Have you ever gotten into a pattern of negative self-talk, and you just can’t get out of it? Have you heard of a shame spiral or shame spiraling?

What is Shame Spiraling?

Shame spiraling is a phenomenon in which an individual experiences intense feelings of shame or guilt, which lead to a cycle of negative thoughts and behaviors. Shame spiraling can be a common experience for individuals who struggle with mental health issues, trauma, or other life challenges.

Shame spiraling can be triggered by a variety of situations, such as a perceived failure or rejection, a conflict with another person, or a traumatic event. When an individual experiences a trigger, they may begin to experience intense feelings of shame or guilt. This can lead to negative self-talk, self-doubt, and a sense of worthlessness.

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As the feelings of shame or guilt intensify, the individual may engage in behaviors that further perpetuate the cycle. This may include self-isolation, substance use, self-harm, or other harmful behaviors. These behaviors can then lead to further feelings of shame or guilt, which perpetuate the cycle.

Shame spiraling can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and well-being. It can lead to feelings of hopelessness, depression, and anxiety. It can also interfere with relationships, work, and other aspects of daily life.

shame spiraling
Shame spiraling can be overcome.

Read: What is Pathological Demand Avoidance?

Examples of Shame Spiral

Let’s say someone has a job interview scheduled for the next day. They’re feeling nervous about it but trying to stay positive. However, they remember a time in the past when they failed a job interview and start to feel ashamed of themselves for not being good enough. This triggers a chain reaction of negative thoughts and emotions, causing them to doubt their abilities and worthiness as a job candidate.

As they continue to dwell on their past failures and shortcomings, their anxiety and shame intensify, and they start to feel like complete failures. They might start to think that they will never be successful, that they are not good enough for anything, and that they don’t deserve happiness or success.

This negative self-talk and self-blame can spiral out of control and lead to feelings of depression, hopelessness, and helplessness.

This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because the person spends so much time dwelling on their insecurities instead of preparing for a job interview, they do poorly in the interview and don’t get a job offer.

This validates the original belief that they are a “failure” and can lead to more as the pattern repeats.

Exercise and weight loss are other examples of shame spiraling, where one negative thought leads to another, and the person feels trapped in a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-criticism.

Let’s say someone is trying to lose weight and has been doing well with their exercise routine for a few weeks. Maybe they are trying to train for a 5k. However, one day they slip up and eat a slice of cake at a party. They start to feel guilty and ashamed of themselves for not sticking to their plan, which leads to thoughts like “I’m weak,” “I have no self-control,” “I’ll never reach my goals,” and “I’m a failure.”

This negative self-talk triggers more feelings of shame and self-blame, causing them to spiral into a pattern of overeating and self-sabotage. This person misses a few days of running workouts and before you know it, the day of the 5k is here and they’re not ready.

They might start to think that they are incapable of running a 5k, and this experience has just validated that belief.

People trying to lose weight or begin exercising regularly may experience shame spiraling.
People trying to lose weight or begin exercising regularly may experience shame spiraling.

This negative mindset can be hard to break out of, and the shame and self-blame can cause them to continue to overeat and feel worse about themselves, leading to a vicious cycle of shame spiraling.

Shame spiraling plays a huge role in addiction and an alcoholic shame spiral. One misstep when you’re trying to stay clean can cause a person to fall back into their addiction. It’s important to remember that mistakes and missteps are just that– and that you can get “back on the wagon” as they say.

Shame Spiral Triggers

Shame spirals can be triggered by a wide range of experiences and situations. Here are some common triggers:

  1. Negative feedback or criticism: Being criticized or receiving negative feedback from others can trigger feelings of shame and self-doubt, especially if the criticism is perceived as a personal attack.
  2. Failure or mistakes: Failing to meet personal or professional goals, making mistakes, or experiencing setbacks can trigger feelings of shame and self-blame, especially if they are perceived as evidence of personal inadequacy or failure.
  3. Comparing oneself to others: Comparing oneself unfavorably to others who are perceived as more successful, attractive, or accomplished can trigger feelings of shame and self-doubt.
  4. Rejection or abandonment: Being rejected by others or experiencing abandonment can trigger feelings of shame and unworthiness, especially if the rejection is perceived as evidence of personal failure or inadequacy.
  5. Trauma or abuse: Experiencing trauma or abuse can lead to feelings of shame and self-blame, especially if the survivor feels responsible for the abuse or is blamed for it by others.
  6. Social exclusion or ostracism: Being excluded from social groups or experiencing social ostracism can trigger feelings of shame and unworthiness, especially if the exclusion is perceived as evidence of personal inadequacy or unlikability.
  7. Perfectionism: Holding oneself to impossibly high standards and striving for perfection can lead to feelings of shame and self-blame when those standards are not met.

It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences these triggers will necessarily spiral into shame. Different people have different coping mechanisms and resilience levels, and some may be more prone to shame spiraling than others.

Shame Spiral and Your IEP

Believe it or not, I see the concept of shame spiraling in many IEPs in the form of accommodations. Mind you, IEP teams rarely use the words “shame spiral” when they are discussing this.

If you follow my site, you know that I’m not a huge fan of parents being snowplows for their kids, and paving the way, making sure that every interaction is “passable” and that there are no negative encounters in a school day. I’m not a fan of constantly changing the environment for kids, because that’s not how the real world is.

And, we have a duty to prepare our kids for the real world.

That being said, parents absolutely recognize when their kids shame spiral, even if they don’t use those words. Sometimes, words really matter. I have seen accommodations on IEPs and 504s that say “staff will refrain from…..” and it usually refers to what staff says to the student.

This may be essential initially, but make sure that your child is being taught self-awareness and coping mechanisms.

IEP and 504 Accommodations for Shame Spiraling

IEP accommodations for shame spiraling may include:

  1. Access to a school counselor or therapist
  2. Breaks during the day to manage emotions
  3. Reduced workload or extended deadlines
  4. Alternative assignments or assessments
  5. A designated safe space for calming down
  6. Positive reinforcement and praise for effort
  7. Support from a peer mentor or buddy
  8. Use of calming sensory tools
  9. Time for mindfulness or relaxation exercises
  10. Modifications to attendance policies
school peer group
Make sure your child has access to positive outlets and reinforcement to break a shame spiral.

ADHD Shame Spiral

Shame spiraling can happen to anyone, regardless of whether they have ADHD or not. Shame is a common human emotion that we all experience at some point in our lives, and shame spirals can be triggered by a wide range of backgrounds and situations, as I mentioned earlier.

While it’s true that individuals with ADHD may be more prone to shame spirals in certain situations, such as struggling to meet expectations or experiencing social rejection, this is not a universal experience for everyone with ADHD.

Furthermore, shame spirals are not unique to ADHD and can happen to anyone who experiences shame and self-doubt. A shame spiral can trigger narcissistic rage. Please seek a psychiatrist or medical attention if you belief this is the issue.

It’s important to note that ADHD is a neurological condition that can affect attention, organization, and impulse control, among other things. These symptoms can sometimes make it more difficult for individuals with ADHD to regulate their emotions and cope with stressors, which can increase the likelihood of shame spirals.

However, it’s important to understand that shame spirals are not a direct symptom of ADHD, but rather a common experience that can affect anyone.

How to Get Out of a Shame Spiral

There are several strategies that can help individuals break free from shame spiraling.

First, you want to read the list of shame spiral triggers above and think about what you can do to counteract the trigger.

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Other shame spiral strategies include:

  1. Recognizing triggers: The first step in breaking free from shame spiraling is to recognize the triggers that contribute to the cycle. This may involve working with a therapist to identify patterns and triggers.
  2. Challenging negative self-talk: Negative self-talk can contribute to shame spiraling. By learning to challenge negative thoughts and beliefs, individuals can begin to break the cycle. Many may think that self-talk is all a bunch of hokey, and won’t really help. But, it’s the negative self-talk that gets you into this situation, so self-talk can get you out of it.
  3. Practicing self-compassion: Practicing self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness and understanding, rather than judgment or criticism. This can help individuals to break free from shame spiraling by fostering a sense of self-worth and acceptance.
  4. Celebrate Small Wins: Allow yourself to be happy and celebrate a small win. You don’t have to reach that ultimate goal before you celebrate. Steps along the journey matter too.
  5. Seeking support: Support from friends, family or mental health professionals can be critical in breaking free from shame spiraling. Therapy, support groups, and other resources can provide individuals with the tools they need to overcome shame and guilt.
  6. Journaling: Keep a gratitude journal to document what you’re thankful for. You can also keep track of your negative and positive feelings, so you can become more self-aware when your shame-spiraling patterns begin.
  7. Developing coping strategies: Developing healthy coping strategies can help individuals to manage the intense feelings associated with shame spiraling. This may include techniques such as mindfulness, exercise, or creative expression.
Self-talk is a big part of stopping a shame spiral.
Self-talk is a big part of stopping a shame spiral.

In conclusion, shame spiraling is a cycle of negative thoughts and behaviors that can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and well-being.

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