BPD Coping With Borderline Personality Disorder Embarrassment and Shame By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 12, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Ryuichi Sato / Getty Images Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) experience intense and chronic shame, a self-conscious emotion associated with a sense of worthlessness, self-contempt, or self-loathing. Shame may in part explain the high rates of self-harm and suicidal behavior in people with BPD. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. What Is Shame? We use the word all the time, but what exactly is "shame?" Shame is considered one of the self-conscious emotions; it is an emotion that relates to our behavior or self, often in relation to other people's opinions. Other self-conscious emotions include embarrassment and guilt. Although the lines between these emotions have been conceptualized in different ways, one way to think about this is that shame is different than embarrassment or guilt because we experience these two emotions in relation to our behavior, whereas shame is an emotion that relates directly to our sense of self. To understand this distinction, let's use the example of an impulsive act that some people with BPD struggle with—shoplifting. Imagine that, on impulse, you shoplifted something from a store. Even if no one found out about the shoplifting, you may experience guilt, a feeling that you have done something that is wrong. If someone did find out about your behavior, you might experience embarrassment, the feeling you get when other people find out you have done something that violates social norms. Shame, on the other hand, is a feeling that you are bad or worthy of contempt. It is not necessarily about a specific behavior or event but is a feeling of being inadequate as a person. You may feel shame after shoplifting, but shame carries with it an additional judgment. BPD and Shame Many people with BPD experience pervasive and chronic shame, regardless of their behavior. This has lead researchers to believe that shame may distinguish BPD from other mental health disorders. For example, a study from 2007 found that women with BPD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were not more shame-prone than women who only had BPD. These findings suggest that shame-proneness could be specifically related to BPD rather than co-occurring trauma-related symptoms. Other studies seem to support this suggestion. Research on the role of shame in BPD has shown that women with BPD report more shame-proneness compared to women who did not have BPD, as well as compared to women with other mental health disorders such as depression and social anxiety, and to women who did not have a mental illness (healthy controls). How to Change Your Negative Thought Patterns The Link to Self-Harm In addition to growing research that shows a connection between BPD and shame, a number of experts have suggested a connection between shame and deliberate self-harm and suicide attempts. Shame may also precede episodes of deliberate self-harm. Self-reported feelings of shame and self-disgust have been associated with suicide threats and thoughts in people with several mental health conditions, including BPD. Research has also demonstrated that women with BPD who expressed more shame when talking about their self-harm behaviors were more likely to self-harm in the future. Teen Suicide Warning Signs and Prevention Reducing Shame While it is well-known that intense emotional pain is generated by feelings of shame associated with BPD, there are not yet effective treatments directly aimed at reducing shameful feelings. Researchers concede that more studies are needed to prove that reducing shame can reduce self-harm urges in people with BPD. Some preliminary research indicates that the Dialectical Behavior Therapy skill of "Opposite Action" may help reduce shame about specific events for some people with BPD. Unfortunately, people who experience high levels of shame may also feel motivated to hide their feelings because they are afraid of judgment. Gender Differences in Suicidal Behaviors A Word From Verywell Secrecy and shame can prevent those with bipolar disorder from receiving the treatment they need. If you or a loved one has BPD and is dealing with feelings of shame or having suicidal thoughts, it's imperative to share these feelings with a therapist or another qualified mental health professional that you can trust. 9 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Ansell EB, Wright AG, Markowitz JC, Sanislow C, Hopwood C, Zanarini M, et al. Personality disorder risk factors for suicide attempts over 10 years of follow-up. Personal Disord. 2015;6(2):161-7. doi:10.1037/per0000089 Karan E, Niesten IJ, Frankenburg FR, Fitzmaurice GM, Zanarini MC. The 16-year course of shame and its risk factors in patients with borderline personality disorder. Personal Ment Health. 2014;8(3):169-77. doi:10.1002/pmh.1258 Rüsch N, Corrigan PW, Bohus M, Kühler T, Jacob GA, Lieb K. The impact of posttraumatic stress disorder on dysfunctional implicit and explicit emotions among women with borderline personality disorder. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007;195(6):537-9. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e318064e7fc Ford JD, Courtois CA. Complex PTSD, affect dysregulation, and borderline personality disorder. Borderline Personal Disord Emot Dysregul. 2014;1:9. doi:10.1186/2051-6673-1-9 Gratz KL, Rosenthal MZ, Tull MT, Lejuez CW, Gunderson JG. An experimental investigation of emotional reactivity and delayed emotional recovery in borderline personality disorder: the role of shame. Compr Psychiatry. 2010;51(3):275-85. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2009.08.005 Wiklander M, Samuelsson M, Jokinen J, et al. Shame-proneness in attempted suicide patients. BMC Psychiatry. 2012;12:50. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-50 Abdul-hamid S, Denman C, Dudas RB. Self-relevant disgust and self-harm urges in patients with borderline personality disorder and depression: a pilot study with a newly designed psychological challenge. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(6):e99696. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099696 Brown MZ, Linehan MM, Comtois KA, Murray A, Chapman AL. Shame as a prospective predictor of self-inflicted injury in borderline personality disorder: a multi-modal analysis. Behav Res Ther. 2009;47(10):815-22. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.06.008 Rizvi SL, Linehan MM. The treatment of maladaptive shame in borderline personality disorder: A pilot study of “opposite action.” Cognitive and Behavioral Practice. 2005;12(4):437-447. doi:10.1016/S1077-7229(05)80071-9 Additional Reading Porr V. Shame: An overlooked factor in conceptualizing and treating borderline personality disorder: Its’ powerful role in the lives and suicides of people with BPD. European Psychiatry. 2017;41:S715-S716. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2017.01.1285 Scheel CN, Bender C, Tuschen-caffier B, Brodführera A, Matthies S, Hermann C, et al. Do patients with different mental disorders show specific aspects of shame?. Psychiatry Res. 2014;220(1-2):490-5. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2014.07.062 By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University. 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