Defusing Male Shame

Psychotherapy Networker

Understanding the Significance to Male Clients

Shame is an emotion that isn't healthy. Unlike guilt--which causes remorse for something you did wrong--shame can cause someone to feel as though they are defective as a human being. David Wexler, author of Men in Therapy: New Approaches for Effective Treatment, discusses how the experience and perception of shame affects male clients.

In this brief video clip, David explains why shame in the consulting room is so dangerous for both the client and therapist.

This video is from our Webcast series A New Blueprint for Engaging Men in Therapy: Six Key Skills You Need to Master Now. The series features Pat Love, Terry Real, David Wexler, Esther Perel, Patrick Dougherty, and Holly Sweet—clinical innovators who will help you master new approaches to engage men in therapy and improve positive outcomes in your work with men and couples. Learn more about this limited time re-release Webcast series.

Topic: Couples

Tags: emotion | Esther Perel | guilt | men in therapy | Terry Real | therapist | therapy | Men | David Wexler

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015 7:58:56 PM | posted by Liz Ann Clemens
On my trip home none of the elders never uttered words of shame but merely watched me stoically. And, when I arrived home, I was greeted by my mother stoically and with crossed arms, "My girl, what have you learned from this?" I decided to change my behavior so that I would not have to encounter this again!
Shame is a part of growing up as long as adult persons do not inflict it verbally. To have been reminded about what I did wrong would have damaged my ability to clearly see what the real problem was, as I would have become defensive and withdrawn.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 7:46:53 PM | posted by Daryl Clemens
While I generally agree with the proposition that shame is detrimental in the consulting room, I have always been impressed with my wife (who is an American Indian) telling me the story of "shame" in her culture--that one day she was dismissed from school early on her reservation due to negative behavior; and, apparently along her walk home, she was greeted with skeptical eyes and folded arms of elders, notwithstanding what she would experience verbally from her wise mother at home. Her experience had nothing to do with inculcating defectiveness as a human being within her, but it had to do with her changing her behavior in light of her cultural expectations; and, it proved it takes a village to raise a child. So, I think that educators' lamenting that "shame" can damage the poor little egos of children, is overstated and an overreach. My wife tells me her experience helped shape her accountability, credibility, and productiveness in life. Perhaps the millennial generation could withstand a bit of it, as entitled that they are, particularly when it is reported that when they assume jobs, they are reported to have no job skills!?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 2:42:59 PM | posted by Suzanne M
I am curious.Is you client from Mexico,of Mexican decent, US born or has he immigrated legally/illegally? Is "Mexican" how your client describes himself? I do think the ethnic descriptor is important here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 3:03:18 AM | posted by Kristina Cizmar, The Shame Lady
The problem is that defining shame as some version of "I am bad" fits right in with the globalized negatives that we know characterize depression. Defining shame in this way is harmful! Therapists should not be reinforcing this interpretation of shame for their clients. Shame can ALWAYS be translated as "I am not good enough to belong." This shift in definition makes all the difference, and can allow people (myself included) to finally shift out of shame. The translation process takes some work.

If you're at all interested in trying this, here's a link to a free worksheet:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 1:42:10 AM | posted by Daniel Even
Shame is a human emotion. As such, in my opinion, it is neither "healthy" or "unhealthy". We all experience it except perhaps the psychopath. It is the behavior and cognitive responses(some would argue the thoughts are precursors) to the emotion of shame not the shame itself that is problematic. I suggest: accept the emotion, observe the thinking without attachment, choose the behavior.

Monday, March 16, 2015 4:41:38 PM | posted by Jim McKinley-Oakes
It is terribly discouraging to me that some psychologists are still denigrating Feminism. Feminism is about stopping the oppression of women. If that makes men feel ashamed of being male, that needs addressing, but not by blaming Feminists.

Monday, March 16, 2015 3:57:04 PM | posted by Michael Kuiper, psychologist
George Gilder (Sexual Suicide, Men and Marriage)predicted a profound male disturbance as a consequence of a feminism and anti-male media bias that denigrates a boy or man's need to be significant or a hero in some way that would differentiate himself from the female while at the same time give him some role or contribution that he could bring to her. The traditional roles of provider and protector or leader have gone by the wayside. Do we not see teenage boys wearing hoodies, dropping out of school and wasting years playing video games as reflecting a kind of shame as a consequence of a culture that cedes little value to being male?

Saturday, March 14, 2015 9:57:57 PM | posted by tinacoyote
I have a male client,Mexican, age 50, who has suddenly begun to have debilitating panic attacks. He feels very ashamed about this, as if he is letting his whole family down, not being the big, strong, impervious dad. He fears he is being too much of a burden on his wife, who is very savvy and understanding. Do you have any ideas of helpful things I might introduce to "change the story" for him? I am a 63-year-old female therapist.