Recommended Books on Dealing with Shame and Guilt
Shame is often the forgotten emotion but the havoc it plays on both our mental and physical health is quite profound. A brilliant exploration of the difficult consequences of shame with powerful coping strategies that can be life-transforming for women from breaking down barriers to love and parenting to building better relationships.
These are a selection of books, some that deal with shame directly and some that are a little more indirect but which might help you look at life a little differently. (You might also find it helpful to explore your feelings of shame in a bibliotherapy session or explore our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course.)
It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle (Non-fiction) by Mark Wolynn
Mark Wolynn has a very specific approach to treating trauma – particularly the trauma that has survived and transferred from generations. He offers a different perspective of looking at trauma that’s not necessarily the result of a painful life event or a chemical imbalance but instead passed through generations.
It Didn’t Start with You evidences with depth and clarity that whilst the person who initially experienced trauma might have died or their story forgotten, the associated memories, and feelings, might still be adopted by future generations – embedded in our genetic makeup and cognitive abilities - playing a far greater role than previously thought.
Mark Wolynn prescribes the Core Language Approach – linking words and language to emotions, behaviours and physical symptoms to understand where the trauma actually resides and releasing it. It’s a novel approach, that’s proven to be extremely effective, particularly when other treatments and therapies have failed.
The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (Non-fiction) by Nadine Burke Harris
A young boy stopped growing after a sexual assault. This was the starting point of Dr. Harris’s lifelong work on child trauma management linking the effects of toxic stress and chronic illness. Childhood adversity (neglect, abuse, parental shame, divorce) can quite literally change our biological makeup for life.
In this book she offers scientific tools on how we may heal from the trauma that’s already happened and holding us hostage. Another great resource for trauma sufferers.
The Body Keeps the Score (Non-fiction) by Bessel Van Der Kolk
This is one of the most recent books published on trauma healing and one of my favourites.
Van Der Kolk, one of the world’s leading experts on trauma, acknowledges that trauma is a fact of life and everyone has to deal with some form of it in their lives.
After three decades of working with survivors this book offers a different take on trauma illustrating how trauma influences the brain and the body – negatively impacting every aspect of cognitive functioning from self-control to trust to permitting pleasure.
The best part of the book is his exploration of alternative treatments such as yoga and mediation to sports and drama — to literarily change the neuroplasticity of the brain so that recovery is achieved and survivors may fully reclaim their lives.
I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame (Non-fiction) by Brené Brown
Brené Brown catalogues women’s experiences of shame with remarkable sharpness and insight, explaining how modern day culture makes us all vulnerable to shame – the ever omnipresent narratives of society that dictate how women should behave, live and operate.
Shame keeps us from truly connecting with others and ourselves. However being aware of it and recognising its influence over us, reduces its power over us. We can then begin to accept ourselves unconditionally, opening the door to being true to ourselves.
What’s uplifting about Brené Brown’s book is not only does she validate our experiences of shame; she also shows us how we can overcome these and invite an infinite amount of personal possibilities.
Healing the Shame that Binds You (Non-fiction) by John Bradshaw
Ironically, the habits we follow to reduce our shame, are induced by shame in the first place. The author, John Bradshaw, drank heavily to get away from his shame, yet the more he drank, the closer to shame he felt.
Bradshaw writes uninhibitedly about personal shame, the underlying reasons for it and how addressing its root causes helps release the shame that binds.
This book is particularly helpful for those working with unresolved family issues and includes some excellent coping strategies such as affirmations, visualisations and inner voice exercises. It comes highly recommended by counsellors and mental health professionals.
Man’s Search for Meaning (Non-fiction) by Viktor E. Frankl
This book provides a fascinating insight into the human ability to survive in the harshest of conditions, making sense of tough situations and finding our purpose in life.
The author, an Auschwitz Nazi death camp survivor, illustrates, that through suffering, we find meaning and the drive to keep us going. Our goal in life is not to attain pleasure or power but to ‘discover meaning’ and it is the pursuit of this meaning that provides the purpose of life.
Specifically, the book advocates finding meaning in three different ways: through making ourselves useful to others, through unconditionally loving others and through suffering.
A significant book that continues to shine its wisdom whatever our circumstances.
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break The Silence (Non-fiction) by Michele Filgate
This dynamic book explores what we don’t discuss within our most intimate of relationships — the relationship with our mother.
Michele Filgate, whilst still an undergraduate at university, began an essay about her stepfather’s abuse but only finished it a decade later — needing the time to work out what she actually wanted to talk about — the effect of the abuse on the relationship with her mother. Upon publication it went viral and was shared by notable authors including Rebecca Solnit. There was a clear need for this type of conversation to be had — and the appetite of writers to share their stories was not exactly limited. An anthology was born showcasing a collection of essays and stories that looked at a starkly exposed view of our relationships with our mothers.
A portrayal of both super close and irreparably estranged relationships with our mothers, André Aciman writes about having a deaf mother, whilst Cathi Hanauer talks about trying to have a conversation with her mother in the presence of her dominating and controlling father. Then there are the mothers on the opposite end of the spectrum — ones who need to share everything with their daughters to the ones to those that are seemingly perfect.
Beautifully written Filgate writes, “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them.” Our relationships with our mothers are often the relationships that we replicate with others, particularly close ones and in working this relationship out do we work out the other ones, bringing hope, relief and healing.
Contributors include Cathi Hanauer, Melissa Febos, Alexander Chee, Dylan Landis, Bernice L. McFadden, Julianna Baggott, Lynn Steger Strong, Kiese Laymon, Carmen Maria Machado, André Aciman, Sari Botton, Nayomi Munaweera, Brandon Taylor, and Leslie Jamison
Related recommended reading lists:
Consolation in times of sorrow
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A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I train mental health professionals, librarians, teachers as well as readers on using bibliotherapy in their own work through our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course. We also curate reading lists/personalised book prescriptions for clients based on their individual needs. This is our signature personalised reading service.
You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also a Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation.
In this role, I have had the opportunity to publish a book called The Happiness Mindset, and write various literary essays and pieces for newspapers and magazines. I have undertaken bibliotherapy workshops for The United Nations, various libraries in New York and corporate organisations in the UK and US. My book recommendations have featured in the Guardian, Marie Claire, NBC News, Asian Voice, New York Observer, Sydney Telegraph and various other publications. If you are a parent you might enjoy a podcast I’ve recorded with speech and language therapist Sunita Shah on Raising A Reader & Storyteller. And if you’d like to connect, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.booktherapy.io.
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