Shame is a Body Response Driven by the Freeze State of the Nervous System

You may notice that you’re in the freeze response by a disconnection from your body, somebody talking or your environment. You may feel numbness, like a fog coming over you, stopping thoughts and sensations. It could also involve feeling drained of energy, sensing a tightness in your chest, or collapsing in your spine.

This inhibitory effect in your body is designed to down-regulate you as a defensive response when you feel overwhelmed. Shame itself is protective and helps you learn prosocial behaviours – what is acceptable to the tribe or group and what is not. If shame occurs regularly and without also a sense of connection and belonging even if you do slip up, it can become chronic. Instead of it being about something you’ve done, it can become the sense of who you are.

Behaviour makes sense when we look at it through the lens of the nervous system. Shame can also lead to defensiveness (fight energy), withdrawing or avoiding (flight energy), or appeasing others or a situation that triggered this survival response. Alternatively, we could feel stuck in a situation with a lot of charge in our body, yet are unable to act, which can eventually lead us into dorsal vagal shut-down.

Shame is not something you need to get rid of. In fact, when we resist or try to get rid of shame it may increase dysregulation. Being able to notice and track our bodily responses can create a shift out of its downward spiral. When you feel pulled down into shame and disconnected from your body and learn to recognise these cues of a need for safety, this is where we can reach for connection with others.


The below questions can help you to reflect on your own regulation and sense of belonging.

  • What places do you feel a sense of connection or belonging?

  • Who are the people that help to shift you towards connection and belonging?

  • What activities help to up-regulate your system?  








CONTACT US: [email protected]


We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we share our work, the Arakwal of the Bundjalung, and we pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Always was, always will be.