Self-Conscious Emotions: The Role of Shame and Guilt in Trauma

Even though the events surrounding your trauma may have happened a long time ago, the emotions are probably still very raw.

You can’t help but feel self-conscious about the shame and guilt you feel.

These emotions can be a real burden, especially if you have never had trauma therapy or are just starting. In fact, they can be so painful to consider that you do anything possible to get them out of your mind.

But this leads to negative consequences for you and really holds you back from finding any sort of peace of mind.

That’s why it’s important to know more about the relationship between yourself and these self-conscious emotions.

The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

First, you need to understand the difference between guilt and shame. Although they are often used interchangeably, they are actually very different emotions.


A negative emotion associated with something that you did which affected either yourself, someone else, or both. For example, you feel guilty that you lied to your partner about where you were last night.


This is also a negative emotion but goes much deeper. With shame, you believe that there is something very wrong with you. It is a belief that you develop yourself or learn from someone else.

Using the example from above, you feel ashamed that you lied to people you care about, and you begin to believe that you are deeply flawed as a human being. Additionally, you’re convinced that you don’t deserve their love.

Shame and Guilt in Trauma

With trauma, shame and guilt can take on a whole new meaning. Consider how each connects to trauma or how they even contribute to creating more deeper-reaching problems.

Some examples:

  • You feel guilty that you didn’t help that person you passed who was just in a car accident.
  • Even though it’s been years since you served overseas, you still feel ashamed of things that you did during wartime.
  • When you were little, your parents emotionally abused you. They would reinforce to you that you were “bad” or “dirty.” You carried these beliefs into your adulthood.
  • It’s your first wedding anniversary, but you completely forgot about it. You feel guilty that you didn’t get your partner anything or had something special planned. However, you also feel ashamed, as this moment is another reminder about how flawed you are. This is a message that’s been reinforced from childhood when you were bullied in school.

See how shame, guilt, and trauma work together? You can feel shame or guilt separately about a single incident or event. Or you feel both at once, almost interchangeably.

The Effects of Shame and Guilt

For one, shame and guilt make it very difficult to even think about the memories associated with the trauma you experienced. You’d likely do anything to push them out of your mind. Sadly, this often leads to substance abuse problems, which only makes a bad situation worse.

Also, shame and guilt keep you frozen in place. That means, for example, that you may not want to try trauma recovery because of the fear it will open old emotional wounds. It’s just too much for you, so you push it to the side. The result is that you remain stuck in the past and are not able to fully live and enjoy your life in the present.

No matter which effect you’re experiencing, both keep you from forgiving yourself and healing. How can you find a way to resolve the issues and move on?

The Solution to Shame, Guilt, and Trauma

Shame and guilt connected to trauma create a burden that you can’t shake. In particular, shame causes you to question even your validity as a person. You feel unworthy, unaccepted, or simply “wrong.”

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

Trauma therapy can provide the solution you are looking for. A skilled trauma therapist will understand how all three of these issues are connected with one another. That at least makes it easier to talk to them, as they won’t judge you for having these feelings. They will also know specific techniques that will help to resolve the shame and guilt you feel. And, in time, you no longer have to feel them.

By participating in trauma therapy, you can learn to lift your burden, forgive yourself, and truly heal. I would be happy to support you on this journey. Please, contact us today.



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