Needs play a central role in the context of shame. Non-fulfilled or seemingly unreachable needs can make us withdraw, and their ongoing nonfulfillment can create chronic (or toxic) shame. How difficult it can be to come back out of hiding is part of my own story.

If we are affected by chronic shame, we have learned to treat our needs as potential sources of shaming. If we desire something that seems out of reach, we will probably one day come to the conclusion that it is wiser to not have those needs in the first place.

Fallacy with consequences

That this must be a fallacy will be quite evident to everybody not involved. This is because needs are there for a reason, and we can´t switch them off. What we can do, however, is to deny that we need something. Or to put it even into simpler terms: We just stop feeling that we have a need.

Forgotten needs

Let´s put this into Gestalt terms: we can interrupt the contact (connection) to a need at different moments in time. To start with, we can prevent ourselves from acting, e.g. we can pull back a spontaneously stretched out hand. But we can also prevent much earlier that a need can become dangerous for us. And this means to “forget” that we actually feel something.

If we meet such a person (or if we have become one ourselves), this person will convincingly tell you that they are perfectly fine, that they don´t need “anything” or “anybody” and that they are dealing with it all alone just fine.

We are social beings

Well, the truth is … nobody is dealing well all alone, at least not in the longrun. We are social beings. We essentially depend on each other. And we do have needs. Every single one of us.

We want to be touched. We want exchange and encounters. We want to love and be loved. We want recognition.

However, once we have buried our needs underneath a thick shame mask, it can become difficult or even impossible to find them fulfilled. Because fatally, we will start to reject even those things that we would be able to have. Simply because “we do not need anything”.

But let´s face it: that is a big lie. It took me several years myself to disguise this self betrayal. But slowly a couple of tentative wishes start appearing again. Just how very difficult it was to articulate them!

Fear of rejection

Fear of shame is always a fear of rejection, too. Too many times we have made the experience that we could not “land” with our needs. Rüdiger Dahle, an Austrian holistic doctor, has found a prolific term for this: our shadow.

Our shadows are our under represented parts. And the total contrary of what we often claim vociferously.

I have always hated it to be dependent and to be obliged to ask or beg for something. Instead, I have advocated my wonderful independence. The truth was, though, that I was longing to be allowed to depend. In English this is called dependency need. In German, my mother language, strikingly there exists no word for this.

Wanting to be strong

The same I can say about being strong. I have also considered myself a strong woman. And I am one, I know that. But the shadow of this strong woman has only recently dared to come forward. My weak or vulnerable side. My need to just lean against a shoulder. No obligation to perform, proof or carry something. To the day I find it hard to say those things out loud. And the more rejection I fear, the more I hesitate to show myself.

When there is no way out other than flight

I have experienced this dynamic recently even with a dear friend. We have mutually touched on such vulnerable topics, our longings and wishes became so ruthlessly visible that only a break-off seemed to help.

And so we are both hiding in our seemingly safe trenches and don´t want any longer that the other one see us in our hurt and vulnerability. Because what we want seems completely unacceptable or -reachable. And at the same time there is my rising inner voice that just wants to end those stupid games. When I tried to reach out, she rejected. The wound (or shame) was (still) too big.


I find it hard to be vulnerable. And with a history of shame I am not only vulnerable, but also deeply wounded. If on top there are emotions because someone is extra special to us, it can easily become unbearable.

On the other hand I have repeatedly made the experience how deeply connecting it is to show my vulnerability and say: “If I am honest – this is what I am wishing for.”

It is tempting to run an attack instead. Me too, I was not able to refrain from that. The result is right in front of me. Is this what I truly wanted?

Want for reconciliation

No. My wish is to reconcile, to solve conflicts and misunderstandings. To be honest with each. But this is asking for some trust. Trust that not always comes easy.

In my opinion it is worth it to take that risk again and again. Step after step and well-considered. Not with everyone it is appropriate to pour one´s heart out. But we have those people. They are priceless.

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