How Shame Feeds Suicidal Thoughts in PTSD

September 12, 2019 Traci Powell

Trigger warning: This post contains frank discussion of suicide, suicide attempts and the role of shame in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Suicidal thoughts are often part of living with PTSD, especially after childhood trauma. When you are experiencing shame, those thoughts can become worse. Understanding how to identify shame and have self-compassion can help with suicide prevention.

How Shame Affects Suicidal Thoughts

Posttraumatic stress disorder after childhood trauma can result in severe depression and anxiety that lead to suicidal thoughts. When you were never taught proper coping skills as a child for handling strong emotions, you may be left feeling the only way to escape your pain and bad feelings is through suicide. Shame feeds this feeling, because not only can't you see a healthy way out of your pain, feeling as though you are bad, don't belong in the world, or are different from everyone else can feed your feelings that it would be better if you just weren't alive. 

Survivors of childhood trauma can experience very low self-esteem. You may have grown up in an environment where you constantly received messages that you didn't matter and you had no value. Emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse can leave you with intense shame that affects the way you view yourself in relation to the world and feeds suicidal thoughts.

When I made a suicide attempt several years ago, I was deeply ashamed of who I was. Sexual and emotional abuse that I had hidden for years kept the message going in my head that I was worthless, damaged and broken. I was living with constant anxiety and depression that only grew worse as I very poorly tried to handle what I was feeling on my own.

As a nurse practitioner and mom, I was deeply ashamed that I couldn't stop my panic attacks or pull myself out of depression. I was constantly afraid someone would know how badly I was struggling when I was always seen as "the strong one," which led to even more shame. Ultimately, because I hadn't sought help and continued to stay quiet about what I was struggling with, I decided the best way to escape my pain was to end my life. 

Stop Shame from Feeding Suicidal Thoughts

Thankfully, my suicide attempt didn't work. After that night, I sought help from a trauma-informed therapist and began learning I was never taught coping skills to handle my anxiety and depression. I also learned the even though I thought I was in charge of my life, actually, complex PTSD and shame were in control.

The message behind shame is that "I am bad,"  which feeds the negative beliefs your childhood abuse has left you with. This message only serves to reinforce the thoughts in your mind that may say you don't deserve to live.

In therapy, I began facing the intense shame and negative feelings I had about myself because of what happened to me. I learned that shame keeps us stuck in the lies of abuse. Most importantly, I learned how to take my power back from shame and PTSD through healthy coping skills.

It's extremely important to recognize when you are feeling shame, especially when you're struggling with suicidal thoughts. Signs you are feeling shame include thoughts that you are bad, stupid or worthless. These are messages that you received as a child, but today you can teach the child within you that those messages were never true. 

Once you become aware of how shame feeds your negative feelings, you can begin to address your pain with self-compassion so that it doesn't intensify suicidal thoughts. You can give a new voice to the abused child inside of you by changing the shame messages in your mind and recognizing the role shame plays in making you feel worse. 

If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. 

For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources, and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section. 

APA Reference
Powell, T. (2019, September 12). How Shame Feeds Suicidal Thoughts in PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Traci Powell

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