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DBT for Shame: 8 Skills That Can Have An Immediate Impact

Shame is one of the more insidious and painful emotions we can experience. When you're stuck in shame, you perpetually feel bad about yourself and may move through life assuming other people don't like you.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based therapy model that was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder. However, it's since been adapted to treat numerous mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, PTSD, anger management, and more. DBT blends both cognitive and behavioral therapies into four modules.

You can practice these DBT skills to manage a variety of mental health issues, and implementing them can help soothe intense feelings and build a core sense of resiliency.

Here are nine skills you can apply anywhere:

Observing Painful Thoughts

Observing painful thoughts is rooted in core mindfulness. When you engage in this skill, you note whatever painful emotion or thought arises without judgment. This can help you cultivate nonjudgmental self-acceptance for what you're encountering at a given moment.

Opposite Action

How do you typically respond to your shame? Maybe you isolate from others, self-harm, or reach for a drink. Practicing the opposite action entails doing something you typically don't do when you experience that self-directed anger. So, for example, you might go out and socialize instead of isolate, take a shower instead of self-harm, or go to a meeting instead of drinking.

Stop Skill for Shame

The STOP skill is short for stop, take a step back, observe, and proceed mindfully.

You can try this skill the next time you note those cascading feelings of shame. Physically or emotionally try to stop and pause. Then, take a step back. Try to look at things from a greater perspective.

Observing refers to trying to accurately and objectively assess the given situation. Observe your current feelings, bodily sensations, and thoughts without judging them. Finally, try to proceed mindfully. Take the action that you think will lead to the best outcome.

Check the Facts

Check the facts simply refers to "checking" an emotional reaction to a more objective truth. To practice this specific skill, consider asking yourself:

  • How else could this specific event be explained?

  • Does the intensity of my shame fit the current experience?

  • What other evidence should I consider when assessing my emotions right now?

Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance refers to fully accepting a certain reality. Acceptance is not the same as liking something, but it does mean that you embrace the moment for what it is.

The next time you feel shame arise, pause and note how you feel. Don't try to change the situation or reframe your emotions. Instead, consider telling yourself, "I accept that I'm having a shame experience difficult emotions right now." This very skill may diffuse intense feelings and neutralize your situation.

Self-Soothing for Shame

Self-soothing can be an important part of counteracting self-loathing or building a better relationship with yourself. Self-soothing simply refers to engaging in any of your five senses to cope with a moment of distress. Consider listening to your favorite music, eating a comforting snack, taking a warm bubble bath, or walking in nature and taking in the beautiful sights.

The Wise Mind

Every DBT program embraces the concept of the mind having three states: the reasonable mind, the emotional mind, and the wise mind. Your emotional mind refers to how your feelings dictate your behaviors and thoughts. This can lead to impulsive choices (i.e. self-destructive behaviors). The reasonable mind refers to how intellect drives certain decisions (i.e. choosing to delay your gratification).

The wise mind refers to striking a balance between both minds. When you act with your wise mind, you tend to take better care of yourself.

TIPP for Shame

TIPP stands for temperature change, intense exercise, paced breathing, and paired muscle relaxation. This supports both emotion regulation and distress tolerance, two of the main concepts in DBT.

Temperature change: Drastically change the temperature to stimulate an intense sensation. Take a hot shower or very cold bath or simply rub ice cubes on your arms to achieve this effect.

Intense exercise: Get your heart rate up for 10-20 minutes.

Paced breathing: Inhale and exhale for counts of 4-5 for a few minutes.

Paired muscle relaxation: Scan through your body from head to toe and progressively tense and then release each muscle group.

Treatment for Feelings of Shame and Optimal Mental Health at Resurface Group

Shame underlies so many mental health conditions, and it often coincides with unresolved past trauma. Getting treatment can help you unpack feelings of shame and learn core skills that support your overall well-being.

At Resurface Group, we offer comprehensive care for all mental health conditions. Our virtual IOP program, Resurface Connect, provides online mental health and addiction services for people throughout California. We're also in-network with most insurances.

Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic programs.

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