How Do You Manage Shame?
OCD and shame seem to be tied at the hip.
In this podcast episode we'll explore what shame is, where it comes from and how to manage it. You’ll see that shame can sabotage you as you learn to manage OCD—-or serve you.
Here are the main take-away messages:
Shame is just a feeling. It will not kill you, although it might feel like it! Shame communicates the message that you have not lived up to the standards you set for yourself. When you have guilt, you say to yourself, "I made a mistake." When you have shame, you say to yourself, "I am a mistake." You get embarrassed when you worry what others will think of you. Click here to listen to the podcast episode about embarrassment.
If you think you have to earn your worthiness, you are vulnerable to feeling shame. OCD makes you more vulnerable to experiencing shame. When you have shame, you will want to hide. The hiding can prevent you from getting to the other side of OCD.
Shame is triggered by circumstances; however, shame is caused by a thought that you are unworthy. Shame leads to hiding and lying. the hiding makes shame worse.
Here are some thoughts to manage shame:
1. Recognize the feeling of shame.
2. Don't judge yourself for having shame.
3. You can replace the thought "I'm unworthy" to "I'm worthy." The "thought ladder" can help you get there.
4. Don't hide. Speak your truth. You can send an anonymous postcard to
Here's the mailing address:
Dr. Vicki Rackner
2355 Fairview Ave N #219
Roseville, MN 55113
Can't wait to share them with you!
Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts or comments.
In this podcast episode, Dr. Vicki shares thoughts about what shame it, what causes it and how to manage it.
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OCD and shame seem to be tied at the hip.
In this podcast episode I would like to explore what shame is, where it comes from and how to manage it. You’ll see that shame can sabotage you as you learn to manage OCD—-or serve you.
Welcome to the Free Me From OCD Podcast. If you or someone you love has OCD, you know that OCD can hold you hostage. OCD can get in the driver’s seat of your life. Here you will find information, tips and tools to put YOU back in the driver’s seat of your life. I’m Dr. Vicki Rackner your host. I call on my experience as a mother of a son diagnosed with OCD when he was in college, physician and life coach to help you evolve into the best and highest version of yourself.
Let’s dive into today’s episode.
Do you remember the scene in the movie Waynes’ World in which Alice Copper invites Wayne and Garth to hang out with him? Our protagonists drop to their knees, bow and say in unison, “We’re not worthy. We’re not worthy. We’re not worthy. We’re scum. We suck.”
That’s a slapstick representation of the shame game.
However, shame is no laughing matter.
It’s not that shame will kill you, although it might feel like it will. Yes, shame is painful But, shame, like any other feeling, is just a sensation that courses through your body.
Still, shame is dangerous. Shame leads to secrecy and lies. Shame can delay the diagnosis and treatment of OCD. Shame can be like the fertilizer that grows OCD. That is why shame is so dangerous.
So, let’s deconstruct shame.
Shame is Just a Feeling
First, it’s important to understand that shame is just a feeling.
Why do we have feelings?
Think of feelings like the warning lights on your car dashboard. It’s just neutral information that helps you make better choices. If your low fuel light comes on, it’s time to fill up. In a similar way, if you feel thirsty it’s time to drink. If you’re tired it’s time to rest.
Think of shame as a big red blinking ”check engine” light. Shame brings your attention to a much deeper issue that erodes your ability to be free from OCD and evolve into the best version of yourself.
What Message Does Shame Communicate? Why Do We Have Shame?
Shame, like any other kind of pain, is designed to keep you safe.
When you touch a hot stove, the pain causes you to withdraw your hand.
Shame addresses the potential threat of being shunned from your tribe.
We are social creatures. We live in groups that have social contracts about how to live together. We have lanes of acceptable behavior to secure your safe standing in your tribe.
We have these social lanes for the same reason we have lanes on the road. When you drive, you need to stay in your lane to prevent accidents.
Your brain is programmed with three feelings intended to help you stay in the lane of acceptable behavior. These three feelings are embarrassment, guilt and shame. These three feelings are uncomfortable enough so we want to avoid them.
I’ll put a link to the podcast episode about embarrassment. To summarize that episode, you get embarrassed when you do something or say something that will negatively impact the way others see you. If you trip on a curb, the first thing you might do is look around and see who saw. No witnesses, no embarrassment. The red face you get when you’re embarrassed says nonverbally to those around you, “I blew it. I know it and I know that you know it too because you can see my face.”
Guilt and shame, on the other hand are triggered when you say or do things that negatively impact the way you see yourself.
We all hold standards about who we are and who we want to be. Have you ever seen the TV show What Would You Do?. Hidden cameras capture what ordinary people do in sticky situations. What would you do if you saw a mother fat-shaming her daughter, or witnessed racism or sexism in action? At some point, host John Quiñones approaches the bystander and announces that the people with whom they just interacted were just actors. It wasn’t real. First you see tearful flood of relief. They John Quiñones would say, “I’m curious. Why did you what you did?” Often the bystanders said things like “I’m a person who stands up for others.” We all have ideas of who we are and the values that guide our actions.
We’re also human. We miss the mark. We make mistakes. Even if no one witnesses your mis-deed, YOU know.
Guilt and shame are the warning lights that come on and tell you that you failed to uphold the standards you set for yourself.
Social scientist and shame expert Brenee Brown was studying vulnerability when something caught her attention. She got curious about why some people who missed the mark experienced guilt and others experienced shame .
She thought, “Maybe the people who have shame faced more shame-inducing circumstances. Maybe they divorce more or have more bankruptcies or more run-ins with the law.”
But there were no differences in the two groups.
So, how did she explain the differences between people who have shame and people who did not?
Brenee Brown says it’s a simple difference. The people who experience guilt say, “I made a mistake.” The people who experience shame say, “I am a mistake.”
You might know Carol Dweck’s work around the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. I wonder it she would find that the people with a fixed mindset feel shame and those with the growth mindset feel guilt.
Brenee Brown takes it a step further. She says that shame is the feeling that brings your attention to evidence that supports the belief you are unworthy of love.
People who experience shame believe that they must earn the air that they breath and the space they occupy. They’re only as good as the last thing that they did.
Just like racism, once you start to look at shame—or the consequences of holding conditional self-worth, you see tentacles that grow like a cancer.
Let me give you a few example.
I was reading the Sunday newspaper and came across two articles. One was an article “How I became a Pathologic Liar” by Joshua Hunt. He says that he started lying as a child. While no one told him directly, he believed that if others only knew who he and his family really were and how they lived in poverty, they would be shunned. Joshua learned to lie as a way of keeping safe. It protected him from being judged and rejected by others.
A second article talks about Warren Buffet’s protegee Tracie Britt Cool. At 24, fresh out of business school and with limited business experience, Tracy wrote a letter to Warren Buffet asking for a job. She got it.
While I’ve not spoken with either of them, I’m going to guess that when they missed the mark, Tracy would have guilt and Joshua would have shame.
Tracy had the courage to reach out to Warren Buffet because she knew she was going to be okay if Warren Buffet said no. Her standing in the world was not tied to how Warren Buffet treated her.
Joshua, on the other hand, lived in the shadow of shame. He says, “Instead of the person I was or even the person I wanted to be, I move through the world as the person my lies made me.” He said his biggest lie was that he was normal and did not need help.
This is the lie many people and families touched by OCD live. They want to be seen as normal. They want to be people that do not need help. They try to outrun the source of their shame, but no one can run that fast.
Joshua decided that the cost of lying was too high. He committed to telling the truth, even if it meant that he would be shunned. He said his transformation was hard. If I read between the lines, Joshua went from seeing himself as unworthy to seeing himself as worthy. Right now he’s working on a book about counterfeit fashion and luxury good—another way people tell lies to look like they fit in.
Think of shame as a symptom; the deeper and dangerous diagnosis is that you think of yourself as unworthy of love as you are today.
OCD and shame are like the chicken and the egg. Someone with unmanaged OCD might think, “if someone knew what was happening in my mind, or put a video camera in my house, they would run the other way.” The shame can lead to secrecy, which can then grow OCD.
Becoming free of OCD can parallel Joshua’s transformation. You decide to tell the truth. You understand that you are not your OCD. You decide that you are, in, fact worthy of love just as you are. OCD and all!
What causes shame?
We tend to believe that shame is the natural consequence of engaging in a shame-inducing action. Just like you feel pain if you touched a hot burner, you feel shame if you say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing or think the wrong thoughts. You may believe that shame is triggered by circumstances that, if revealed, would cause others to shun you.
Brenee Brown’s work says otherwise. She opines that shame is the feeling you get when you think, “I did this, so now I’m unworthy of love.”
Shame is caused by a thought—not by a circumstance. Let me repeat this. Shame is caused by a thought—not a circumstance. Those who have guilt say, “I made a mistake. The people who experience shame say, “I am a mistake.”
As someone managing OCD, you have real life experience with the connection of thoughts and feelings. OCD drama begins when your brain wiring glitch generates a nonsense thought. This thought which you believe to be true triggers the 10/10 anxiety.The terrible feeling begins with thought.
As you manage OCD you also learn that your brain lies to you. You can challenge your thoughts and decide which one to choose.
Thoughts are just sentences in your brain. The belief about how you define your worthiness is just a thought.
For those who are vulnerable to shame, and I have a long history of it, you might push back and say, “If people only knew me, they would reject me. This isn’t just a thought; it’s the truth!”
Does OCD render you unworthy of love?
If OCD tarnishes worthiness, it should be universally true. What about Howard Hughs? He had OCD, but that did not keep him from building airplanes and dating starlets and becoming one of the most influential and financially successful individuals of his time. Yes, his unmanaged OCD caused problems. But if OCD makes you unworthy, it should make ALL people with OCD unworthy.
You might know people living with OCD who do not have shame.
Whether you think you’re worthy of love or you’re not is just a thought. You have the choices to think another thought.
Where Do Thoughts Come From?
Where do these thoughts come from? Why do some people have the thought, “I’m worthy” and others have the thought, “Maybe I’m worthy. Sometimes.”
Let’s talk about the four sources of thoughts.
Your primitive brain. Your reptile brain—the oldest part of your brain is designed to keep you alive. We are the progeny of the ancestors who survived long enough to breed. Certain behaviors increased our chance for survival. We homo spies are pack animals. We needed our tribe to survive. We learned to avoid behaviors that would get us kicked out.
People with OCD have a heightened concern about safety. So it makes sense that people with OCD might be more sensitive to experiencing guilt and shame. It’s like redheads being more sensitive to physical pain.
Your childhood experiences. Your parents taught you how the world works through their words and their actions.
In some families, kids get allowances because every member of the family gets an allowance. In other families, allowances are tied to the chores you do. You have to work for it.
The same holds true for worthiness.
Here are some stories from people I coach.
Joan said, “My mother caught me doing something naughty. I can’t even remember what it was. She screamed, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself!’ and sent me to my room. My mom gave me the cold shoulder for weeks after the incident. I learned I had to behave in certain ways if I wanted my mother’s love. I was only as good or as bad as the last thing I did.”
Compare that to this story Tom told me. He said, “We lived next door to a boy who had a stutter. My friends and I used to make fun of him. One day my mother overheard us taunting the boy, and she would have none of it. She took me aside and said “We’re good Christians and we believe we’re all God’s creatures. Every one of God’s creatures is worthy of respect and kindness. You’re going to go over and apologize to that boy. Then you’re going to invite him to come over and play here. And I don’t every want to hear you treating people disrespectfully again.” Tom and his neighbor became lifelong friends.
Which kind of family did you grow up in? What did your parents teach you about your worth?
The thoughts of people you surround yourself with today.
Today you have a tribe. You have friends and colleagues. You might participate in online communities. Tribes are held together with shared thoughts and beliefs.
I came of age at a time in which we valued and nurtured tolerance and inclusion. People could connect despite their differences.
Now the pendulum is has swung in the direction of intolerance and exclusion. Politically and socially we are increasingly polarized into “us” and “them.”
We seem to be drawing tighter circles around whom we define as good and whom we describe as bad. The whole cancel culture is really about our growing propensity to shun and exile for people who say and do certain things deemed heinous.
We increasingly judge and pre-judge.
As a physician I observe that we live in a society that holds a special insidious prejudice I call healthism. It works just like racism. We don’t want to talk about it, but it’s real and it shows up in day-to-day life.
The ideal is a person absolutely free of disease who will maybe one day outsmart death.
If you are sick or you’re dying, you run the risk of being shamed and shunned. This might even be modulated by our reptile brain. A tribe is more likely to survive an infectious disease if they send away people who have obvious signs of infection.
Some illnesses are more acceptable than others. Cancer and heart disease are tolerated.
I observe that people who are not neuro-typical, or people with physical differences and people who are dying often find themselves on the shun list.
Medical conditions associated with the brain are scary, whether it’s a seizure disorder or schizophrenia. ADHD is even seen as sort of cool, but OCD is not.
As society we shun people with OCD. This might help explain why it often takes years to arrive at a diagnosis and then more years to final sample on treatment that works.
We’re not living in a place and a time that builds bridges. We burn them. Our culture grows and nurtures shame. People with OCD are pre-judged.
If you or someone you love has OCD, there’s a fourth source of thoughts—your brain wiring glitch. Obsessive thoughts or images are nonsense messages created by these wiring glitches. They’re thoughts disguised in a way that make them seem true. These are often anxiety-producing thoughts that challenge the things you love most.
If you have a thoughts that you are going to harm your beloved cat, you might wonder, “What kind of terrible person am I? Sociopaths harm animals. Am I a sociopath?”
The obsessive thoughts have themes, and one theme is moral OCD. The OCD monster is constantly asking the question,”Am I a good person?” In other words, this kind of OCD sets you up for shame.”
If you think you have to earn your worthiness, you are vulnerable to feeling shame. OCD make you more vulnerable to shame. And shame can prevent you from getting to the other side of OCD.
The great news is that there are simple things you can do break out of the cycle of shame. Here are the 4 take-home messages:
Shame is a feeling. It’s electro-chemical signal that courses through your body. Feelings will not hurt you or kill you.
What does shame feel like for you? Where is your body do you feel it? Does it feel like it burns/ Does it crawl or itch?
Being able to witness yourself feeling shame takes the bite out of it.
your feeling lThis of feelings as a neutral message delivering helpful information like the warning lights on the car dashboard.
We teach our kids with OCD exactly how to manage feelings—especially the feelings we deem as unpleasant. How that feelings will come and go just like the tide in the ocean. The more you resist, the more the feeling will persist. The best way over the feeling is right through it.
Avoid judging yourself for having a feeling. Instead, get curious, “I wonder what this message tells me.”
If you had a magic wand , you might wish for a future in which you never experience shame again. that’s a fairy tale. Avoiding shame is like putting masking tape over the warning lights on the car dashboard. the goal is to say, “I feel this very unpleasant and familiar sensation. This is shame. I’m just going to breath, because I know I will be safe. In what way am I feeling unworthy of love?
this isn’t for everyone, but what if you could poke gentle fun at yourself. When you feel shame, what about joining wayne and garth with a bon “I’m not worthy. asee if you can
Understand that Shame is caused by a thought—not by a circumstance. Thoughts are just sentences in your brain. The thought that triggers shame is that you are not worthy of love because of something you said or did.
So, what is your answer to the question. “Are you worthy of love?”
Here’s an exercise. What if a friend or a child came to you and told you the exact circumstances that triggered your shame. What would you say to them? “I can’t believe you did that. You should be ashamed of yourself. In fact, I don’t know if we can be friends any more? Ideally you treat yourself with the same compassion you shine on others.
You might be tempted to think, “I’ll be worthy of love when I lose weight or no longer have obsessive thoughts or say no to compulsions.” You can’t hustle your way to worthiness. To get out of the shame game, you decide that you are worthy of love just as you are.
Don’t keep secrets. The natural response to shame is to lie and to hide. This makes shame worse. Find a safe place to tell your secrets. Maybe it’s your therapist. Maybe it’s be joining the OCD Haven community. Maybe it’s telling a friend.
Here’s another option. You can send us an anonymous postcard with your deepest, darkest secrets. I’ll leave the mailing address in the podcast notes. I share these postcards, and you will see that you are not alone.
Shame invites you into deeper work. It means exploring the question, “Are you worthy of love?”
Do you believe you are worthy of love just because you’re on this planet, or do you think you have to work each day to earn and prove your worthiness?
You can’t hustle your way to worthiness.
You can change your thoughts
Today, in a heartbeat, you could decide that you will treat yourself as if you were worthy of love.
You can decide in a heartbeat that you’re no longer willing to pay the high cost of buying into the belief that you have to earn your right to be here. You can trade in the thought of conditional worth with unconditional worth.
How do you get there? It’s not by looking in the mirror and saying , “I'm Good Enough, Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like me.”
You can climb the thought ladder. Maybe in the past you made a mistake and reached for the thought, “I’m such a loser.” How about going to a neutral thought like, “ Ah, I just made a human mistake. This proves I’m human.” Maybe the next step on the thought ladder is , “Worthy people make human mistakes.” The next step might be, “Every being on earth has inherent worth.” The last step might be “I’m a human being. My worth is tied to my being—not my doing.”
Maybe you reframe things. If you hear your child beating up on himself, you say, “No one speaks to my son like that.” Or “My daughter’s mother models the behaviors she wants to nurture in her child.” Maybe in the past you caught yourself looking in the mirror and saying, “I’m so fat.” Instead you can say, “I’m noticing a new muffin top over my jeans. It reminds me that it’s time to get back to my daily walks that give me more energy.”
Some people reach for spiritual beliefs to support changes in thoughts. You can try the thought, “I’m here on this earth to make a contribution. I’m an essential workers and I’m going to do my best to take care of my little piece of creation.”
Does this mean that you will never again have the thought that you are conditionally worthy> Probably not. You goal is to quickly recognize that your brain is taking the familiar old neural pathway. Shame will remind you that you’re there. they you can choose the thoughts that best serve you.
Acting from the thought that you have inherent worth—no matter what or you for say or how well you’re managing OCD—will support your effort to be freed from OCD. You don’t have to be perfect to be worthy. Just be perfectly who you are.