The Role of the Nervous System in Rebuilding Trust After Betrayal

As a therapist who is particularly interested in working with survivors of complex trauma and difficult childhood experiences, I am constantly struck by how often survivors come in carrying deeply embedded, debilitating shame. Often, survivors may have carried this shame for so long that they don’t necessarily identify it as shame – it is just part of how they have always experienced themselves.

To truly understand and address the profound effects of complex trauma, it’s essential to explore the role shame plays in the lives of those who have experienced prolonged and interpersonal trauma. In this blog post, we’ll delve into how shame manifests, its negative impacts, and how we can begin the working of healing our trauma-related shame.

Defining Shame and Complex Trauma

Shame is an intense feeling of being inherently flawed, unworthy, inadequate, deficient or unlovable. We often confuse feeling ashamed with the experience of feeling shame, but they are distinct experiences. Feeling ashamed is “I have done something bad or unacceptable”. Feeling shame is “I am bad or unacceptable”.

Complex Trauma refers to trauma that arises from prolonged exposure to harmful situations, often involving close relationships. Examples include childhood abuse, neglect, and domestic violence. This type of trauma typically involves repeated traumatic events, often occurring in the context of relationships where there is an expectation of safety and care.

The Relationship Between Shame and Complex Trauma

Complex trauma often induces shame through experiences that communicate to the individual that they are worthless or defective. These experiences can be direct – for instance, a child who is repeatedly criticized and told that they are not good enough – but they can also be indirect. A common and perhaps unexpected source of shame in survivors of childhood abuse or emotional neglect is chronically unmet emotional needs (for love, support, connection etc.) Children have an innate, biological drive to seek out these emotional needs within their relationships with their caregivers. When these bids for emotional connection are rebuffed or ignored, children often blame themselves. This blame is often internalized as the belief that if they were just better in some way – less needy, less emotional, more successful – they would be able to get their needs met. This belief, when carried through childhood, transforms into a deep-seated shame that is imbedded in their identity and sense of self.

Negative Impacts of Shame

Whether these messages are received directly or indirectly, they can profoundly impact an individual’s well-being. Chronic shame is associated with increased risk for mental illness, more relationship problems and social disconnection, and reduced self-esteem and self-worth. Shame can even impact physical health and has been associated with increased risk of cardio-vascular and gastrointestinal issues.

Working Through Shame

Because shame can become so deeply imbedded in a person’s internal experience, it often requires time and a multifaceted approach. Here are some tools and strategies that can support us as we work towards healing our shame.

Building Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is the key ingredient to healing shame. Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, understanding, and care that you would offer to a child or a good friend. While treating yourself with kindness May feel foreign and unnatural at first, it is a skill that can be built like any other skill. Dr. Kristin Neff has identified 3 components to self-compassion: Self-kindness – Being gentle and supportive with yourself rather than harshly critical, Common humanity –  Recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacies are part of the shared human experience, not something that isolates you from others, and Mindfulness – Holding your painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than ignoring them or exaggerating them.

Learning More About Trauma-Related Shame

Learning more about the relationship between our trauma and our shame can help us understand that shame is a common response to trauma (particularly complex trauma) and not an accurate reflection of our personal worth. Reading, listening to podcasts can be incredibly supportive as we begin to understand and heal our shame.

Building Close Relationships & Community

Because of the impact of shame on our self-perception, it can meaningfully impact how we navigate building relationships and community. Shame is by its very nature alienating, convincing ourselves that our authentic selves are not enough to be accepted. Building stronger relationships where we are valued, accepted, supported and able to be allow ourselves to be seen fully can often be a deeply healing experience.

Work With a Therapist

While there are ways we can work through our shame on our own, a therapist can be instrumental in providing guidance and support as we navigate the healing process. A therapist can help guide the process of identifying and processing sham, developing self-compassion skills, and re-connecting with our authentic selves.

Shame can be a significant barrier to recovery for individuals with complex and relational trauma. By understanding and addressing shame, individuals can begin to heal and reclaim their sense of self-worth.

If you are struggling with shame and trauma, know that help is available, and you are not alone. Schedule a session with one of our highly-trained trauma therapists today or feel free to reach out to our team for resources and more information. Through therapy, community, and self-compassion, it is possible to work through shame and move towards a healthier, more fulfilling life.


maria dimachkie therapist sacramento california

Hi, I’m Maria Dimachkie, therapist for individuals and couples at Love Heal Grow Counseling.

I help​ individuals and couples who have overcome difficult, painful times that have left them feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and fearful of the future. You can experience more fulfillment in your life and relationships! I’m here to support you.

You can read more about me or schedule an appointment here: About Maria

Love Heal Grow Relationship Therapy Center Sacramento

Free Relationship Therapy Starter Pack

*How to Find a Therapist

*What to Expect in Your First Appointment

*How to Get the Most Out of Therapy

*How to talk to your boss about going to therapy during the workday

*How to seek reimbursement for therapy from your PPO plan

*Over twenty pages of relationship and life stressor tips and exercises that it would usually take 10+ therapy sessions to cover.

Check your email!