Shame Containment Therapy: helping us to have a better relationship with ourselves and others

Shame Containment Theory ©

Shame Containment Theory (SCT) is a new theory and type of therapy which I have developed as a result of my Ph.D. research into shame.

The importance of this theory is that it allows us to understand our shame and have a different relationship with it, which inevitably stops shame from blocking us from doing things we want to do. When we change our relationship with shame, we have a better relationship with ourselves and others.

Shame generally is not discussed in therapy as we are not taught anything about shame in our training. If you feel you have had therapy but it has not made any difference to how you feel, it may be that shame is the underlying cause of the problems you are facing. If you have never had therapy, I hope this model of therapy helps you to get to the route of your difficulties quickly, as well as giving you tools to improve your relationship with yourself and life.

Shame (when we don’t understand it) can cause problems in

  • Sex
  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Family
  • Feeling stuck
  • Feeling depressed/anxious but not sure why

The premise of the theory has 4 components which are all interlinked with each other.

Uncontained Shame

This type of shame is usually what people imagine when they think of shame. We don’t feel this shame very often but when we do it can feel devastating. When people describe this type of shame, they often use phrases like “my world came to an end” or “I wanted to disappear”. It can feel like life is never going to be the same again and we can feel either panic or a state of shutdown. When this feeling is very big, it can feel like we are about to be destroyed or annihilated and can sometimes make us feel suicidal.

Contained Shame

Contained shame is the type of shame that we are carrying but have managed to keep at bay. Sometimes we are so good at containing this shame that we don’t even know it is there. This shame can feel like imposter syndrome (all imposter syndrome is related to shame), waiting to be found out, issues with self-worth or self-esteem, and worrying about what people are going to think about us. I call this contained shame as although it might be causing us problems and blocks, we are still managing to ensure no one sees it.

Shame Containment Strategies

All shame is about protection, even uncontained shame, which might sound paradoxical considering how awful it feels. Shame containment strategies are always about protection, as they ensure no one sees our shame, helping us to manage life ensuring we avoid feeling uncontained shame. Some people have built their whole life as a shame containment strategy. Whilst some of these strategies are needed (shame helps us to stay bonded to our social groups, so being polite or helpful is a shame containment strategy) others start to get in our way. Some useful shame containment strategies might be

  • Being nice or thoughtful
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Owning up when we make a mistake
  • Numbing activities such as binge-watching TV or watching porn

Shame containment strategies that are getting in our way might be

  • Avoiding sex and relationships
  • Avoiding speaking out at work
  • Not going for a job promotion
  • Not starting the business we dream of
  • Attacking ourselves when something goes wrong
  • Attacking or blaming others and inappropriate anger
  • Watching porn (when it is getting in the way of other life activities)

Re-containment strategies

The fourth component of SCT is re-containment strategies. When our shame has been uncontained, either as a big, devastating feeling or as what I call a shame leak when our shame has come out but it is not feeling as painful as a full, uncontained event, we need to do something to re-contain the shame. Depending on the circumstances and how big the uncontained shame feels will determine the type of re-containment strategies we deploy. For example, if we have made a mistake at work, we might move into what is often described as obsessive thinking or rumination. However, these terms in themselves can be quite shaming and do not describe the purpose of them. Instead, I call this continuous thinking “rescuing thinking”, as we are trying to figure out how to manage the uncontained shame that is threatening us. We will either imagine the conversation we are going to have with people or see where we can apportion blame or excuses elsewhere. If we feel under threat, even by our own feelings, it makes sense to try and get away from or diminish that threat.

Other re-containment strategies can be similar or the same as shame containment strategies, such as attacking ourselves, attacking others, or numbing activities. We can also use denial as re-containment.

Shame Containment Therapy

As I have mentioned, all shame is about protection, it is not about attacking ourselves. Unfortunately, shame does not always protect us in the best way. Uncontained shame protects us by feeling so painful, we will not do the thing that made us feel so terrible again, and we will develop containment strategies to ensure this never happens. Sometimes we can imagine the shame we are going to feel before we do something. A good example of this is sex. We may avoid sex as we do not want to experience the shame of a lack of erection or not giving/having an orgasm.

In SCT we explore where the shame has developed from (I call this our primary shame), which is usually in childhood. We do not heal shame as it is not bad, but we may need to heal the original events that created the shame. We then look at what might trigger the feelings of shame (it is important to explore this individually as what will trigger shame in one person will not affect another) and explore what is shameful about those events. This enables the shame to be reduced. We then explore containment and re-containment strategies and figure what which ones are needed and which ones are getting in the way. The strategies that need to be let go of may need to be replaced with something more appropriate.

It is important to know when considering working with shame in this way that strategies are not let go of too early. It may be that the first thing we do is give permission for those strategies to be there, they are there to keep us safe, after all.

Therapy cost: £80

Other therapies

Compulsive sex & porn use

Compulsive sex & porn use

Compulsive sexual behaviours are probably not what you think they are. They are not about having a high sex drive, neither are they a moral failing. They are often not about being stuck in an unhappy relationship. If sex and porn is being used compulsively, it is likely a mechanism to help deal with difficult or uncomfortable feelings

Loss of Sexual Interest

Loss of Sexual Interest

Loss of sexual interest is one of the most common reasons why people seek out sex therapy and despite what we have been led to believe, loss of sexual motivation can affect men just as much as women. A mismatch in a couple’s desire for sex can have a devastating effect on the relationship.

Erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction

Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common sexual problems experienced by men of all ages. We only need to look at how popular Viagra and other ED drugs are to know the scale of the problem.

Vulval pain conditions

Vulval pain conditions

Vulval pain conditions, such as vaginismus or vulvodynia are conditions that make penetrative sex very painful or impossible, even if you are aroused and happy to have sex. These conditions can be very distressing for both you and your partner.

Premature ejaculation

Premature ejaculation

Premature ejaculation isn’t necessarily about a man ejaculating too quickly. A better description would be that he comes before he is ready to. This can mean that he has no sense of control over when he ejaculates. This can sometimes lead to frustration for both him and his partner.

Other sexual problems

Other sexual problems

If you are experiencing sexual problems that are not listed on this site, such as difficulty with orgasm or delayed ejaculation, struggling to figure out what your sexual orientation is or maybe fetish, lack of sexual confidence or anything else, please get in touch to see how we can help you.

Sexual Shame

Sexual Shame

To feel shame around sex and our sexuality is a common experience. However, as a society, we tend to avoid the topics of both sex and shame. Even more so when these experiences are combined. This can make us feel like we are the only ones who worry about sex.