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How To Stop Shame From Sabotaging Your Health

Neuroaffect Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

Emotions can affect your eating and your health overall in a wide variety of ways. It can make it difficult for you to establish good habits and even affect your brain chemistry. If you’re struggling with shame, for whatever reason, it may be sabotaging any healthy changes you want to make in your life. If you have certain chronic conditions, then it’s a clear cause of stress that must be addressed if you’re determined to recover.

The Effects of Shame

woman is ashamed and depressed as blamed by her colleaguesShame makes you believe that you’ve done something wrong or that something is wrong with you. When in its grip, you may feel as if you’re inadequate, or unworthy of love, or anything else that’s good in the world. These feelings aren’t true of course but knowing that logically doesn’t help. It can be difficult to let go of that ingrained feeling, and this can have a devastating effect on every aspect of your life.

People feel shame for a variety of reasons. You may feel shame because of something you’ve done or because you witnessed someone else doing something else shameful. Some of the most common causes of shame are:

  • Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.
  • Addiction
  • Mental illness
  • Crime
  • Financial debt or problems.
  • Feeling that you haven’t lived up to expectations in some way.

Everyone reacts to life events and to shame differently, but here are some of the effects that shame can have:

  • Problem behaviors like overeating, drinking, or self-medicating.
  • Avoidance of social connections and relationships.
  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Emotion suppression, which means that negative emotions fester instead of being addressed.
  • Avoidance of healthy risks that can improve your life.

Unfortunately, shame can be very damaging to your health and your life as a whole, particularly if you’re already suffering because of adrenal fatigue.

How Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) Affects Your Mental Health

image of a man having problems facing the wallAdrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is a chronic disorder that causes a whole range of physical problems as well as mental and emotional ones. It’s caused by ongoing stress, which overwhelms the body and the systems that are designed to help you cope with stress. In humans, the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response is responsible for helping you cope with stress. This stress response activates responses in your body when you’re under stress. It helps protect you from its damaging effects and prepares you to act. But when this system is active over long periods, it can start to degrade.

The adrenal glands are a vital part of the NEM stress response, and they can start to degrade under the pressure of chronic stress. These glands release cortisol, known as the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, which affects every system and circuit in your body. As AFS progresses, the adrenal glands start to struggle to produce the cortisol that the body is demanding. This is a very dangerous and frightening situation that causes a huge range of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms and problems.

The Dangers of Neuroaffect Circuit Malfunctions

People with AFS often experience a range of mental and emotional problems. This can vary from depression to anxiety, shame, and sleep disruptions, most of them connected to neurotransmitter (NT) imbalances. The Neuroaffect Circuit contains the microbiome, the brain, and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). These three systems exist in a triad that is interconnected and reliant on each other for good health and functioning.

The neurotransmitters in your body and brain must exist in a careful balance for good mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, this balance is disrupted when you have AFS. Stress causes the excitation of the ANS, which prompts the release of cortisol and NTs that are designed to give you energy and prepare you to respond to this stress. Norepinephrine is released first and then epinephrine, both powerful NTs that significantly affect your body. When you’re healthy, the cause of the stress would pass and these NTs would reduce, allowing your body to rest. But when you have AFS and you’re under constant stress, this doesn’t happen. Your body is constantly flooded with these NTs, creating a very unnatural balance that taxes your system and the feeling of being ‘wired but tired’.

As this situation worsens, the unbalanced NTs start to disrupt your sleep, hormone levels, and other natural body functions. The health of the brain degrades because of these issues and mental symptoms may start to appear such as anxiety or depression. As the health of the brain and ANS degrades, the health of the gut decreases as well, worsening the circuit imbalances and increasing the body’s stress. This will only make your AFS symptoms and problems more severe.

How Shame Affects the Neuroaffect Circuit

an illustration of a brain representing by a man showing itIf you struggle with shame, this will worsen your overall health and the health of the Neuroaffect Circuit. Shame is a cause of stress. It makes you feel unhappy, disrupts your sleeping patterns, and decreases your motivation to do anything. This will not only make it difficult for you to make the changes you need to make to recover from AFS, but it will also increase your stress levels. Shame also causes negative behaviors such as overeating or self-medicating that can increase your body’s toxic overload. These issues will markedly and dangerously increase your body’s stress levels. And if you have AFS and you’re already stressed, this will push your adrenal glands closer to overload and contribute to their degradation.

Shame will also more directly affect the health and functioning of the Neuroaffect Circuit. It will contribute to NT imbalances, and probably worsen any mental state you are experiencing as a result of AFS. This means that your depression or anxiety symptoms may worsen when you’re struggling with shame, which will negatively affect the health of the Neuroaffect Circuit and worsen your AFS at the same time.

This is a situation that must be corrected if you want to recover from AFS. You can do some simple exercises that will help to reduce your feelings of shame. They aren’t difficult to do and shouldn’t cause additional stress for your already overtaxed body.

Decreasing Shame Through Being Mindful

image showing the word mind full and mindful written in a note with a glass of winePushing the shame down or ignoring it doesn’t help. It just causes the feeling to bubble out at random times. Instead, you can use certain techniques to confront and reduce the amount of shame you feel. Here’s how:

Admit it

The first step is to admit your shame. Write it down or talk to a trusted friend or therapist. Sometimes, this is all it takes to reveal the errors in your thinking.

Feel it

Suppression doesn’t work. Instead, you need to let yourself feel the shame. Find a quiet time and sit with the feeling. What does it feel like? How does it make your body feel? Get to know this feeling without judgment.

Look for Truth

Ask yourself if the beliefs that are attached to the shame are true. Do you think you’re lazy? Think about all the times when you got things done quickly and efficiently. Even if you’re lazy sometimes, hardly anyone is lazy all the time. So, look for examples from your life that prove your belief isn’t always true. This will help to break its grip on your self-image.

See the Good

Everyone fails or does the wrong thing sometimes. But chances are that you do things that are good or right as well. When you find yourself thinking about all the bad things you’ve done in your life, all the things that make you feel ashamed, think back to the good things you’ve done too. This will help to refocus your mind so that it doesn’t only see the bad.

Be Compassionate

It’s easier to be compassionate to others than it is to practice self-compassion sometimes. Everyone fails, or does the wrong thing sometimes. Think of how you react when a friend or loved one comes to you with a story of how they messed up and how much guilt they feel. And then practice looking at your own story with that same compassionate reaction.

If you repeat these exercises regularly, you will start to loosen shame’s grip on your mind and your heart. This will improve your life and every aspect of your health.


Recovering from AFS doesn’t just mean addressing physical and environmental causes of stress. You also need to identify and eliminate the emotional causes of stress as well. Shame can be one of the most difficult emotions to deal with because it often makes you feel like you don’t deserve anything better out of life. But when you find a way to reduce or eliminate this feeling, you will not only improve the health of your Neuroaffect Circuit, you will also improve your life as a whole too.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

Like any negative emotion, shame will not only affect your motivation to make needed changes in your life. It can also affect the neurotransmitters in your brain and more directly affect the health and functioning of your brain and the rest of your body too.

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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