Shame Attacking to Control Anxiety


Shame is the essence of much human disturbance.

As a fallible human, you cannot expect to do always the right thing, but can forgive your errors and strive to minimize them. REBT agrees that when you feel ashamed of socially unacceptable deeds, you may have done socially wrong things. Standards, rules and laws of human behavior exist, and you should follow them, to prevent hurting members of your social group.

REBT says your feelings of shame down yourself, may have some value to motivate you to change the ways you act, but usually do more harm than good.

You become anxious about shameful acts you may do, and shame may worry you about the past, present and future.

Karen was spontaneous and free during her adolescence. She lived in a highly conventional suburb of New York City and performed may acts her parents and peers deemed shameful. She had a passionate sex affair with a boy when she was 14, pay little attention to her schoolwork, though she was bright and was in an advanced class. She became pregnant at 15 and her Roman Catholic parents, got shocked and considered to put her in a convent school. She had a miscarriage during her fourth month of pregnancy, suffered from postpartum depression, but then straightened out and went to opposite extremes because of the trouble she had caused herself and her parents.

Shame made Karen unsocial, she stayed at home, listened to endless music, and even refused to use her excellent musical skills to play in a string quartet that wished her in the group. Karen remained safe and depressed.

Her psychotherapist encouraged her to do some shame attacking exercises. She chose acts she would not normally do, and other people would consider ridiculous done in their presence, but it would not harm them or get her in trouble. For instance, yell at the stops of a train or elevator, wear a weird costume or a black and a brown shoe and walk a banana on a leash while eating another banana.

Karen found she was more anxious when she thought about doing the exercises, and people hardly noticed them. She felt initially embarrassed, but the embarrassment subsided, and Karen started to participate in social activities again.


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