How to Handle Shame, Guilt, and Humiliation

Shame is described as a painful feeling of humiliation and distress caused by the knowledge of wrongful or foolish behavior. For teens, shame can be powerful in its ability to linger and impede their decision-making right after. Some react by hiding away, whereas others double down on their mistakes. There is no one way to cope with shame, but it is important to have the skill to heal from it.

Shame and Trauma

Depending on the circumstance, trauma can produce a significant amount of shame in teens. Different scenarios that cause trauma could have them agonizing over their decisions in the moments of their trauma. Often, teens try their best to either rationalize or survive the shame. Survivors of abuse, for example, often have shame attached to their trauma.

Victims of physical, sexual, or domestic abuse may have shame surrounding how they were abused, what they believe they did to bring it on, and even for how they reacted or didn’t react to the abuse. Shame can also be felt surrounding any mental health issues that stemmed from the abuse. Mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other trauma-induced disorders can be amplified by shame.

Shame can prevent people from reporting their trauma. Looking again at victims of abuse, the acute embarrassment of having to talk about their abuse or admit it happened can stop them from taking steps to hold their abuser accountable. It can also be re-traumatizing to bring up the event, so they never get to heal because they can’t get through the initial difficulty of speaking up about the abuse.

In another example, many cases of rape go unreported because of the shame and stigma attached to it. Many women and children who suffer sexual assault and rape don’t come forward to report their rapists due to shame and repeated questions about how they ended up in that situation and what they should or shouldn’t have done. Shame is placed on the victim in this way, rather than the criminal who sexually assaulted them.

Shame can also produce trauma. The sheer amount of shame felt in that moment can traumatize a person. When shame causes trauma, it can also cause a huge hit on a person’s self-confidence. The fear of shame can be powerful as well, causing anxiety around decisions and future events where shame could be felt.

Shame and Guilt

Shame and guilt go hand-in-hand. Guilt is described by The Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research as “a concern about some action perceived to harm another.” Where shame is the concern over what others think of you, guilt is the concern over how what you did affect someone else. Guilt can be powerful enough for someone to try correcting an action they feel guilty about. Guilt can also cause trauma. It’s important to process feelings of guilt as well as shame.


Humiliation is similar to shame and guilt in that it causes teens feelings of discomfort related to a certain action that was taken. It is unique, though, because humiliation is deliberately brought on by others. Humiliation occurs when peers mock or make fun of someone for something they said, did, or didn’t do. This can be extremely uncomfortable because the one suffering humiliation may not have been aware at the time that their behavior was odd or would induce ridicule. Especially in environments like school, a person may be labeled, known, even nicknamed for a humiliating event. Again, depending on the situation, extreme humiliation can be traumatizing for some people.

How to Handle Shame, Guilt, and Humiliation

Healing from shame, guilt, or humiliation isn’t as easy as simply calming down. When trauma or co-occurring mental health disorders are involved, it may be even more difficult to identify and heal from what caused that shame. Victims of abuse or other traumatic experiences may need a lot of time to adjust and get past their shame, and that’s okay. Here are some ways to help someone heal from shame and move forward with strategies of strength:

  • Ask for help. If you’re a victim of trauma or shame, it’s okay to ask for help. Talk to a trusted person in your life and tell them what’s going on, no matter how embarrassing. Keeping secrets or holding onto painful shame will only let it grow.
  • Find words of affirmation. Create a list of inspiring quotes or words of affirmation that remind you you are more than your shame and guilt and deserve to move past it.
  • Seek out therapy. Mental health professionals are there to support you and give you strategies for relief as you process your pain and trauma. A doctor or therapist will also be judgment-free and be able to help you identify any co-occurring disorders.

Shame, guilt, and humiliation can all be large contributing factors to a teen’s trauma. Fear of shame or guilt can cause people, especially teens and adolescents, to act in ways that are hard to understand. These feelings can also be the catalyst for mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Havenwood Academy, we can help your teen work through her shame. Our long-term residential treatment center is meant to treat young women who have suffered significant trauma. Professional and experienced staff provide a myriad of research-based therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, EMDR, neurofeedback, and more. All of our therapeutic methods are trauma-informed, and we offer treatment plans that are specifically catered to your daughter. Our treatment team meets weekly to discuss the needs and progress of your child, and we will give her strategies to heal from trauma for her life outside Havenwood Academy. Call us today at (435) 586-2500.


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