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Shame – The ‘S’ Word – A Guide For Practitioners


Shame is something that is not talked about much in our society in the true sense of the word. Seemingly a taboo subject in many ways, I hope that this article will help shine some light on what shame is, where it comes from, how to identify it and most importantly, effective ways of healing it.

If you’re wondering if shame can be healed then, quoting Leo Buscaglia totally out of context, ‘Yes you can!’

Whether you work with people that experience shame or you are working through your own, the main purpose of this article is to convey the message that with appropriate awareness and skill and using energy psychology techniques, even toxic shame can be lifted to allow people to freely express themselves and their creativity.

How do I know? Because I’ve done it and I’ve helped clients to do it. Shame has played a significant part in my life thus far and despite having shifted metaphorical tons of it, it is something that I remain passionate and vigilant about as it still trips me up and shuts me down from time to time.

This document is based on a presentation I did at the EFT Gathering at Ilkley in January 2010 and as such the intended audience is EFT and other practitioners. Please use and distribute the information in this document freely as long as you do so in context. 


The techniques described in this document require skill and experience to apply safely. Do not attempt to do them on yourself unless you are qualified and experienced enough to do so – ask for help from someone who is.


Shame is a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.

Let’s start by differentiating between shame and guilt: guilt is a feeling we get when we think that we did something bad, whereas shame is a feeling we get that we simply are bad; that is, before we’ve even said or done anything we just are bad; inherently bad to the core. Fact of life. Fait accomplis. Just the way it is and nothing to be done about it.

How can shame, ranked by numerous models as a ‘low energy’ feeling, stop mature and emotionally literate people dead in their tracks and shut their creativity and self-expression down in the blink of an eye?

John Bradshaw writes in Healing the Shame that Binds You ‘I used to drink to solve the problems caused by drinking. The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt the more I felt ashamed. Shame begets shame… I came to see that shame is one of the major destructive forces in human life.’

When I first read this book in 2007 it touched me deeply; it felt that finally someone understood my internal world and life experience – through the lens of shame. He articulated with one hundred percent accuracy the difficulties in my day-to-day activities that others seemed to perform with ease and comfort – like walking into a room full of people, going on a date or even asking a friend for a favour (all of which could be torture for shame based people.)

Bradshaw postulates that unless healthy shame gets processed or released it turns to toxic shame which becomes a self-perpetuating downwards shame spiral:

1. Shame leads to distorted thinking (no-one could love me as I am)

2. which begs for mood alteration to get away from the pain (acting out, addictions, rituals)

3. which leads to consequences (health issues, relationships ending, losing job, run-ins with the law)

4. which fuels more shame

It seems to me that Bradshaw suggests that the journey to heal shame is by default a painful and long one, and if my interpretation is correct in this regard I speculate that Emotional Freedom Techniques would change his views.

I think this book is essential reading for all practitioners:

  • if you are someone who experiences severe shame I believe this book will provide valuable context for your life experience and a much deeper understanding of the shame dynamic;
  • to help you get inside the heads and worlds of those who do and who may come to you for help and enable you to meet them where they are, in their model of the world.


The reason shame is a problem is because it kills; it kills relationships, spontaneity, creativity and it kills through suicides, depression and addictions.

It’s a problem because unless the cycle is broken it gets passed on from generation to generation and because it’s all-pervasive yet often sublimely subtle.

Unless you deal with it, it will deal with you.


Toxic shame as Bradshaw defines it results from (well-intended or not well intended) authority figures like parents, teachers or the church that don’t allow the child to express and reframe shaming experiences.

If a child is allowed to express shame (because they believe that the way they perceive, think, feel, imagine or desire is wrong) and they are helped to reframe the experience (e.g. a parent apologising for losing their temper and shouting at them) then the child can learn from the event and release the shame.

If they are not assured and allowed to release and reframe the situation then they are likely to internalise those feelings where it often turns into toxic shame and severe self-limiting beliefs of the “I’m bad” variety.

Bradshaw lists a host of causes of shame; one he labels the denial of five freedoms: suggesting that the way children perceive, think, feel, desire or imagine is wrong.

Abandoned or abused children usually believe that they caused and/or deserved the abuse; the painful memories also often becomes their only connection with their abuser and unconsciously they may not want to let it go because it would be disloyal to the abuser and/or they’d rather have some connection than no connection.

Unless they resolve this dynamic they will very likely carry this into adulthood and continue to re-enact the same program.

Cliff Barry says that we are hotwired to love our parents; we really have no choice! So the only way we can make sense of our own abuse or neglect as children is by justifying our parent’s actions in some way and blaming ourselves.


Clients don’t usually come to us saying “I’d like to work on shame”. Instead they ask us to help them with the symptoms of shame without necessarily attributing those symptoms to shame as the cause. These symptoms could literally be anything, ranging from being depressed, being unable to get ahead in their careers or nail biting

Here are common red flags:

  • Bradshaw: power hungry clients who have strong tendencies to want to control are often driven by shame. Control equates to power and they need power to compensate for their lack of self-worth and to make sure that no-one finds out about their badness.
  • Bradshaw: ‘rage is probably the most naturally occurring cover-up for shame’ and it protects in two ways
  • It keeps others (the world) away in an attempt to keep the shame based person safe
  • It allows the shame based person to transfers shame to others, which brings (temporary) relief
  • Addictions – drugs, sex, television, work (although this is often rewarded in our society), alcohol etc
  • Self-harming – an external manifestation of their self-loathing
  • Body/language: unable to meet your eyes, limp handshake, tone of voice and general apologetic demeanour, acting like they are in the wa.
  • Often very intelligent; feeling shame has nothing to do with reason, logic, intelligence or willpower.
  • Perfectionism or procrastination.
  • Overachievers – the only way they can justify their existence is by DOING, and doing LOTS.
  • They are often rescuers – in addition to DOING, helping others also helps to justify their existence.
  • They love telling their story (again and again) and often argue for their limitations, effectively trying to convince anyone who is willing to listen how bad they are.
  • The often have a sense of absolute identification with the worthless/non-deserving state; it is how they ARE, not a problem they have.
  • They often talk in absolutes (NOBODY loves me, I ALWAYS get rejected).
  • Arrogance – they often boast to cover up their deep seated sense of unworthiness and shame.
  • Paradoxical arrogance – they often believe that they are SO bad (it is, after all, who they ARE) that NO-ONE and NO-THING can help them. This understandably often leads to hopelessness and despair.
  • Their ‘core issue’ does not seem to shift or if it does it usually doesn’t last; one step forwards and it seems, two steps back.

We have to understand that some of these clients will find it very difficult to ask for what they want, disagree with us or correct us to help us to help them.



Although popular belief has it that we cannot love and support others unless we love and support ourselves, in my experience and from a shaming perspective this is simply not true; the only redemption for a person with toxic shame, the very thing that justifies their existence on the planet and the only way they can reasonably expect other to tolerate them is by offering service to others and to make other’s needs more important than their own.


A large percentage of people have body shame and it’s not really all that surprising; the world seems obsessed with the perfect breast size or penis size and for some reason we don’t call some body parts by their true names. We call a nose a nose and an ear an ear but we teach children that breasts are ‘boobies’ and a penis a ‘wee-wee’. In Afrikaans the word for private parts translate directly as ‘shame’ or ‘shy’ parts.

Body functions get the same treatment; it’s OK to see, and taste, and sweat, but urinating is a ‘number 1’ and bowel movements a ‘number 2’!

If children are (inadvertently) taught from a young ages that there is something shameful about their bodies (especially some body parts) and their bodily functions, are we really surprised that body shame is so rife in our society?


Given that body shame is prevalent as it is it makes total sense for it to carry into shame about our sexual desires and performance, despite that it is the very act that assures the survival of our race!

It also goes deeper – some gay or lesbian people experience shame simply because their sexual desires are different from the majority of the world.


People who experience deep shame find it very difficult or impossible to ask for what they want and they will therefore find it difficult to even know what they want.

They may be unable to ask for minor things like the heat to be turned up when they’re cold, for a glass of water or even to borrow money to buy a cup of coffee – even from close friends and often the possibility of actually getting what they want is often more stressful than being refused as it induces even more shame.


People who live in shame often believe that they do not deserve the company and companionship of others. They may even think that they are inconveniencing you as their practitioner even though they are paying you for session time.

To compensate, they are often busy people with little or no time to socialise, or they use alcohol or drugs to help them relax their inhibitions (temporarily dislodge their shame) so that they can connect.

This is often effective as a short term strategy but in the long run produces various problems and can actually end up inducing even more shame if e.g. they act out and behave in ‘shameful’ ways during periods of intoxication.

Mostly, however, it simply fuels a deeper sense of loneliness fuelled by unhealthy thinking (I can’t connect unless I’m intoxicated, no-body wants to connect with the real me, I cannot have healthy relationships etc).


Shame based people find conflict especially hard as they usually believe that they are in the wrong even if they know that they are not; even if there is evidence that the other party acted inappropriately, they are much more inclined to blame (and shame) themselves.

This is compounded by their inability to step outside of themselves and be objective about their own wants and needs; they often fear that what they deem as appropriate (e.g. asking a small favour) will be judged by the world as totally inappropriate and result in conflict; as such they will often deny their own needs to avoid conflict with others.


Shame is mostly caused by unhealthy thinking. As much as EFT does sometimes change our thinking, it does not always, so I started incorporating other techniques with it.


Cliff Barry developed a very powerful set of tools based on Carl Jung’s work, including a 4-quarter model of Archetypes:


ShadowWork is based on four archetypes (Lover, Warrior, Magician and Sovereign) and it suggests that we all have these parts within ourselves; all parts of us are essential parts of us and all parts are welcome.

A very high level overview:

Lover: the part of you that loves chocolate, red wine and sex on the beach; the part that feels and that’s in touch with your body. This is the part that has no boundaries, only ever wants to say ‘yes’ to everything, the part that gives you that extra hour in bed; this is where addictions usually live. An inflated lover is overwhelmed with emotion whilst a deflated lover is stoic. The gateway emotion* to the lover is sadness or grief.

Warrior: the part of you that does, that says ‘no’, protects your boundaries, gets on with the job even if you’re tired, feeds the children and yourself even when you’re hurt. The deflated warrior is a victim, the inflated warrior a savage or bully. The gateway emotion* to the warrior is anger.

Magician: the part of you that thinks, is intelligent, can reason, detach and be objective. This is the part of you that facilitate, your shaman. This is the cheeky and humorous part of you, the trickster, and the manipulator. The deflated

Magician is confused and the inflated Magician thinks they know it all. The gateway emotion* to the Magician is fear.

Sovereign: the part of you that sees and blesses; the part of you with vision and purpose that deeply and truly knows what you need to be happy and fulfilled, that bless yourself and others; the archetype of true internal leadership. The deflated Sovereign says that it’s too hard and the inflated Sovereign thinks it can do it all. The gateway emotion* to the Sovereign is joy.

*Gateway emotion: This does not mean that you have to experience that feeling all the time to access the given archetype. It does mean that the way towards a more balanced archetype is by working through that feeling, e.g. to have access to a more balanced Lover archetype you have to working through your unresolved grief, to have access to a more balanced Warrior archetype you have to working through your unresolved anger.


Cliff also found that every archetype has a shaming message and that the shaming message of the Magician is “I am bad”. This caught my attention because if the message of the magician was the message of shame (I am bad), then maybe the strengths and tools of the magician was also the way out of shame.

Shame based people remind me of the anorexic: standing in front of a mirror with barely enough flesh on their bones to survive yet they still see a fat person – driving the compulsion to lose more weight. I believe that deep shame is at least as dangerous is any other life threatening disease or condition and maybe even more so because we often do not recognize how the shame dynamic contracts their worlds around them until it seems that there is no way out.

The magician is about using our objectivity, our intelligence and our ability to detach. Here are some ways to use these qualities in the EFT and healing realms.


The shame based person cannot be objective about who they are; they cannot reason with their shame based thoughts from a place of shame just like someone cannot easily get out of quicksand without resources outside the quicksand.

The reason for this is simple: one of the functions of the unconscious mind is to delete, distort and generalize; basically the unconscious mind will only pass on information to them consistent with their limiting view of themselves.

Since their shame-reality is as real to them as your reality to your, we need to pull them out of their shame-world, a world they totally identify with, to bring perspective and healing. Sometimes this happens by default when we use standard EFT, and here are additional ways to help:


Our challenge as practitioners is to pull our shamed based clients out of themselves to create perspective:

  • Dissociate them; ask them to imagine themselves on a screen; let them imagine they have a remote control so they can turn it off at any time. If the presenting shame is about something that happened when they were younger, get them to imagine the younger version of them on the screen.
  • Do tapping on the person on the screen as if they were someone else and creatively alternate through 1st, 2nd and 3rd person tapping
  • Even though he feels ashamed about xyz I love and accept him anyway…
  • Even though [person’s first name] feels ashamed about xyz I love and accept him/her anyway / I’d like him/her to accept himself anyway o After a few rounds ask them:
  • How does the picture change?
  • What do you think they’re thinking now?
  • How do you think they feel now?
  • Zoom in and look into their eyes – what do you see?
  • Tap anything that’s getting in the way of healing.
  • Once the suds come down from a dissociated perspective (them looking at themselves in a picture), gently probe the SUD level from an associated perspective (them being in the picture). Keep them dissociated while the SUDS are still high and only associate them once they come down and continue with the basic ‘Even though I… ‘
  • Ask them to imagine someone they care about or respect (dead or alive, real or imaginary) on the screen
  • Ask them to imagine that person having just gone through the same shameful experience as them and/or to imagine that that person feels about themselves the same way the client feels about themselves (ashamed).
  • This will (often unconsciously) bring a radically new perspective/reframe (see point about compassion below.)
  • Do some tapping for the other person in 2nd and 3rd person; (even though they… and even though [first name])
  • After a few rounds ask them how the picture changes and work with what shows up.
  • Clients usually have a whole lot more compassion for the other person; point this out as it engages the mind (thinking, magician) to start reshaping their experience; expect huge grief at this point as they (sometimes for the first time) acknowledge their pain from the event as well a
  • Once SUDS come down and compassion/forgiveness/love rises, associate them in the picture and/or do an integration visualization where they embrace and re-unite with the younger part of themselves in a loving way.


Lovingly challenge their language when they talk in absolutes (I ALWAYS fail, NOBODY loves me, I will NEVER get over this) by asking curiously ‘Really? NOBODY loves you?’ or ‘How do you know that you will NEVER get over this?’


When clients are adamant that they can tell the future (usually that bad things will happen e.g. I WILL end up hurt, they WILL reject me, this WONT work) use humour during the tapping, e.g. ‘Even though I can tell the future… and I’ve never been wrong… ever ever ever ever in my life… the truth is… I don’t even know what my next thought is going to be… (think about it… )… so what if I’m wrong… what if this could change… I’ve been wrong before… and even though I’d rather be right than happy… I’d love to be wrong on this one… ‘


When clients tell long stories, get comfortable with interrupting them with volition and on purpose:

  • to tell them to start tapping (or that you will be tapping on them) while they tell the story
  • if the story seems like a lot of detail without much emotion this may be their way to protect themselves from going there – especially true for shame based clients! – and you’ll do them a service by bringing them out of it
  • as an intervention (provocative EFT) to get their energy levels up


  • remind them that they don’t have to tell you anything personal or private
  • be very observant of their bodies and eyes and keep reminding them to ‘stay with me’ if you sense they’re disappearing down the rabbit hole of shame, pull them out of the event and back to the here and now
  • if you’re not sure where your client is, ask them, ‘What are you thinking, how do you feel, where are you now, who are you, how old are you now etc.’


I credit Bandler with this one, it’s an NLP technique with a twist and I always have them tap while we do it.

Once they’ve got the movie (as per EFT), make sure that they have a place of safety before and after the movie, i.e. an actual memory of a time and place before and after the movie that they felt happy, or safe.

While tapping, get them to play the movie backwards and forwards in different ways

  • always let them start and end in a place of safety
  • change modalities:
  • play it forwards faster and faster
  • play it backwards in black & white
  • play it forwards without sound
  • play it backwards while you make funny noises
  • alternate between then watching the movie and them looking at themselves looking at the movie
  • use your own creativity here
  • add the Bandler twist! Get them to cut the movie up in shorter pieces and then get them to play it back in the wrong sequence.

And again… let them tap through all of this.


Byron gifted us with phenomenal and profound process. Look her up on YouTube or and combine it with tapping.


I find The Sedona Method fascinating and powerful in my personal life (a big thanks to my friend Gemma Keany from Sedona Norway). It releases shame effectively because it works with the mind, intellect and reason (magician realm) and often brings about profound objectivity (magician realm) and peace beyond mind. And yes, I combine tapping with the method.


A very powerful tool in the magician quarter! Allow laughter and humour to surface, use it respectfully, gently and laughingly to lead your client to a different perspective about themselves, about life and about possibility. Anchor in these new insights and understandings and lighter way of being by tapping it in.

  • ‘Even though no-one with my problem have EVER EVER EVER changed… ‘
  • ‘… I’m definitely the worst/ugliest/fattest out of all the 7 billion people on the planet’
  • ‘Even though other people deserve love and companionship I am so special that I don’t!’


One antidote for shame is dignity and one way to tap into that is through provocative techniques like Provocative EFT; these help clients to get into a higher energy (e.g. anger) and outside of themselves enough that they can provide the dignity to their shamed self that they cannot do from within the place of shame.

Rapport & skill is crucial or the technique could backfire and actually enforce the client’s desperation and shame spiral.


Most shame based people have lost their sense of innocence.

A quick intervention – mini-process, if you want – is to ask them to picture a baby… tap tap tap… ask them what they see… tap tap tap… ask them if they’re open to the possibility that all babies are born in innocence… tap tap tap… if they are then point out that must be true for them too… tap tap tap… and continue with the rest of the session.


Courtesy of Robert Smith (FasterEFT) -ask someone to imagine a big tree. Ask them ‘What would happen to the tree if you pulled it out by its roots?’ When they reply ‘It would die’ you just continue with the session as if that conversation never happened, allowing the unconscious minds to make all the necessary connections with the story and mainly, that no matter how deeply rooted a problem is, when you pull it out by the roots it dies!


Ask clients to adopt the TAT pose and have a conversation with the part of them that feels ashamed (especially if there was a specific event that caused the shame) or with a perpetrator. This often brings up a lot of emotion and healing as well as EFT aspects to tap on.


When the client articulates their shame as a particular limiting belief (or decision) like I am not good enough, I find particular NLP & Hypnosis visualizations particularly effective to help them go back to a time before they ever took on that belief, anchor it and splash that forward along their timestream, whilst tapping.


I often paraphrase Jack Kornfield’s definition of forgiveness as finally giving up all hope for a better yesterday. I respect client’s unwillingness to forgive AND point out (with compassion, respect and patience) that it’s OK not to forgive as long as they realize that that’s the very thing that keeps them stuck. Sometimes it also helps to point out (while tapping):

  • The perpetrator is not even aware of them holding on to the (righteous) anger and blame.
  • It’s hurting them more than anyone else (they’re the one carrying the resentment).
  • It does not in fact change the past nor does it prevent something like that happening again.
  • It does not equate to ‘letting someone off the hook’; we can still take appropriate action if required like reporting the matter to the authorities, drawing our boundaries or leaving a relationship.


As a new practitioner I did not want to test my work because I was afraid that it would prove that EFT didn’t work, mostly because I’d not applied it skillfully enough. It’s imperative that we test our work, especially with shame as clients (like most of us) simply wants to get away from painful feelings and we can all pretend for a while that everything is ok;


Loosen the grip of shame with tapping statements like:

  • Even though there is NO WAY this can ever change for me, and all the tapping in the world’s not going to make any difference and I’ve had this forever, I’d like to be open to the possibility that this could change… and then throw in some ‘what if it could change’ or ‘what if it was possible to change’ statements on the other points.
  • Even though I hate myself I’d like to be able to like (or forgive, or love) myself
  • Even though I’m a very bad person, rotten to the core and I can never forgive myself I’d like to able to forgive myself…


Ask your clients (whilst tapping) to imagine what it would be like to be shame free – ask them to write about it before the next session and/or help them with a short visualization where they can step into that imaginary place of being shame free and ask them to describe it in detail – what do they see, hear, feel, think and do – while tapping.

This allows new neural pathways to form and allow for the possibility of change. If it’s true that what we focus on expands then starting to focus on what they want rather than what they have is a step in the right direction.


If you’re a practitioner then you know that the unexpected often happens:

  • Clients sometimes get angry because when you challenge their thinking; they’re invested in it even though it is that very thinking that causes their pain. Don’t expect them to always want to change it; meet them where they are and lead them somewhere more useful (as opposed to forcing them to change the way you want them to change).
  • Things can get worse before they get better; starting to life the lid of shame may cause other stuff that’s been suppressed to come up; but then, you already know that!
  • The specific presenting issue may not disappear quickly which could lead to you or them thinking that EFT didn’t work. E.g. a client that presents procrastination; it may take a few sessions to clear up shame that happens to pop up during the sessions and the procrastination remains – because you’ve not tapped on it.


With compassion, skill and patience shame can be healed. How do I know? Because I’ve done it! 

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