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Shame and Self-Doubt in Youth and Young Adults

Shame and Self-Doubt in Youth and Young Adults

The painful experience of shame is often hard to withstand, regardless of your age, and it eats away your sense of self as well as makes you feel small in the face of life obstacles and social interactions.  Shame is a complicated emotion that is a mix of the characteristics of the feeling of embarrassment and distress that stemmed from the perceived wrongdoings or thinking that an action committed violates the social norms and showed inappropriateness. It is a self-conscious emotion, which unlike basic emotions such as joy and sadness, it does not occur at birth but only formed when a child begins to develop self-awareness and ability to self-evaluate. Questioning oneself for what could or should have been done or thinking how others must have ridiculed him/her for his/her action are the thoughts that depict shame and then eventually paved a way for self-doubt and self-hatred that formed a vicious cycle for one to evaluate oneself and plan for actions in the future.

What underlies the surface of shame is the sense of worthlessness, inferiority and low self-esteem alongside with the feeling of being caught red-handed and the consequences.

What underlies the surface of shame is the sense of worthlessness, inferiority and low self-esteem alongside with the feeling of being caught red-handed and the consequences. It could be really self-defeating and could physically hindered one’s performance in handling task, often time accompanied by physical stress such as increased heart rate and hot flushed. There are two types of shame; (1) state shame, which is a short-lived state that could be elicited by daily events and evoke counteract reactions and (2) trait shame, which is formed when the experience of state shame is constantly internalized by the individual and could lead to long-term detrimental effect onto one’s mental well-being. According to Arnett (2000), individuals who are going through the stage of ‘emerging adulthood’ would be most concern over issues involved with self-evaluation and social comparison hence it warrants greater attention towards the development and reduction of shame, which might manifest in potential risk of psychopathology including depression and anxiety.

Emerging adulthood is a stage that is highly characterized by instability, in which individuals age between 18 to 25 years old who are exposed to constant changes in regards to environment and also responsibility. Those who have just graduated from high school could be having concerns about working or pursuing tertiary education, moving out of home or settling down, bringing a state of uncertainty, and feeling-in-between the identities and what adulthood actually means to them. Whatever that they say or act might be perceived to represent who they are and their level of competencies. This leads to more anxiety when it comes to self-presentation. Starting off with lesser experience than the people around you either in the campus or workplace, it is never easy and there would be a lot of trial and error in the learning process that may possibly land one in fear, embarrassment and disappointment towards the self. The insufficient to meet their own and also other’s expectation often lead to the feeling of shame as they were overwhelmed by diminished sense of self-worth in order to relate to others that they are working with follows by the fear of rejection and self-doubt as they spiral down the rabbit hole of shame. If one internalizes the experience of shame, it could bring harmful outcome such as lowering self-esteem, hindering one’s capability to present his/her ideal perspectives and feeding their state of stagnancy with self-hatred and maladaptive patterns as mentioned in characteristics of trait shame.

Understanding that it is often hard to strike an equilibrium in life, especially during the period of assuming new societal role and responsibilities, one should refrain from adopting the habit of internalizing shame towards themselves when it is inevitable to have unexpected incidents and dejection occurring throughout the process of self-exploration.  There are small practices to work it out in which one needs to commit and incorporate them in the daily life events. First of all, in terms of managing expectations, realistic goals and preparation of countermeasure are essential components to avoid being caught in the spiral of shame and self-doubt. When it comes to setting goals before the starting of a semester or work, realistic planning gives a clearer vision of personal and organizational growth and at the same time considering resources available to support the process of achieving the desirable goals. Meanwhile, a realistic preparation countermeasure refers to a practical and effective strategy to be used when one failed to meet the expectation and to compensate the feeling of shame and dejection after the failure by providing a more positive outlook such as focusing on the lesson engendered instead of caving into the depreciating thought one have towards their own character or competence.

Besides, adopting the practices of self-forgiving is helpful in providing insight to detect misconceptions and generate ways to replace them with self-affirmation statement. These practices include acknowledging past mistakes, relate it back to the values that you uphold and work to achieve a homeostasis by engaging in personal development while dealing with your inner critics positively, such as voicing out self-affirming statement when it appears. It could assist the release of  oneself from the negative emotions, including shame or resentment, tied with the past and encourage compassion to embrace every parts of oneself as a whole. On the other hand, past research has found that shame-proneness trait, which posits to tendency to experience shame and act in self-blame in any negative circumstances in a critical level, could be traced back to early negative experiences such as harsh parenting, problematic attachment issue and abuse of any sorts. In this case, one should seek professional help which includes counselling and psychotherapies services that could help by providing insight of one’s own suppressed or unresolved emotional issues and guidance to a healthier way for one to experience life.


Find your pace to deal with upcoming obstacles while knowing that there is no need to bound yourself with self-blame just to prove that you are capable do good.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand that one’s worth is not defined by his/ her past mistakes especially for youth that are awaited by great deal of opportunities and explorations. Find your pace to deal with upcoming obstacles while knowing that there is no need to bound yourself with self-blame just to prove that you are capable do good.

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