Stop Reinforcing Shame with this Body Posture

Janina Fisher, Ph.D.

Why does shame ‘stick like glue’ for decades after the trauma?

Shame can be harder to shake than fear because we attach meaning to shame. Our bodies use shame as a survival response by keeping us from acting in ways that would alienate us from others or get us exiled from the group.

But in the process, it can also evoke other powerful feelings and responses, such as: 

  • Feeling shame about experiencing physical responses, which creates a 'vicious circle' of shame
  • Judging ourselves for these experiences, asking, "What does this say about me?"
  • Reinforcing other trauma-related schemas such as, "It's not safe to be have be happy." 
In Shame and Self-Loathing in the Treatment of Trauma, Janina Fisher, Ph.D. explains how persistent shame responses reflect procedural learning, allowing the trauma survivor to respond instinctively, automatically, and non-consciously.

How can you help your patients break these automatic shame responses?

One way to do this is by combating shame through the body. Watch as Janina Fisher, Ph.D., shows you how to stop reinforcing shame with body posture.

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Topic: Trauma

Tags: Shame

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Monday, February 6, 2017 2:05:25 PM | posted by Lynne Cragg
The cartoon is an excellent tool for illustrating the point of the teaching.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 2:21:29 PM | posted by DR. DAMITA LUCAS
I grew-up on Charlie Brown. As I reflect, I see the cartoon with powerful messages in a different light and as a professional, definitely from a different perspective. Gestures are instrumental in observation skills.

Sunday, November 20, 2016 8:41:05 AM | posted by Jacqueline McKenzie
Excellent presentation and knowledge, thank you.

Friday, July 15, 2016 3:00:11 PM | posted by Martha Hyde
changing posture to get rid of shame is a lot like wishing to get rid of the effects of trauma. First of all, the person has to know they are exhibiting shame. Most who were rejected by the mother/father at birth don't know they feel ashamed, especially during moments where they would stick out in a crowd, like when they are being praised or display their accomplishments. They grew up with being surrounded by a family which hated them and the best posture then would be one of shame to prevent attacks by the family, to hide their identity, to become the "fly on the wall," so that they could at least listen and watch what happens to others. They have to learn that no one else around them feels that way, that it is wrong to feel that way, that they have a right to exist.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016 8:57:33 PM | posted by Lori Stokes
I am a mental health counselor as well as a certified Blue Belt Nia instructor. This is EXACTLY what we teach! Nia is a somatic work out fusing Martial arts, healing arts and dance arts. I will be starting a Moving to Heal practice (gentle Nia) in a local Psyc practice here. Nia is an amazing practice. To see if there are any classes in your area, please locate classes and practitioners at As an intern I also used this in my DBT groups.

Monday, March 28, 2016 2:43:36 PM | posted by Frederice Wiedemann, PhD
I have been using psychomotor and sensory based psychotherapy for 40 years now, and so it is refreshing to see Dr. Fisher's work going "out there." Posture is such a powerful way to "work" with shame. Another is the breath. I have developed a breathing/mindfulness tool called the Flash Awake that only takes some seconds, and works directly with shame-based feelings. If you might be interested, you can learn more at htttp:// Thank you, Dr. Wiedemann

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 10:46:38 AM | posted by Jeanine D'Onofrio-Bess
Excellent tidbit!

Monday, January 25, 2016 2:35:38 PM | posted by Ebb
MLHYDE, that is precisely why somatic therapies work! You don't need to have the conscious memory, in order to heal. The body remembers, and can be restored to a somatic sense of safety. I suggest you read Bessel Van Der Kolk's work as it will help explain this in great detail.

Sunday, December 6, 2015 10:42:12 PM | posted by Kim
This clip is a demonstration of a process that actually takes time... we don't dive directly into the resource (lengthening the spine) with a client. The why does not matter as much as the curiosity and mindfulness that allows the client to deepen into the core beliefs that sustain the posture, etc. I recommend the book by Drs Ogden and Fisher.

Sunday, November 22, 2015 1:07:09 PM | posted by Wendy Tuck
Many patients avert their face to the side as if they don't want someone to see into their eyes. I find its the fear of perhaps rejection of abandonment if their "being shame- being worthless- being blank" that makes dealing with shame such hard work. I will check out lengthening the spine as a step toward lifting the face to see and be seen.

Thursday, October 29, 2015 5:33:42 AM | posted by pavla
I have the experience that even if the patient doesn't know he is feeling shame, his shame is manifested in the body so I see working with body as very elegant way to deal with this unseen feelings because in this process he doesn't have to work through all these painful memories and his condition can be improved as well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015 5:52:29 PM | posted by Marietta
I have listened to the whole set many times and found it to be REALLY helpful with my own personal journey and with clients. I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 23, 2015 8:01:10 PM | posted by mlhyde
She speaks as if it doesn't matter why the patient feels shame. In fact, some may be very surprised that they are even showing shame, or that what they feel about themselves in some circumstances should be different at all. If a child was rejected by her mother at birth, the child will feel shame for existing! Worse, she won't know that, when she achieves a milestone, she shouldn't feel shame. All rejected children will NOT want to stick out. It takes enormous effort on the part of the patient, in this case, to practice mindfulness (not the meditation type), and asking their unconscious brains questions, to learn that they are feeling shame when they should not. The mirror system in the unconscious brain is constantly comparing our brains with those of other people. This natural tendency can be used to tell us that we shouldn't feel shame. The integration of brainstem with neocortex can tell us why, once the brain gets used to integrating the two regions. That takes a LOT of practice. Yes, somatic therapy helps many patients, but I strongly suspect it will only work with those who know why they feel shame. However, people who were rejected during the first 3 years of their lives may be completely unaware of why they feel shame and will give totally wrong reasons why. That's because talk therapy relies heavily on conscious memory. If the therapist gets at the unconscious memory, that of the baby, then the real reason for shame might be realized. Then the real work, re-wiring the brain to build the pathways toward self-esteem that the mother gives to the baby as a baseline for self-repair and conscious self-esteem later in life, can be done.

Thursday, September 3, 2015 10:21:10 AM | posted by pesiinc
Hi Annmarie,

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015 6:02:19 PM | posted by AnnMarie Tresca
I completed the post webinar exam and passed. However, I feel it would be helpful to learn the correct responses to those I answered incorrectly.