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CW: Binge eating, self-harm, addiction. 

Most people deal with stress throughout their lives. Learning to cope with stress in healthy ways can make people more resilient and help combat chronic illness and mental health issues according to the CDC. However, not all coping mechanisms are healthy. Negative coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, compulsive spending, self-harm, isolation, and emotional eating can sometimes result in shame. 

In a person’s recovery journey, it’s important that they remove shame from their negative coping mechanisms. Having self-compassion instead of internalized shame can help people adopt healthier coping mechanisms to combat daily stress and ease mental health issues. 

According to VeryWell Health, we use coping mechanisms to help decrease the side effects of stress. Under stress, our nervous system often goes into fight or flight because our body doesn’t know the difference between emotional stress and actual danger. Chronic stress can lead to sleep disruptions, headaches, stomach issues, sadness, anxiety, depression, and more. 

While healthy coping mechanisms help people de-stress, negative coping mechanisms can often lead to shame. According to Dr. David Sack, shame is saying “I am bad” versus guilt which is saying “I did something bad.” Shame is a complex and overwhelming emotion that can cause people to engage in self-destructive behavior. According to PsychCentral, self-destructive behavior causes people to feel more ashamed, often leading to a cycle of shame and more self-destruction.

I learned first-hand through self-harm and binge eating that in order to recover, I had to let go of shame. While those coping mechanisms provided me with immediate relief from stress, they caused my body and mind more turmoil. My actions in the midst of Major Depressive Disorder were survival mechanisms, not a representation of who I was. Shame made me believe I had something inherently wrong with me. 

Only through therapy and months of internal work was I able to separate myself from my negative coping mechanisms. I realized that in order to stop self-harming and binge eating, I had to let go of shame. I wasn’t a bad person for my actions, I was simply doing what I knew would help me survive in the moment. As I began to heal, I slowly replaced negative coping mechanisms with healthy ones. 

Instead of self-harming and binge eating, I started to combat negative emotions with healthy coping mechanisms such as journaling, counseling, breathwork, and exercise. In times of stress, I sometimes revert to my negative coping mechanisms because they helped me survive in the past. When that happens, I remind myself that feeling shame will only make it more difficult to combat self-destructive behavior. 

When I separate myself from my coping mechanisms I know I am capable and worthy of more. Now that I have incorporated healthy coping mechanisms into my days, I recognize how beneficial they are to my lifelong health. While it’s not easy, there are a variety of ways people can overcome shame and replace harmful coping mechanisms with positive ones. 

The first step in confronting shame is “bringing it to light” according to Dr. David Sack. Shame is only destructive when it’s hidden, so it’s important that people talk to a professional or someone close to them about their feelings. It’s also important that people identify their feelings and pinpoint where the shame is coming from. 

Destructive behavior can lead to greater shame which is why people should separate themselves from what they do. Separating your identity from your actions is critical in combating shame. It’s also important for people to recognize their triggers and what causes them excess stress. Going into stressful situations with healthy coping mechanisms can help minimize the likelihood of self-destructive behavior.

Overcoming shame isn’t an easy journey and may take time. Above all else, you should reach out for help if you are struggling and recognize that negative coping mechanisms can be replaced. The cycle of shame and self-destructive behavior doesn’t have to be forever; you are not alone and can heal. 

Works Cited: 

Aubrey Bailey. “What Are Coping Mechanisms?” Verywell Health, 18 Oct. 2022,

“Coping with Stress.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Apr. 2023,

Ferguson, Sian. “The Cycle of Shame and Self-Destructive Behavior: How to Break It.” Psych Central, 21 Oct. 2022,

Sack, David. “5 Ways to Silence Shame.” Psychology Today, 13 Jan. 2015,