Breaking the Shame Spiral with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

14.02.2020 |

Episode #8 of the course Bouncing back from failure by Jordan Thibodeau and Joe Ternasky


“Depressed, living in the past. Anxious, living in the future. At peace, living in the moment.” —Lao Tzu


Welcome back, class!

Jordan is back again to teach this lesson. Yesterday, we learned about the shame spiral caused by the Judge. Today, we will be learning strategies to keep the Judge at bay with cognitive behavioral therapy.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Thanks to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), recovering from failure, beginning again, and ending in success is easier than ever.

Neutralizing the Judge is a critical piece of CBT and vital to being successful in life. There is no way that you will ever be able to learn from your mistakes if you do not allow yourself to acknowledge that you make them or if you allow the Judge to constantly and repeatedly blame you for your failure. Quieting the Judge will make it easier to recover and learn from your failures.

CBT is, simply put, reshaping the way we think by focusing on present thinking, behavior, and communication, rather than focusing on things that happened in the past. Instead, CBT focuses on solving problems for the future. CBT is used for many different reasons, including depression and anxiety, in addition to shame.


Using CBT to Prevent Making Failures Worse

Just like fears, if you never confront and accept the way things make you feel, then they will never be resolved. Neutralizing that shame will help stop those unreasonable expectations and future failures that come with the denial of your feelings.

Using your bounce back journal is a great way to refocus thinking in an effort to continually and consciously evaluate the present situation, so as to catch things before they become an issue. A common mistake people make when using the CBT process is to identify the shame of certain failings and immediately run from it. This is what CBT wants us to avoid doing. Instead, reflect on those feelings and determine which ones you are ready to confront and move on from. This determined and intentional action will help neutralize the Judge and put a halt to the shame spiral that can cause even more failure in the long run.


The CBT Process 

Recognize the shame. CBT is rooted in the idea that by focusing on present thinking, you can reframe the way you think and feel in the days to come. Take a moment to recognize your shame and all the negative thoughts that come with it. Look at the situation in your journal, and pick out the negativity and the shameful feelings coming through that could potentially be counterproductive to future success.

Identify shame triggers. Identify what happened to trigger the negative emotions and thoughts you are feeling. Make sure not to ignore, minimize, or exaggerate the situation. Moreover, challenge the accuracy of your thoughts and perceptions.

Challenge the shame. Play Devil’s Advocate; consider that there may be other perspectives. Do you have definitive proof to substantiate the shame? Don’t assume your view of the situation is the only one.

Reframe your thoughts. When you do feel shame, don’t fight the thought, but remember your shame challenge and use it as counter-evidence. Think of different positive perspectives and write down evidence to support them. One possible reframe is that by having this failure, you are on the path to learning more about yourself, to becoming a better person.


Learn from Failure to Succeed in the Future

Now it is time to put those failures into action. In other words: Make your failures work for you.

Cognitive behavioral therapy recognizes the struggle of the cycle of shame, as well as the many components of the Judge. CBT’s present thinking and emotional confrontation are vital in neutralizing that negativity for future success.

By accepting failure, acknowledging the present situation to ourselves, and remembering that we are human, we can control the Judge. One of the critical parts of the success of CBT is that it is an ongoing process. Keep at it!


As We Cycle through CBT, Our Shame Will Dissipate

It won’t work to do CBT just once. But by repeating the process over and over, in a clearly intentioned way, you will find that you feel stronger and more sure of yourself each step of the way. This is the magic of CBT: The more you learn to control the Judge, the more you will learn that the path to success is not around, but through.


To Do

1. Open your bounce back journal, and if you have shame for a past setback, use the CBT process to work through that shame.

2. After completing the steps of the CBT process, how do you feel about that shame?

In our next lesson, we will learn how to challenge our self-limiting beliefs about success.


Bounceback Mentor


Recommended book

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic, and Worry by Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D


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