The Enemy of Self-Compassion is Shame


Picture © Amir Kaljikovic |

Let that sentence sink in. The enemy of self-compassion is shame. We want to be compassionate with ourselves, but our shameful self-talk blocks the kindness we want to extend to ourselves. It would be so wonderful to talk to ourselves kindly about the mistakes we’ve made, and the regrets we have. The problem is we often don’t know how, and instead are very hard on ourselves. This tendency doesn’t happen by accident. In fact, this pattern often starts in childhood.

Shame-talk vs Guilt-talk

Recent research* shows the long-term effects on children when they use shame self-talk versus guilt self-talk. Researchers looked at a 380 fifth graders, and measured whether these kids were using more shame self-talk or guilt self-talk. When doing something wrong, shame self-talk focused on “I did something bad,” while guilt self-talk focused on “I did something bad.” Big difference.

Those who shamed themselves for wrong-doing felt small, worthlessness, powerlessness, and exposed. Because shame hurts so much, they would do anything to not feel it, by denying responsibility or shifting the blame to someone else. It was also common to be become irrationally angry with others, aggressive and destructive.

Those who felt guilty after doing something wrong, experienced internal tension, remorse, and regret over the “bad thing done.” These powerful feelings motivated these children to confess or apologize, and learn from their mistakes.

The child who used shame self-talk felt like their sense of worth, value and the ability to be loved was at risk when making a mistake. The child who used guilt self-talk felt like their bad behavior was the focus of needed change, not their very self.

The consequences of shame self-talk are huge

This group of researchers talked with these kids again as seniors in high school, 10 years later. What they found is incredibly important for all of us to understand. The shame-prone kids were more likely to attempt suicide, drop out of high school, struggle with eating disorders and depression, and engage in high risk drug, alcohol, and sexual behaviors. The guilt-prone kids, on the other hand, were more likely to finish high school, apply for college, engage in community activities, and engage in lower risk sex, drug, and alcohol behaviors.

Shame self-talk knows nothing of self-compassion

Self-compassion is the balance of grace and truth. “I messed up, but I’m still a nice person.” Shame says, “I messed up, I’m a failure, I’m so stupid,” or “It’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong, it was his/her fault!” It’s very important for our children’s moral choices, and future happiness and success in life that we discipline without shame and teach self-compassion when we and our children fail.

Grown-ups need self-compassion too

“The enemy of self-compassion is shame Click To Tweet

This is true for ourselves as well as our children.

Shame is destructive to us as adults. Shame beats us up inside, and doesn’t relent. It convicts us without a trial, with no hope of forgiveness. We as people need the healing power of grace toward ourselves.

Self-compassion is absolutely essential for healthy, balanced living. It provides huge benefits including emotional resiliency, stress reduction, contentment, and healthier relationships. Without it we are vulnerable to the opinions of others and find it difficult to deal with and let go of our mistakes. It is tough enough to go through a difficult situation, especially when we think we had a part in creating it. It is another kind of torture to never be able to let go of self-criticism and blame.”** 

I invite you to grow in this new way of relating to yourself. There is another more gracious way to treat ourselves when we fail. You and I can learn a kinder way to relate to ourselves one moment at a time.

All of us are impacted by shame…it’s part of being human. The wonderful news is that our shame can be forgiven by God, and ourselves as well. We just need to learn a new way to relate to ourselves as we live our lives.

Here’s some resources to help you get started:

Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend

Give Your Kids a Break: Parenting with Compassion for You and Your Children

I’d Love to Hear from You!

What is your response to hearing about the research on the effects of shame? Does it explain some of the struggles you’ve had? How can you be kind to yourself about what you’ve learned?

Thanks for joining me today! Please share on social media or via e-mail with others who might benefit 🙂


* Stuewig, J, Tangney, JP, Kendall, S, Folk, JB, Meyer, CR, Dearing, RL. Children’s Proneness to Shame and Guilt Predict Risky and Illegal Behaviors in Young Adulthood. Child Psychiatry & Human Development. 2015, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 217–227.

** Fredrickson, Kim. Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, Grand Rapids: MI: Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group,” 2015, 14, Used by permission.












3 thoughts on “The Enemy of Self-Compassion is Shame

  1. “I’d Love to Hear from You! What is your response to hearing about the research on the effects of shame? Does it explain some of the struggles you’ve had? How can you be kind to yourself about what you’ve learned?”

    Thank you so much Kim and that research does not surprise me at all. . . .I don’t fully see the difference between shame self-talk and guilt self-talk (they seem they could easily overlap), but I guess I am more guilt-prone than shame-prone but the definitions are really nuanced and overlapping. . . .I work a lot in counseling on shame, —guilt too. Everything growing up was shame-based. . . .As we all know, shame, ☠ blame, ☣ betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the very roots from which love grows. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. Shame is such a total soul eating emotion. . . . Perfectionism is also self-destructive and addictive belief system because it fuels the “If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

    Someone asked me recently: “I’m wondering how you might describe how God sees you Aleea?” . . . .Honestly, as a dirty, rotten, filthy sinner that deserves the fires of Hell. That is as honest as I know how. I contribute nothing to my salvation except the sin that made it necessary. —I’m so awful, I made God kill Himself. Right or wrong, I hear Jesus all the time, Luke 17-style: “So you also, when you have done *all* that you were commanded, say, we are totally worthless servants; we have only done our duty.” I originally wrote out all the why of that analyzing 46 plus N.T. Bible passages but its too long, too hard-hitting and too depressing to post. If you want to know why, see “Fundamentalism” by Dr. James Barr. . . . . James Barr, Professor of Hebrew & Greek Bible at Vanderbilt Divinity School, really lays that out using scriptures and church history. He also shows how Christians reconfigure God along the way to make Him fit with advancements in morals, psychology, all fields *but* Bible-based Christianity is, in fact, . . . .well, you get the point. . . . .Oh my, it is so refreshing to actually speak my truth!!!

    . . . .But that is not anywhere near *all* of the truth. At the same time, I am hopelessly in love with Jesus Christ and so grateful. I’m *never* going to get over Him. The core of Christianity is so, so beautiful even if there are parts that are all laced with guilt and fear for my family members, my co-workers, everyone I see on the streets all over the world who are not Christians. Everyone I talk to that tells me they are not Christians and if you have spent much time talking to people out in the world about Jesus, you realize they are really good at deconstructing Him.

    Anyways, . . .it could also be that my mind thinks: well, better guilt/shame than the terrible burden of freedom and responsibility. —Because I get it: When He says we’re forgiven, —let’s unload the guilt. When He says we’re valuable, —let’s believe Him. . . . When He says we’re provided for, —let’s stop worrying. God’s efforts are strongest when our efforts are weakest to stop the shame and guilt —and mine are. Maybe if we can plunge headlong into the good news that we are fully loved, fully accepted by God at this very moment, insufficiencies and all (i.e. we don’t change so that God will love us, we come to know God loves us so that we can change), maybe, —maybe then as I learn more every single day that I am loved, then change occurs in me. As I learn tomorrow that I am loved, more change occurs. An eternal process —of abiding (John 15). At no time do I get to say, “Okay, I now know that I am fully loved.” . . .And I can trust that being loved does and will lead to action —and to the very best kind: the non-guilty, non-shamed, non-forced, non-judgmental, non-clamoring, non-needy kind. I can’t emotionally get to the understanding that God fully accepts us because of Christ even though we are completely unacceptable. —I think the courage to be a Christian is the courage to accept oneself, in spite of being unacceptable. I don’t fully grasp that but I know I cannot change, I cannot move away from what I am, until I thoroughly accept myself.

    —Many prayers for you Kim, always —Aleea♡ ۵ 😊 💕

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Aleea. I appreciate you wrestling with your natural tendency to get swallowed up by shame. Thanks for speaking about the the struggle, and about grace. I love this sentence, “I think the courage to be a Christian is the courage to accept oneself, in spite of being unacceptable. I don’t fully grasp that but I know I cannot change, I cannot move away from what I am, until I thoroughly accept myself.”
      Beautiful and Wise! Thanks so much for your continued prayers, my friend.

      1. Kim,
        To know Christ and to have *any part* in His kingdom (—no matter how small, even just praying for people) is just overwhelming to me.

        Being a Christian, sometimes when I *really* see it clearly, beyond the shame, the guilt, the self-judgement . . .it is such a majestic thing! Christ ♛❤ comes and lives inside us!!! Sometimes, I can’t even fully process that. It is so wonderful it is almost unbelievable to me.

        . . . .And I’ve always regarded what you are doing here as a calling, a way of life for people who really care about others. Thank you so much!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.