When it comes to trauma, discussions about shame and guilt are often overlooked. Sometimes people are too uncomfortable to go there emotionally. Sometimes thinking of trauma as a nuanced experience with a complex range of reactions is overwhelming.
Yet, shame and guilt are very common responses to trauma. They can easily rob the joy or passion in your life. And if they persist unaddressed, they have the potential to complicate self-perception, upend relationships, and interfere with a trauma sufferer’s hope for the future.
You deserve more than a life mired in the negative beliefs caused by trauma.
Understanding trauma-related shame and guilt is very important for healing, recovery, growth. Moreover, understanding how Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can aid you may make it easier for you to cope and heal.
Clarifying the Difference Between Shame and Guilt
In everyday life, “shame” and “guilt” are often interchangeable terms. However, psychologically, they are distinctly different concepts.
- Guilt is the emotion you experience following thoughts or behavior that you knew to be wrong. Guilt is disturbing but it doesn’t disrupt your sense of personal worth.
- Shame is the belief you are the primary problem, that something is intrinsically wrong with who you are. Shame is internally destructive.
Work with a therapist can help you pin down how one or both experiences interfere with your healing and hold you back.
How Your Body and Mind Become Traumatically Linked
Following a traumatic event, the experience can stick with you long after the moment passes.
It’s not uncommon to randomly feel mental and physical arousal, similar to that experienced during the actual traumatic event. Memories of the trauma activate your sympathetic nervous system.
Rapid breathing, an elevated heart rate, and a rush of adrenaline accompany such memories. You might not be able to concentrate, interact, relax, or function well at school or work. Such immense physical upheaval can greatly increase the amount of guilt and shame you experience.
Coping with Trauma-Related Shame and Guilt via EMDR
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a proven therapeutic technique that can help heal guilt and shame.
In EMDR sessions, the therapist encourages participants to focus on memories related to the trauma while engaging in a process of tracking an object back and forth with their eyes.
As your therapist guides you to move your eyes in this way, you get used to the process and become less sensitive to it. Your therapist will then intentionally trigger your traumatic memories. Just as you physically and cognitively became desensitized to the eye movement, you become desensitized to the guilt and shame linked to the memories.
Over time, you will start to reprocess feelings associated with these memories. Relatively quickly, recalling the traumatic event no longer causes emotional distress. Your perception of the past is, in effect, transformed.
EMDR thus helps release negative beliefs about yourself. You can then effectively replace negative thoughts and self-talk (“I’m unlovable”, I’m worthless”) with positive, supportive perspectives (“I deserve love”, “I’m the best I can be”).
Unresolved trauma can keep you stuck in a cycle of guilt, shame, and self-punishment. You don’t deserve to live there any longer. You have the right to experience relief and more appreciation for your life and all its possibilities.
EMDR can start you down the road to clarity, self-compassion, and empowered emotional management. All you will you need for a full recovery and a more fulfilled life.
If you are ready to consider EMDR therapy, we are here to help. Please read more about trauma counseling and reach out for a consultation today. Let’s work together to achieve your healing as quickly and effectively as possible.