Shame: Free Yourself, Find Joy, and Build True Self-Esteem

Author: Joseph Burgo.
Publishing year: 2018.

This self-help book explains how to use shame in a healthy way, to build self-esteem and confidence.

Purpose of the Book

Not all shame is harmful. The right kind, in the correct circumstances, can help us grow as a person and enhance our social skills. However, this feeling is most often misunderstood and avoided:

“Especially today, in our narcissistic age, when so many people feel compelled to come across as social media winners, if you admit to feeling shame, you run the risk of becoming a contemptible loser.”

Joseph Burgo goes to great lengths to explain our misconceptions about shame. The stated purpose of the book is to show how self-esteem develops, highlighting the value of this vilified emotion.

Girl with wide spread hands and sunset in the background.
The right kind of shame can help us grow as a person .

Types of Shame

We experience shame as a wide array of other feelings. From unrequited love to social exclusion; from unwanted exposure to disappointed expectations, they are all manifestations of the same sentiment. Therefore, this is a pervasive emotion. It is present in many hidden forms in our lives and it serves many purposes. Some of these are not necessarily detrimental.

For example, it helps us accomplish our goals. Because we want to avoid feelings of failure, it motivates us to stay on track:

“Adopting reasonable standards that embody our core values and holding ourselves accountable will enable us to build pride and lead a life of integrity.”

Toxic Shame

After presenting the different types it comes in, clarifying the difference between embarrassment, guilt and disappointment, the book presents what is traditionally known as shame. Throughout the book, the author refers to this by writing the word in capitals: SHAME. Furthermore, he defines this as toxic.

Black and white girl head and shoulders.
“The road to authentic self-esteem inevitably passes through the land of shame and never entirely leaves it.”

According to Joseph Burgo this feeling is prevalent in all societies. Unfortunately, it is often disguised. This is the reason why we think all manifestations if it is bad and we fail to see how to use for our own growth:

“Avoid, deny, and control – these are the primary strategies people use to mask and mitigate exposure to the pain of shame.”


The book’s aim is to help us understand how to develop self-esteem. How to feel good about ourselves:

“As paradoxical as it may sound, the development of self-esteem is an inter-personal experience.”

We need others to approve of our actions and ideas. From our family to our friends, our peers and co-workers they have to accept us. This is a confirmation we need in order to feel and understand we belong:

“Shame evolved as a means to discourage anti social behavior and promote survival of the tribe.”

Woman on a swing, next to an empty swing, on a playground.
“… the development of self-esteem is an interpersonal experience.”

This is a guide meant to help us develop our self esteem. The book is easy to read and to understand. It is also based on scientific studies and clinical case studies.

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