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How Shame Drives Procrastination

Updated: Apr 14

In my work as psychotherapist, I often find my clients plagued with insurmountable bouts of shame as it relates to habits described as procrastination. The shame leaves them stuck, perpetuating cycles, and wreaking havoc on their peace of mind. Unable to break free from the shame, they enter states of hopelessness, repression, and inadequacy. I sometimes find myself to be the last stop before they act on their deep feelings of valuelessness that inhibit their existence. These people were willing to do anything to free themselves of this painful shame.


Now, let’s shift our attention to what shame actually is. What is shame? According to Terrizi Jr. and Shook (2020), shame is a self-evaluation of moral standing and social acceptance that functions to organize social hierarchies (Terrizi Jr. & Shook, 2020). Others describe shame as strong devaluation of one’s self in relation to personal characteries, body image, and self-esteem (Budiarto & Helmi, 2021). Because shame is usually felt on our deeper levels of consciousness, it can live within us undetected and inseparable from our self-concept, our identity (Panero et al., 2022). Therefore, how we view and understand ourselves can be driven by negative appraisals of who we believe ourselves to be. It is this feeling of shame that pushes the slime of self-hatred and judgment through a person’s veins.

In turn, we seek ways to escape and relieve ourselves from these deep set feelings and those ways often manifest as avoidance. This physical, emotional, and behavioral avoidance can be psychologically paralyzing. Let’s think about it.


If the shame living in me makes me identify myself as a morally and socially wrong person, it is possible I believe I cannot do anything right – because “I” am wrong. By delaying to complete tasks and activities, I prolong or avoid facing the possibility of the belief being true. By not doing the tasks at all, I save myself further shame and embarrassment. Consequently, it is likely these tasks must be done at some point. Thus, the longer I take to complete the tasks, the more shameful I become. So even though I effectively avoid the possibility of not being “good enough,” I also prove to myself I am not good enough because the task is incomplete.


And the cycle continues… Oscillating between feelings of self-disgust and desperate attempts to avoid feeling like the worst person in the world. It’s a tough position to be in, let alone accept. But there has got to be a way out, right? Is it possible to never feel shame? Even if I cannot break free from it completely, will there ever be relief? I believe the answer to these questions lies in how we assign value to ourselves. Do we assign value based on a perceived level of productivity and ability to contribute to the economic workings of society? Is our worth defined by the number of accolades we acquire or how well our children behave when we are not present?


All of these value judgments are based on external expectations or rules created without us in mind. And the very people who break their backs trying to adhere to these expectations are the same people who suffer internally. They suffer because their sense of self is riddled with distortions of their core self and they, once again, fall prey to the claws of shame.


While it may not be easily accessible to completely free oneself from the plight of shame, there still may be options to improve our relationship with shame. So, the next time you get into a shame-procrastination cycle, give yourself permission to pivot focus away from a perfect end result and instead give yourself credit because you showed up. In this case, make it acceptable to get a participation trophy simply because your presence is enough.  


Budiarto, Y., & Helmi, A.F. (2021). Shame and self-esteem: A meta-analysis. European Journal of Psychology, 17(2),131-145. doi: 10.5964/ejop.2115.


Panero, M., Longo, P., De Bacco, C., Abbate-Daga, G., & Martini M. (2022). Shame, guilt, and self-consciousness in anorexia nervosa. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 11(22),6683. doi: 10.3390/jcm11226683.


Terrizzi Jr., J.A. & Shook, N.J. (2020). On the origin of shame: Does shame emerge from an evolved disease-avoidance architecture? Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 14,19. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2020.00019.


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This was right on time. I’ve been experiencing blockage in my throat chakra and I have whole heartedly received this post/ message as yet another indication that I am on the right path of ascension by simply making small efforts toward changing the trajectory of my life & doing the work. Such an amazing read further putting life into perspective

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