Wedging Through The Shame

One of the most valuable pieces I’m taking away from the Kathryn Rheem and Jennifer Olden Video Café is how to work with shame, and the negative view-of-self.

We all know how slippery these moments are to work with in session. Once a client touches into their shame, or how bad they see themselves, it’s like they fall through a trap door into quick sand. Their affect changes, their presence in the room changes, their ability to continue with the session often changes. In EFT, we heighten emotion, but we don’t heighten shame. Even knowing that, it can be hard to know how to track or even reflect that shame without heightening it. 

Kathryn talked about how the therapist becomes a wedge between the shame and the client. We are working to create some air and some space between the client and what they think they are, since they are so fused together in shame. There are two key ways she talked about doing this, that I have found SO helpful in my sessions since then.

1)  Instead of reflecting what that person believes about themselves, you reflect that this is their WORST FEAR about themselves.

2)  The therapist works to externalizethe shame by using visuals and parts language.

This is how I conceptualize how I could sound different in session using these tools:

Not so helpful: Reflecting the belief and inadvertently heightening shame

Client: I’m damaged, I’m corrupt in some way, I’m sorry.
Therapist: When you see her get upset, you see yourself as damaged, as not worthy of this person who loves you so much?
Client: Right, why would she want me? I’m going to mess this up somehow.
Therapist: Even though she is trying to tell you otherwise, it’s so hard to see yourself as worthy.
Client: Yep. Might as well give up.
Therapist internally: AHHHH nooooo!!! I’m losing you, we’re sinking down further and further!

More helpful: Reflecting the fear and externalizing the shame

Client: I’m damaged, I’m corrupt in some way, I’m sorry.
Therapist: This is your worst fear, this fear of I am damaged or corrupt in some way?
Client: Yeah, that I’m hopeless, bad for her.
Therapist: Ahhh, that fear sounds so powerful when it grips you like that. When you see her get upset, that fear comes alive inside of you, maybe I am damaged in some way? What does that fear feel like when it comes in?
Client: Like a ton of bricks on my chest, like I can’t move out from under it.
Therapist: So one part of you gets pinned down, under this ton of self-worth bricks, fearing you aren’t worthy, and is there another part in there, a part that somehow is able to stay in this relationship despite all these self-worth bricks?

No matter what tool we use, shame is tricky. I don’t think there’s a magic phrase that suddenly solves this issue for a client, and sometimes I do lose the client to the shame quick sand and we lose traction in the session. But working with the idea of naming it as the clients worst fear, and externalizing visually, help me feel like I have some things to hold on to when these tough moments come up in session.

K. Rheem and J. Olden (2018) EFT Video Café, Stage 2.