Shame is an insidious force that lives inside all of us and is often associated with secret wrongdoing.  Our worst fear is that we will be publicly humiliated, but even the fear of this possibility can be shameful. Shame thrives on secrecy and silence. We know what it is to feel ashamed yet, normally, we do not feel that we suffer from shame. Shame that is not acknowledged and processed can have devastating effects on our lives, our relationships and careers. In extreme cases, it can lead to addictions, such as alcohol, drugs or overeating, which can perpetuate the feelings of worthlessness.

So, what is shame? And how do we deal with it?


Shame is a painful feeling that is a mixture of regret, self-hate and dishonour.

One can feel shame because of our own or someone else’s behaviour. Sometimes shame is inherited or passed down in a family.  

When we feel shame, we want to become invisible, to disappear. “I wish the ground would open up and swallow me!”. We may become angry or resort to self-blame.

Shame and Guilt

Although often used interchangeably, shame and guilt are different. Guilt focuses on the act. In the case of guilt, I might think: “I did something wrong, I should not have done that!”. Shame focuses on the person rather than the act: “I did something wrong. I’m useless”.

We do not want to share our shame because this feeling limits our ability to connect. We feel that there is something bad in us that cannot be exposed or shared with others. We fear that revealing this vulnerable part of us, especially to those who are important to us, would lead to being humiliated and excluded. Therefore, we pre-empt this unbearable feeling by excluding ourselves, by being insignificant, invisible, by avoiding any situation where we may be reminded of our shame.

Origin of Shame

Shame is often rooted in childhood experience. Its beginnings occur in infancy

when there is a lack of connection between the child and her mother.

This can happen when the mother is ill or depressed and unable to respond to the

her baby. She may view the child’s demands for attention as annoying and that the child is being difficult. This can result in the child feeling that her needs are too much, unacceptable and should be hidden.

          Recognising Shame

          Shame survives by remaining hidden. We can suffer from shame without being aware of it. One sign of shame is the feeling that we are not enough, that we are never good enough.

          Another way of checking if we are affected by our shame is by examining the way that we talk to ourselves. If this talk is critical or abusive it is possible that we have unresolved feelings. 

One way of thinking about this is

  • if we can we think about a mistake that we have made in the past. How
  • did we talk to ourselves about it? Did we criticise ourselves?


  • If we can think of a friend or someone we admire and imagine that they made the same mistake, would we be critical of them? or would we just think that the mistake was excusable, and that we could understand how it happened?

If the second response resonates more with us, it is probably an indication that we suffer from shame.

Shame and Empathy

Empathy is the ability to place oneself in the position of another; to have the capacity to experience what another is experiencing. When we feel shame, we believe that it is impossible for anyone to feel for us. Yet the antidote to shame lies in finding someone empathic with whom we can share our story.

Once we can allow ourselves to feel our own vulnerability, we can take steps to alleviate the effects of shame. Shame becomes bearable when we break the silence and find connection.

Anger and Depression

Anger and Depression


Depression can result from failing to express anger and then turning that anger in on ourselves. If we can be open to our feelings, we can identify and process our anger. Talking with others may help us to realise if our anger is justified and can help us to manage it. It is when we fail to acknowledge and process our feelings that problems often arise.

Failure to register feelings

Sometimes we are unable to realise that we are angry. One of the reasons for this is that we may appear to have unspoken rules about the types of feelings that we can and cannot have. Often, we are not aware of these rules and have not really thought about them.

At times, as a therapist, I may notice that someone is angry because of their silence, their body language or possibly because they have recounted a situation that would seem to be a worthy cause for anger. If I reflect this in a relatively straightforward way, such as: “I wonder are you annoyed or upset about this?”, my comment is often dismissed.

One manner of dealing with my remark is that the client may use logic in a defensive way, such as: “Why would I be angry? I understand that’s the way things are, I can’t change them!” or they deny that they have the feeling: “I never get angry”.

It is almost a magical type of thinking that allows us to believe that if we ignore our anger, or suppress it, that it will disappear. Anger, like many painful feelings, has a habit of remaining in our bodies and can, if unprocessed, lead to illness, anxiety or depression.

We may feel that we can control our feelings and that our conscious mind can dictate the feelings that we can and cannot have. We dismiss feelings that are painful because we fear them. They can resemble alien forces outside our experience that we cannot handle.


Why do we do this to ourselves?

Our ability to be open to feelings is rooted in childhood (even infantile) experience.

The young child’s mother or caregiver helps the child to contain painful feelings. If the child does not have an empathic caregiver, he may believe that painful feelings cannot be tolerated and must, therefore, be dismissed. We might say that the mother/caregiver figure is a custodian of the child’s feelings and it is in the early relationship that the child develops (or fails to develop) a capacity to hold difficult feelings.

The mother/caregiver who was not able to be present to the child, due to depression or illness, or not able to contain the child’s difficult feelings becomes replaced by the child’s mind. The mind now controls feelings. Feelings are permitted or prohibited, judged, criticised or denied by the mind.

An example of how we view some feelings as forbidden, would be:

An exhausted new mother cannot allow herself to yearn for her old carefree life without children because she loves her baby so much. Feelings, such as  these, are not acknowledged. They cannot be experienced, thought about or discussed.

Controlling our Feelings

We cannot control what or how we feel. Feelings have a way of bypassing the mind. They can become lodged in the body long before they come into consciousness. If we fail to acknowledge them they may lead to irritability, illness, anger or depression. Unacknowledged feelings have a habit of leaking.

If we hold beliefs about ourselves such as those mentioned above: ‘I never get angry’ or ‘that’s just the way things are!’, then our anger becomes more difficult to acknowledge. We then berate ourselves for feeling angry. We know that there is something wrong, but we cannot identify it. So, if we believe that we can control our feelings, then failure to do so brings recrimination and annoyance with the self: “what’s wrong with me?”; “it must be true that I’m useless!”. In other words, the feeling of discomfort which anger brings makes us believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Anger can be a reasonable response to the external world, but if we are not open to the full range of thoughts, feelings and emotions within us then we can feel helpless or depressed. After all, how can we deal with a problem if we don’t know what it is ?

Depression and Prohibition of Feelings

Depression can involve a block on how we think or feel. It blocks us from thinking about difficult feelings. We internalised, without thinking, the prohibitions we had imposed on us as children.

We conclude, also without thinking, that we must have something wrong with us.

Failure to acknowledge our anger means that many parts of us are not examined or explored. We fear examination and exploration as we feel that it may reveal an ugly, intolerable part of ourselves. But the problem with the prohibition of feelings is that the difficult feeling is banished from our minds without examination. With the feeling we also banish an interesting part of ourselves from consciousness.

Martin, 30, was a high-level manager with a demanding job who suffered from depression. He told me that he felt inadequate and constantly doubted the quality of his work. He grew up in a family with little conversation apart from criticism. He could not remember receiving praise for any of his artistic or academic achievements. As he grew into late adolescence and adult life he began to receive praise from his peers. “I never knew that I was any good”. He commented: “I think my parents didn’t want me to get ideas about myself, to get too big for my boots”

When Martin was able to open himself up to explore his feelings of sadness and depression he was able to get in touch with the many good parts of himself.

Different parts of ourselves (our bodies, our minds and our emotions) can co-exist peacefully. This can happen when we open ourselves up, with interest and curiosity, to that which arises in us. We can surprise ourselves.



Anger and Work


When we are persistently angry because of work, the effect on our lives is enormous. In this post, I will highlight some of the reasons why we can become angry at work. I will also emphasise the importance of recognising and acknowledging our anger.

We often don’t realise that we are angry because we believe that we are stressed, depressed, frustrated or simply incapable of doing our jobs.  Recognising our anger can be the first step to becoming aware of our feelings and stopping the spiral of pain and destruction.

Why is work so important?

The workplace can occupy a very significant space in our lives. It can be welcoming and supportive and can help us to develop by exercising our capabilities of mind, body and spirit. We can feel fulfilled there. We work to earn a living but as we do we are building a life. Our work determines what that life will be.

It provides us with a role where we can contribute to the community and to society generally. It helps us to belong and, in many cases, it can be an area where we make friends. It is a place where we seek validation. Work can give us a sense of our own value, importance and ability.

Therefore, if we become unhappy in our jobs, if things go wrong for us in the workplace it can have a hugely detrimental effect on us.

Reasons why we become angry in the workplace

We can become angry with others because we feel that they have failed us in some way. Some examples might be that

–      Our views are not considered;

–      Our work has not been acknowledged, is taken for granted or is overlooked;

–      We have been ignored or isolated;

–      Others have failed to discharge their responsibilities leaving us with more responsibility.

The workplace can be a pressurised environment with calls from managers to meet targets or to satisfy customer demands. There can also be competition from fellow employees seeking recognition and approval. This can happen especially when there is a promotion at stake.

The threat of staff cutbacks in a firm is another unpleasant side of competition where employees vie with each other to save their jobs.

Competition is inevitable in the workplace but sometimes it can become hostile and bullying.

The above examples highlight some of the many ways that anger can appear at work. While some of us may acknowledge the anger. Others may feel that there is something wrong with us; that we don’t measure up in some way; that we are not good enough…. when in fact, we are angry.

The key to dealing with anger is to acknowledge it. When we examine our feelings of anger, it means that we try not to ignore or minimise the feeling and that we treat our anger as legitimate. It is then that we can realise that we are entitled to feel angry.

An honest examination of our feelings may tell us, for example, that when feel anger towards a boss or colleagues we may begin to realise that their behaviour is unacceptable and is bullying.

No entitlement to anger

We may feel we are not entitled to be angry so we feel empty and depressed. We can be reluctant to express our anger because we are afraid that we may damage others, or we may expose ourselves in some way and be riddled with shame afterwards.  We may also feel that if we become angry that others (a boss, colleagues) will retaliate, hurt or humiliate us.

There can be a sense of shame about our feelings which in turn can increase our sense of isolation. We can feel like failures!

By shutting our anger down we punish ourselves and may suffer with illness and depression.

Anger with oneself

We can also feel angry with ourselves. Sometimes we set work goals for ourselves, e.g. promotion, that are very demanding. The achievement of these goals may be beyond our control.

When we do not meet targets we set ourselves then we can begin to question our ability. We may feel, for example, that we have chosen the wrong profession or that we should retrain in another area. These feelings may bring a sense of loss. We may feel that we would be better off in another job, that we made bad decisions when younger or that we were denied opportunities to study/train in an area where we could have flourished.

Our anger may hide feelings of inadequacy. It may remind us of feelings of inadequacy we held in childhood. When we can face these feelings, we are in a better position to move forward and take on fresh challenges in our lives.

The Workplace – Repeating Old Dramas

The workplace brings us into contact with people in many different contexts. In many ways, these relationships often resemble the dynamics of a family. Our bosses or managers may remind us of parental figures while our colleagues can be like siblings. So, without our awareness, the workplace can be a stage for a repetition of many of the dramas of our childhood. For example, an overbearing boss may feel like a demanding, strict father or, indeed, a domineering mother.

Feelings of anger may reveal a hidden pain that we have never acknowledged or been able to express. Once we become aware of and can articulate these feelings (even if it is only to articulate to ourselves) they no longer overwhelm us.

Anger is part of life. It is part of life in the workplace. Dealing with anger does not prevent it or eliminate it but does allow us to live our lives more fully.

If you would like to talk to me about any of the points mentioned here you can ring me at 085-7600123 or email me at




Anger in Relationships

When anger gets out of hand it can undermine and even destroy a relationship. This can happen when we do not allow ourselves to become fully aware of the impact of our anger. At times, we are not even able to recognise that we are angry.

Outbursts, shouting and hurtful comments may characterise anger as well as prolonged tense silences. We may be the ‘guilty’ party but we feel out of control, ashamed and embarrassed.

Changing can be difficult for several reasons:

–      it is too painful to talk about our anger;

–      we do not recognise our behaviour as being angry or we don’t understand why we are angry

–      we do not feel that we have any entitlement to be angry.


It’s too painful

We know that we are angry when there are outbursts, shouting or hurtful remarks. We may know that our tense silences are rooted in our anger. Watching other couples having fun can leave us frustrated and annoyed about our own relationships. Sometimes there is a feeling of losing out and a feeling of being unable to communicate one’s pain. We can feel isolated and alone. All of this can accentuate the pain.

Anger is a part of life. It is also a very real part of a relationship. Often the couple’s ability to tolerate their own and each other’s anger is an indication of the success of the relationship.

It is important to distinguish between normal, healthy expressions of anger and a more persistent, recurring anger which impacts on the individual’s and the couple’s welfare. In the latter case, there can be a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction and frustration. We can feel that although we are angry, that we should not feel like this.

For many of us, managing anger means ignoring it, wanting it to go away, erasing it without having to think about it.

We do not recognise our anger or understand why we are angry

We can be angry without being able to acknowledge or even recognise it. We can find it extremely difficult to even think that we might be angry with a loved one or someone to whom we feel a debt of gratitude.


Eileen came to see me because she was being bullied in her job. She spoke about her home life and growing up.

My mother gave up everything for me. When she was young she stayed at home to look after her elderly parents and then married my father and lived on a farm. We were poor but she ensured that I went to school and college. She was a capable woman and would have loved to have furthered her education. I often felt guilty that she sacrificed do much for me.

Eileen lived at home after she started work and spent almost all her spare time attending to chores around the house. She had no social life and very few friends. She could not feel any anger towards her mother.

It transpired that she was extremely angry with her mother. She found it difficult to think that she could be angry. How could she feel anger towards a mother who had done so much for her?

When we repress anger in this way it does not go away. We can feel anxiety, inadequacy and indeed, depression. When the feeling comes over us we can feel overwhelmed. Or…we can express anger where it is not appropriate. In some cases, we do this to our partners. This anger is a misdirected. But we cannot find where it should go. It is a form of lashing out and is often rooted in a sense of injustice or sadness in our earlier lives. It can be painful seeking a home for our anger. It would be better if it did not exist, we feel.

We do not feel entitled to be angry

In Eileen’s case part of the reason she could not recognise her anger was that she did not feel that she had any entitlement to feel angry. Anger, after all, has had a lot of bad press! In Catholic belief, it is one of the 7 deadly sins. If we feel angry and do not feel that we are entitled to this feeling it can create other problems for us such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression or sometimes physical and medical problems.

How can we deal with anger?

If we become angry and can acknowledge the feeling then we might be able to think before we act. By acknowledge I mean that we can we can accept that our feeling is real and valid and that it worth thinking about. It may be worth expressing your feelings when the anger has subsided. This can go a long way to helping us address our issues.

If you like more information or would like to talk about this you are welcome to ring me at 085-7600123 or email me at


It is possible to deal with anger and live a more fulfilled life with a happy relationship.





The Talking Cure

I am often asked to explain what psychotherapy is. Or more particularly : what does one talk about in therapy?

The simple answer is that the client talks about whatever comes into his mind during the session. It is nature of the talk, or discussion,  in therapy that distinguishes it fundamentally from everyday discourse.

Sometimes the emotional distress that is being experienced is woven deeply into the person’s life. In many cases it is only through therapy that this distress can be accessed and explored.

Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy focuses on a number of areas to help the client access the areas in his life that are causing difficulties.  I have outlined these areas below.

Focus on Feelings

The therapist helps the client describe and put into words feelings that may be troubling, threatening or feelings that he may not have been aware of. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy resonates at a deep level and gives an experience that is different from an intellectual understanding. Many intelligent people can explain the reasons for their difficulties yet their understanding does not help them overcome these difficulties.

Exploring distressing thoughts and feelings

The client may avoid certain aspects of experience that are troubling or painful. The therapist may draw the client’s awareness to the way he describes a troubling event. In many cases the client may do this without talking of how the event affected him.

The therapist may also explore why a client comes late or misses sessions.  Sometimes therapy can bring up subjects that the client wishes to avoid.  The client may not be aware that he is doing this and acts out by coming late or missing sessions.

Recurring Themes

The therapist helps the client to identify recurring themes in a person’s thoughts, feelings, self-concepts or life experiences. In some cases the client may be acutely aware of these but may feel drawn into situations and feel unable to do anything about them. E.g. a man is consistently drawn romantically to women who are unavailable.

Discussion of Past Experience

Past experience of major figures in our lives affects our relationships. The therapist highlights how the past lives on in the present. The goal is to help the client live more fully in the present.

Focus on interpersonal relationship

Psychotherapy places a heavy emphasis on the client’s relatonship and interpersonal experience. Aspects of our personality are forged in the context of interpersonal relationships.

Focus on the therapy relationship

This relationship can become deeply meaningful. If there are repetitive themes in the person’s way of interacting then these will emerge in the therapy sessions. For example, a person prone to distrust others will also distrust the therapist. This can be brought alive and examined in the safe confines of the relationship. The goal is greater flexibility in relationships and enhanced capacity to meet emotional needs.

Exploration of Fantasy Life

From the beginning of therapy the client is invited to say whatever comes to mind regardless of how silly, embarrassing, Irrelevant or random it may seem. Daydreams, desires and fantasies are also explored. In many cases these may not have been put into words. This area is a rich source of information about how a person sees himself and others and how he makes sense of experience.

What are the benefits?

Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy is not just about symptom remission. It is about developing one’s own psychological capacities. These may include:

  • more fulfilling relationships
  • better use of one’s talents and abilities
  • better relationships with others
  • a realistically based sense of self esteem.

Self development, self reflection and self-discovery continue between sessions and long after the therapy has ended. In short, the client can acquire a higher degree of self-knowledge.




Illness and Our Attitudes


As long as we are healthy, illness is something that we generally do not want to think about. It is something to be denied, hated or even hidden. In the worst case scenario, it reminds us of our own mortality. Death!

Yet illness can be a visitation of our unconscious on us, forcing us to slow down to take stock or indeed to wake up to the reality of our lives, the reality of our own unhappiness. Unhappiness with a job, relationship or a family difficulty for example can literally make us ill. We may not be fully aware of what it is that is bothering us but our illness may offer us the time and space to take stock and may encourage us to go to therapy. It may help to examine our lives and discuss why we have landed ourselves in the situation we are in.  It may also help us to cope with with the feelings that are stirred up by illness, both in ourselves and in others.

Intolerance of Illness

For many, illness may not be viewed as an opportunity to recharge batteries, it is intolerable in ourselves and to a much lesser extent, in others. Why? Because it indicates weakness, incapacity and inability.  It is something that should remain hidden. We do not wish to discuss our illnesses when we are suffering with diarrhoea or vomiting. We may be carriers of an infection or disease. In the past, those who were carriers of illness were often ostracised e.g. those suffering from leprosy or, more recently, AIDS.

Society has an implicit view that illness is a drain on our resources. In Ireland for many years any discussion about the provision of health services has gone hand in hand with a discussion about money. How much money is sick leave costing the economy? we ask. Implicit in this discussion is the belief that many who absent themselves from the workplace are malingering – feigning illness in order to avoid work.  Again, this is a label we usually try to avoid.

Explanations of Illness

There is a drive in us to seek rational explanations of illness. Why do we get ill? Why do some of us become seriously or terminally ill? We attribute so much to diet, lifestyle, exercise, intake of alcohol or other substances. Moderation in these areas is of course healthy and commendable.

Perhaps we feel that if we can explain why illness happens then we can predict its occurrence and control it. If we can do this we are powerful, we are in control of our destiny. We are Gods!

The fact is that in many cases we cannot predict it leaving us feeling powerless, useless and frightened when it occurs. Illness frightens us!

Our Individual Experiences

Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy does not offer textbook solutions to problems. It is not a one size fits all exercise. Instead it focuses on the individual’s experience and how he makes sense of his own experience. The experience of being ill may have quite specific meanings for the client.

A client of mine spoke of the violent physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his father when he was a child. He described his memory of being sick when he was 7:

My mother was really kind and affectionate towards me. She let me lie on the couch and would bring me in drinks. I could lie there and watch the TV. That was ok until my father came home and told me that I was n’t allowed to lie on the couch. He told me that if I was sick I had to remain in bed.

His father was resentful of the attention his mother lavished on him while he was sick. This could raise his father’s anger so as a consequence it was better for the boy to deny that he was ill. In later life he never acknowledged being ill or perhaps, more accurately, he never missed work due to illness.

Through counselling or therapy the way that we interpret what illness means to us can be made clear and can be a useful part of our self reflection, growth and development.






Depression can manifest in many forms. Yet we are often caught into the classic perceptions of how it presents itself. Our reliance on the textbook presentations of depression can often blind us to the existence of the feeling in ourselves and in others.

Perceptions of depression

Depression can present as lethargy, a lack of motivation, problems with sleeping, eating, sex drive and we may become more prone to illness. A person suffering from depression can have feelings of dissatisfaction or meaninglessness.

In many cases depression may be a reaction to events. The loss of a job or, indeed, a loved one, for example. Freud claimed that depression was the mourning of something or someone lost. The loss is a loss of a part of ourselves.

When depression is diagnosed it can often be liberating. When the problem is named it can allow the client to seek treatment. In some cases it can give the client a reason, a justification, for entering psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy requires no such justification nor is it interested in diagnosing any condition. Each client is an individual and their suffering is individual to them. Psychotherapy offers the space to explore our feelings and how we interpret the events in our lives.

Anger and Depression

Sometimes it is a feeling that cannot be exposed or thought about. Sometimes we are not aware of the rage and anger that exists inside ourselves. Or we may be aware of it and feel that we are simply not entitled to express it. Imagine the internal turmoil: I have feelings of anger and rage coupled with a feeling that I am not entitled to these feelings or that they may not be justified. I may simply feel that my anger and rage is so enormous that to allow these feelings any form of expression would be immensely destructive to me and those around me.

An example of this would be where a man has cared for a sick wife. The level of care is consuming and goes on for many years. His feelings of sadness for his wife and are acceptable. But feelings of anger and rage are not. He may feel that her illness denied him a career and he has not been allowed a life for himself.

In the safe setting of the psycho-therapeutic relationship, feelings, even those which are difficult to face or to think about can be explored and held. Sometimes the realisation that uncomfortable feelings can be held and thought about can be a relief for the client and can allow a process of healing to begin.