Janina Fisher

A Neurobiological Understanding of Shame

Shame has an insidious impact on the ability to feel a sense of worth or welcome in society.  Feelings of defectiveness and inadequacy interfere with taking in the support of others or their validation, increasing shame and hopelessness.  Capacities needed to resolve interpersonal conflict, such as standing one’s ground or asserting an opinion get undermined by belief systems about worth or deserving.

This presentation will offer a biological perspective on shame.  We will look at shame as an instinctive physical response, facilitating survival and social acceptance.   Shame responses result in passivity, conflict avoidance, and automatic obedience, inhibiting actions that might anger others.  These reactions increase safety in environments in which individuals are powerless or dependent on others but prevent healthy self-esteem and self-assertion.   In treatment, clients can learn to relate to shame with curiosity rather than automatic acceptance, to discriminate the cognitive, emotional, and physiological components of shame, and to integrate somatic techniques into treatment that transform shame-related stuckness.

You will learn to:

  • Help clients appreciate the role of shame and self-loathing a survival strategy
  • Identify the neurobiological effects of shame
  • Discriminate the physiological from the cognitive effects shame
  • Describe cognitive-behavioral, somatic, and psychoeducational interventions to address shame

Janina Fisher, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and international expert on the treatment of trauma, addiction, and dissociation.   An instructor at the Trauma Center, founded by Bessel van der Kolk, Assistant Director of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute, an EMDR International Association consultant, past president of the New England Society for the Treatment of Trauma and Dissociation, and former instructor, Harvard Medical School, Dr. Fisher lectures nationally and internationally on the neurobiology of trauma and the integration of somatic techniques into traditional psychotherapy.   In addition, she is the co-author with Pat Ogden of “Sensorimotor Psychotherapy:  Interventions for Trauma and Attachment” (2015), author of “Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Self-Alienation” (2017) and the forthcoming book, “Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook for Trauma Survivors and Therapists.”   For more information, go to .

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