We all experience shame, as it is a core human emotion, such as guilt. Both emotions’ purpose are to serve us good, for shame is like your barometer for not indulging in too much pleasure and keep us at bay, reminding us that we are not super-human, but infinite human beings. Guilt is our guidance to address behaviors that does not serve us, learn from it and take correction steps on our journey forward. It is when our shame or guilt is not dealt with in an appropriate healthy ways, that it became toxic. It became harmful and fatal to our whole being on all levels of our lives.
“Toxic shame can be defined as a humiliating, painful emotion, responding to a sense of being a total failure, never good enough and not worthy as a human being. It triggers feelings that you are undeserving of any good, love, joy happiness and are unacceptable and unlovable as human being”
“The difference between shame and guilt can be defined that shame is focused on real or imagined ‘defects/flaws’ of self, while with guilt the focus is externally focused on unacceptable behavior according to social or personal norms”.
Toxic shame arises from critical thought patterns directed at self, valuating self as “outright bad, not deserving of appreciation as human being, and flawed to the core” It thrives on patterns of self-loathing, de-valueing self, being rejected, condemned, isolatedness, hopelessness, powerlessness – an urge to hide or die when your perceived flaws may or are unexpectedly exposed.
Toxic shame creates feelings of fear, anger, blame, grief, loss,rejection, confusion, feeling trapped, acting out in social and personal unacceptable ways, which creates more shame.
These acting out sessions can take any form of unexpected anger outbursts, compulsive and addictive behaviours, to numb the pain.
These toxic patterns are adopted and embedded at a very young age, and have the tendency to accumulate ‘evidence’ through the years to confirm the perceived truth of it. In an attempt to hide these shamefull feelings and self, you create various personalities and identities to hide behind. You try to escape from being perceived by others and yourself as ‘not a good parent, useless with money, sucking with relationships, a bad lover, such a sinner, and so you can add to the list.
You became trapped in identity patterns that prescribe: “Who you should be, what you should be, and how you should be…” These expectations you try to meet is usually so extreme that it is humanly impossible to live by! You either try to over-compensate by being always perfectionistic, or to the extreme other end of the continuum by de-human yourself to the identity of ‘useless worm’! You deny yourself the freedom and permission to be less than perfect and may make mistakes.
Our cultural, social expectations, the media and religious associations are so imminent, and causes us more shame in terms of contradictive expectations and what is good-looking, bad-looking, what’s appropriate or not, (all humanly created and followed by the letter) This expectations makes it is very difficult to brake this toxic cycle, because we all have the need to belong to and feel connected to the people we interact with.
If you resonate with the above, I want to encourage you, to take action to change these patterns. You are much more worth and deserve to live life in emotional freedom.
But how can you transform toxic shame to healthy shame?
To become aware of your shame triggers – those situations that causes you to feel shame, like ‘I don’t want to be seen as……., or I’d rather die before…, what will they say if I …, what will they think if I…’
Listen and be aware of your self-talk and language to decipher your triggers.
To acknowledge and address your shameful feeling when it arises, and if possible tell the person you interacting with, that you feel belittled when he/she says or does what-ever it was that hurt your feelings.
Take courage to accept, go through and beyond your vulnerability, and talk about your true feelings to a significant other; it does not have to be your spouse, but it should be a person with empathy who will listen and hear without judgment.
Find a therapist or life coach who you can trust and help you reveal your shame triggers and feelings and deal with it in more supportive ways.
Till next time,