How to Turn Shame Into Changed Behavior

Experts say shame leads to continued maladaptive behavior, here are a few steps to stop the cycle.

Meg Hartley
Invisible Illness
Published in
6 min readJan 29, 2021
Photo by @felipepelaquim on Unsplash

Have you ever felt shame after making a mistake? How did it feel? And, what did you do with that feeling? According to science, odds are that it felt just miserable, so you repressed it, and then wound up repeating the err.

But while shame can feel unpleasant, it’s just something that happens in life; just like an occasional screw up is part of life.

And shaming is something that just happens in life, especially when people are emotionally triggered. While expecting a friendly explanation in response to an offensive mistake is unreasonable (due to the immense power of our ‘fight or flight’ response) — we do have power over what we do with our shame.

According to Scientific American, “We feel shame when we violate the social norms we believe in.” And, unfortunately, we can feel shame without even making a mistake.

For example, I’ve been trying to recover from a neurological crisis, which often leaves me trapped inside my tiny studio due to an inability to handle the light, sun, noises, and unpredictability of the outside world — but I’ve been doing increasingly better, even getting back to my beloved morning sun puddle meditation.

Today was a freakishly hot January day, even for Southern California, and I gratefully got to celebrate with an hour-long break to take a quick dip in the (still freezing) ocean, then soaked up the gloriously hot sun for a bit.

I needed it so bad, and it was sheer freakin’ bliss.

And yet, I got the ickiest feeling right after posting about my dreamy experience on Insta — a feeling I’m all too familiar with as a disabled person: shame.

My mind suddenly filled with haunting words from my past, we well as many aimed at others in my situation; words that amount to the sentiment that it’s not okay for disabled people to enjoy ourselves, as if managing to appreciate life makes us less disabled, less in need of support when we do need it.

I’ll admit, it’s tempting to go on a diatribe about how defeating it can feel to regularly share your struggle to…



Meg Hartley
Invisible Illness

♾ AuDHD writer figuring out how to thrive. Growth junkie. Kindness advocate. ❤️ Say hey via ig/tw @thrivingautist 👋