Low confidence and shame: understanding what holds us back

vector picture showing a woman choosing between different types of mindsets: scared, sad, or happy

October 17, 2023

Everyone is looking at me. It is as if I am small and want to hide. My mind just freezes and I cannot think of anything to say. These are just some real-life examples of stories involving shame. It is one of the most pervasive feelings in society. The effects of shame can hinder how we relate to ourselves, others and the world.

Shame puts people into a place of low confidence and disconnection. The good news is we can turn shame into high confidence, self-compassion and connection. The first step is to understand what our shame is trying to tell us. In this article, you’ll learn about the mechanisms behind shame and how to start breaking the stubborn strongholds of shame.

This article was written for Life Coach Directory.


1. Definitions of shame

  • Brené Brown: low confidence
  • Paul Gilbert: shame as damage limitation strategy
  • Heinz Kohut: shame as disconnect 

2. The power of shame

  • Physical/emotional memories

3. Safeguarding strategies against shame

  • Withdrawal: client vignette – Becky
  • Attack self: client vignette – Maria
  • Attack others: client vignette – Lucy

4. Alleviating the shame is possible

  • I tackled shame feelings too
  • How our work can help you overcome shame

5. Practical questions

  • Four things you can ask yourself today to understand what sits underneath the reaction to shame


Bonus section: what is healthy shame?

The bonus section is an additional facet of the article that is explored exclusively on this website, aiming to supplement the information found in the original article.

Healthy shame is an essential aspect of the human experience that is vital to our personal growth and development. It is a natural emotion that arises when we realise that we have made a mistake or acted in a way that goes against our values or beliefs. This feeling of discomfort, embarrassment, or guilt can be challenging to deal with, but ultimately, it is beneficial for our social and emotional well-being. 


It is perfectly normal to experience healthy shame from time to time, and it can help us become more self-aware and empathetic towards others. By recognising and taking responsibility for our actions and their impact on those around us, we can learn from our mistakes and make the necessary changes in our behaviour or thought patterns. 


Healthy shame serves as a powerful signifier that we need to make changes in our lives. It prompts us to acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them, and make amends as needed, leading to greater personal growth and a stronger sense of integrity. For example, if you are often late for meeting friends, and your friends call this out, it is normal that you feel a dose of healthy shame. You might feel bad for letting them wait on you very often. This helps to fuel the necessary change to start taking your friends’ requests into account.


It is essential to note that while healthy shame is a necessary part of the human experience, it is different from toxic shame. Healthy shame is a temporary emotion that motivates us to take responsibility for our actions, while toxic shame can lead to feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy, which can be detrimental to our mental health. 


Some markers distinguish healthy shame and toxic shame. Reflect on the questions below, what do you think the difference is?

  • Is the shame about you or the situation? Do you think you are unworthy, or has a situation led you to understand you could do something better? 
  • Are you feeling shame because of an act that hurt someone, or do you feel a sense of weakness you cannot control?
  • Does this feeling encourage you to improve and make amends, or does it push you into isolation, negative self-talk, or attacking others?


In conclusion, experiencing healthy shame is a natural and vital aspect of being human, and it can lead to greater self-awareness, empathy, and personal growth. When it becomes pervasive, it can slip into unhealthy shame. Where are you with your sense of shame? Would you like to learn more about how shame might be manifesting in your life? If so, get in touch. I would love to arrange a free introductory call.