opposed to simply feeling remorse or guilt over an action; it’s internalizing guilt and projecting it on your self worth.

We can all get trapped in shame spirals, but some things might trigger them more than others. Maybe there are certain people, places, or things that make us feel ashamed. Maybe we feel shame after doing something we’re not proud of. Triggers can vary from person to person, but common ones include embarrassing events, critical comments, and social rejection.

It’s important to be aware of your triggers so you can recognize when you’re starting to spiral. This way, you can take steps to stop it before it gets too out of control.

Steps to Break the Shame Spiral

There is no one perfect way to stop a shame spiral, as each situation is unique. However, there are a few general steps that can be helpful.

1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

First, you have to recognize what you’re feeling. It can be difficult to even recognize that you’re spiraling if you’re used to talking down to yourself often. You may also be tempted to simply ignore the feelings you’re having. Recognizing what’s happening with your emotions, and acknowledge that you need to make a change in your behavior to stop the negative train of thought.

2. Talk to Yourself Like a Friend

As odd as it sounds, talking to yourself in the third person can help you to get out of the negative self-talk loop. We’re generally much harsher on ourselves than we are on our friends or even strangers, so imagine you’re talking to or about a friend instead of yourself. Recognize how you would show them mercy or forgiveness for their actions, and try to apply that same feeling to yourself.

3. Get Grounded

This means that you need to get out of your head and into your body. One way to do this is to focus on your breath. A common exercise is to inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and exhale for four seconds. Repeat this a few times until you feel more grounded.

You can also try observing and describing your surroundings or the physical sensations you feel in your body to divert your attention from the thoughts inside your head to what’s going on around you.

4. Get Support from Someone You Trust

Isolation is one of the main things that fuels shame spirals. Renowned researcher and author Brene Brown said that shame thrives on secrecy, so it can’t survive when your thoughts are exposed to others.

Reach out to others and connect with them. Your support group could consist of friends, family, a support group, or a therapist. Whoever you choose to confide in about your feelings, they’ll likely be able to help you view your thoughts more objectively, be kinder to yourself, and break the spiral by introducing new topics of thought.

5. Take Action by Serving Someone Else

This step may seem counterintuitive; after all, when you’re in the middle of a crisis, it’s hard enough to take care of yourself, let alone other people. But if you find yourself trapped by negative feelings about yourself, taking action to serve others is one of the best things you can do to change your attitude and thoughts.

Service helps us feel gratitude for what we have, feel love for others, and get active—all things that are the opposite of being trapped in self misery. Even in extremely difficult circumstances, if you can find little ways to show kindness and serve others, it can have a significant effect on your mental health. 

6. Be Kind to Yourself

When you are in the grip of a shame spiral, it can be hard to be kind to yourself. However, you deserve kindness and love. Treat yourself with the same kind of compassion that you would treat a friend who is suffering. Practice intentional appreciation for yourself by repeating positive affirmations and expressing gratitude.

Stopping Anxiety and Building Back Self Confidence After a Shame Spiral

It is possible to stop shame spirals and rebuild your self-confidence after they occur. It will take time and effort, but it is possible. Here are some steps that can help:

  • Recognize that you are not alone. Many people have shame spirals at one time or another.
  • Give yourself time to heal. Don’t expect to be healed overnight.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Don’t shame yourself for having a shame spiral.
  • Seek professional help if you need it. A therapist can help you work through the shame and rebuild your self-confidence.

Remember that you are not alone, shame spirals are very common, and it is possible to rebuild your self-confidence after one occurs. It can be very difficult to get out of a shame spiral without help, but it is possible with these steps.

If you’re ready to stop cycling through shame spirals and negative emotions and instead learn how to regulate emotions and build self esteem, reach out to Solace Emotional Health today to meet with a licensed therapist.