Trauma-Related Shame and Guilt: What Therapeutic Approaches Can Help You Cope?

The conversation about trauma has grown and expanded greatly just in the last decade.

Now there are so many information sources and personal stories available online about not just experiencing trauma but overcoming it.

While it’s easy to focus on dramatic and tragic trauma stories, there is often a missing piece. Something that many people don’t associate with experiencing trauma—the shame and guilt that at times comes with it.

But why would anyone feel guilty or shameful of having gone through a traumatic event?

Understanding the roots of this shame and guilt and the lack of control associated with these issues is very important for trauma recovery. Moreover, knowing which therapeutic approaches can help will make it easier for you to cope and heal from trauma.

The Difference Between Shame and Guilt

Although the words “shame” and “guilt” are often used interchangeably, they are very different concepts. Guilt is the feeling you experience after doing something that you knew, either at the time or later, to be wrong.

For example, you have an argument with your partner and say very unkind words. Afterward, you feel guilty over what you did. Your guilt, then, becomes the motivation for you to apologize to your partner and make amends. Thus, guilt is externally driven.

Shame, on the other hand, is much different. It is a belief you have that something intrinsically is bad or wrong with you. Thus, shame is internally driven.

The difference between guilt and shame, therefore, is that one is an emotion while the other is a tragic misbelief about yourself. However, both can happen as a result of trauma.

Coping with Trauma-Related Shame and Guilt

Consider some of the therapeutic approaches available to treat trauma.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The first therapeutic approach that you can use to cope with trauma is cognitive behavioral therapy. With CBT you and a therapist work together to uncover negative thinking patterns.

Once these patterns have been revealed, you work to, first, challenge and, then, change them. Talking to a therapist helps as you peel back layers that obscure negative thinking to get to the root of the issues.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Another proven therapeutic technique that can help you cope with trauma is EMDR therapy. With EMDR you focus on memories related to your trauma while, at the same time, your eyes are tracking an object back and forth.

It can be hard the first session or two, as you recall these painful memories of your trauma. However, in time, you will process feelings associated with these memories. Until, eventually, recalling the traumatic event no longer causes emotional distress.

Exposure Therapy

A final therapeutic approach for coping with trauma is exposure therapy. In exposure therapy, a therapist exposes you to stimuli that trigger a traumatic memory. For example, a veteran who was in combat might be exposed to the sounds of gunfire or an explosion. Then, they talk with the therapist about what they are feeling.

Exposure therapy has to be handled very carefully so as not to re-traumatize. The therapist has to determine if they can expose you to traumatic memories all at once or if it’s best that you gradually work up to the most severe trauma reminders. Whichever approach is best for you, exposure therapy helps you to gain control over the distress and fear you feel in connection with the event

Regaining Control over Trauma-Related Issues

If there is one particular word people most often link to trauma, it would probably be: control.

Trauma isn’t a choice. When you experience a traumatic event, you usually feel powerless to prevent it. This lack of control thus creates a strong desire to have control afterward. But often you’re stuck feeling that you have absolutely no power to effect change at all.

The techniques mentioned above help to flip that script. Now, with the help of a therapist, you do have the power to do something about how the trauma affected you. And that not only includes recurring distressing memories and fear but also relief from shame and guilt.

The shame and guilt related to trauma create a very complicated picture. They burden you with a weight that can seem impossible to lift. Yet, there’s hope. You don’t have to experience shame or guilt anymore. By working with a therapist using specific therapeutic techniques, you can not only find relief but closure from trauma.

If you would like to explore which therapeutic methods can help you overcome trauma, please contact us today.



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