Trauma and Shame

There is a close relationship between shame and trauma. Chronic trauma from past childhood abuse and/or domestic violence can contribute to unexplained feelings of shame. PSTD (post traumatic stress disorder) can retrigger stress responses related to shame, and the negative emotions that go with them.

Trauma vs Guilt

Shame is very damaging to the self image and self confidence. In some cases the person identifies with it personally (toxic shame) leading them to believe they are inherently defective. Unlike guilt which is a reflection of a past action with a negative view or regret outside oneself, shame is a self -conscious self judgement negative belief about oneself. If shame came out of an unresolved trauma, it can leave a powerful imprint leaving the person feeling worthless on an ongoing basis. This may be very difficult to treat with regular counselling. The person may temporarily feel better and have more hope and confidence for a while they can easily return to the same chronic negative feeling of shame, self -condemnation and even self- hatred.

What types of things trigger a Shame Response?

Some things can trigger danger responses even without a clear memory of what it related to in the past. This is because a lot of the trauma memories are stored in the body as implicit memory and not in regular memory (1). These are common triggers:

  • Criticism even if it is constructive criticism eg work supervisor normal feedback
  • Making normal mistakes even if they really have no impact on anything
  • Less than perfect performance
  • Standing out even in a positive way eg: due to success or healthy self -assertion
  • Innocent expression of observation of behaviour (accepted only as condemnation)
  • Being watched
  • Feeling trapped
  • Being surprised
  • Having to wait
  • Being alone
  • Disappointing people
  • Dark rooms
  • Getting ‘silent treatment’
  • Witnessing others being hurt
  • Heights
  • Confrontation
  • Anger and angry expressions
  • Parents yelling at their children

Effect of trauma triggers – what Shame looks like:

Traumatic ‘implicit’ memories can be experienced as the following feelings and sensations:

• ashamed, depressed or submissive states: numb, spacy, hopeless and helpless, ashamed, self loathing;

• desperation, despair, yearning to die

• feelings of panic and terror, dread, apprehension

• yearning for contact, painful loneliness, and a felt sense of abandonment

• suppressed rage emerging and/or urgency to get away and escape

• body sensations: rapid heartbeat, constricted breathing, tightness, shakiness, heaviness, nausea

What Shame does to other Emotions

Shame acts as a “wet blanket” to decrease other emotions. (2) For example, any emotion that provokes or triggers abusive or neglectful parents is not safe (whether it is speaking up, laughing or crying etc). The nervous system in its survival mode can down- regulate those emotions it has learned that’s what it needs to do to keep the person “safe”. For instance some people may prefer to stay socially invisible, avoid offering a different opinion or disagreeing for the sake of avoiding confrontation. Others may not allow themselves to exhibit joy.

Although you might easily stand up for others, you may find it difficult, even impossible, to stand up for yourself when being maltreated by others – including in regard to your family. You may instead seek to ‘appease’ those who treat you badly as a means of avoiding conflict, or even deny the sad truth of your situation altogether. But in reality, ‘fawning’ and maladaptive coping behaviors serve no-one in the end.

-Rebecca C. Mandeville (3)

This is all part of the automatic nervous system process when freeze/fawning is the response. The nervous system starts a type of shutdown process which affects the part of the brain (pre- frontal cortex) to think clearly and instead overwhelming emotion of shame takes over. When this happens the nervous system shuts down or dims down the light (as opposed to getting fired up as it would for a fight response). Hence why a lot of other emotions can be also “dimmed down” all at once as well.

Shame as a Survival Response

The survival responses of flight or fight are commonly known. But what happens if you have a freeze/fawning response caused by shame trauma? A freeze/fawn response to an actual perceived trauma usually occurs when the person perceives there is absolutely no other option (they cannot escape the situation and they cannot fight back). Instead, they do nothing but submit/freeze. By that response the mind and body in a way “accept” what is happening is going to happen and no action by the body is directed by the mind to take place. There is a conflict between the desired response and the only registered possible response. A lot of children are exposed to this in a small way as families use shame and fear to keep children obedient as quickly as possible. But if the experience is a traumatic one, the effects of shame can be reinforced and carried over into adulthood. This is because of the stress response of wanting to hide or flee but being unable to. Negative beliefs can also be formed and reinforced such as “it’s not safe to speak up” or “it’s not safe to make any mistakes” or “it’s not safe to assert a different opinion”.

It is however possible to reverse negative beliefs about oneself. It is certainly possible to improve one’s sense of self- worth and their confidence, even if it has been missing for decades.

How TRTP can help

The Richards Trauma Process (TRTP) differs from traditional therapy in several key ways. While traditional therapy often focuses on talking about feelings and experiences, TRTP focuses on the physical sensations and emotions that are stored in the body as a result of traumatic events, and unlocking those in a safe way. Instead of just discussing experiences. TRTP works with the unconscious mind to give it a bit of a “reset” in the areas that are causing problematic emotions and behaviour. There is no need for deep hypnosis either.

The therapist uses techniques that help access the subconscious mind and allow trauma to be released and let go of, so that it no longer plays like a broken record in the individual’s life.

3 Stage Process -Finished in just 1 Month

TRTP™ Therapy resolves trauma related issues – quickly, safely and effectively, with a 3 step process. These trauma-related issues include PTSD, anxiety and depression. It helps individuals overcome chronic emotional dysregulation without retraumatizing to the extent of reliving the past. The therapy is heavily guided by the therapist and not like traditional “talk therapy” where the client keeps repeating all the details of past distressing events. TRTP therapy is a holistic and gentle approach that provides a supportive environment for individuals to heal, grow, and thrive. As it can be fully completed in one month it is ideal for people with acute or situational stress, anxiety or depression to get a solution right away.

The Ideal Online Therapy

There is no need to have TRTP sessions in person; in fact sessions via video conferencing are highly effective because they minimise distractions, have a better audio receptive for the TRTP technique, and help the client to be at ease in their own home.

Book a free Discovery Call

If you would like a complimentary no obligation free introduction telephone call to see if TRTP is right for you and have the chance to ask any questions, you can book here: I want to book a free introduction call


  1. Patient Trigger Lists (Alta Mira Recovery Centers, May 2015)
  2. Janine Fisher 2023
  3. Rebecca C. Mandeville Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed 2020 ch 9
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