The word “shame” may sound familiar, yet truly understanding what shame is can be difficult. When discussing emotional healing as well, it takes on deeper meaning than we’ve allowed ourselves to recognize or feel before.
I believe we often don’t realize what we’re truly experiencing is shame. Most of the time we think it’s low self-esteem, shyness, or just fear of doing things. Some of these emotions likely lead to feeling anxiety, but deep down what’s within us is this emotion of shame.
Let’s explore shame a bit more and reflect if what you feel is actually that. This helps start your journey of deep healing. Remember we can’t leave a place we’ve never been – if we don’t know what needs healing, how do we begin?
Shame is a painful feeling of inadequacy that seems to arise from believing we are flawed and disconnected from others. Yet shame wants to keep us isolated and alone, preventing connection where healing begins. By embracing vulnerabilities and recognizing shared humanity, light returns to the dark corners of the soul.
Talking about shame reduces its power over us. While hard to initially face, the freedom experienced without its heavy burden motivates continuing reflection. Small acts of bravery each day—through self-compassion and giving/receiving nonjudgmental support—shift perceptions that have held us back from joy. You’ve taken the first step. Keep walking.
What is Toxic Shame?
Shame is a powerful emotion that makes us feel exposed and unworthy. When we experience shame, we tend to hide, shrink ourselves, and try to become invisible. Toxic shame is an extreme form of shame that takes hold in our very being. It arises from a belief that there is something fundamentally flawed or wrong about who we are as individuals.
Toxic shame is a powerful force that often leads us to believe in lies such as “I am a bad person,” “I don’t deserve to be happy,” or “If people knew the real me, they wouldn’t love me.” This kind of shame can result in feelings of isolation, secrecy, and inadequacy, no matter how hard we try. What makes toxic shame so dangerous is that it can become part of our deepest identity, making us forget who we truly are beyond the feelings of worthlessness. It can damage our self-esteem, prevent us from accepting love, and make it difficult to recognize our own lovability.
Toxic shame can be defeated. By identifying the negative self-talk it generates, intercepting negative thoughts, and substituting them with kindness, we can regain control over this harmful inner critic. The process of transformation begins by bringing attention to the areas that need improvement and making the decision to no longer let them define us.
It is important to note that our emotional responses to situations are often subconscious. We do not consciously choose to feel a certain way, but rather our past experiences and any unresolved emotional wounds may cause our nervous system to react to present situations based on implicit memories..
Shame can cause us to experience fragmented thinking and speech patterns, such as long or awkward pauses, repeating words or phrases that we have already said, stuttering, inaudible speech, and unclear diction. These symptoms can make us feel like we have gone blank and are unable to find a way out of the situation.
We can detect feelings of shame when we frequently recall or contemplate an event or something we said. For instance, when we think about something we have said and feel like we should have remained silent, or said something else, or defended ourselves. Overthinking and analyzing our actions could also be a sign of toxic shame.
Shame is the warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, defective and never good enough. Brené Brown
Are guilt and shame the same thing?
Shame and guilt are closely related emotions that can lead to social dysfunction, anxiety, psychosomatic problems and self-destructive behaviors.
Shame and guilt are emotions that typically center on our self-image and the way we perceive our own character, whereas other emotions like anger, sadness, and joy are more closely associated with our interactions with the world and the people around us.
Shame and guilt are two emotions that are often felt together, but they have distinct differences. Shame is more focused on our internal sense of self, including our personality, mental functioning, and core identity. Guilt, on the other hand, is more related to our behavior and actions towards the external world.
Where does Toxic Shame Come From?
Any form of insecure attachment can have an impact in ourselves, generating toxic shame. It can stem from growing up in a toxic environment with emotional manipulation, or when parents resort to shame as a means of control to make children behave as desired.
When a child is abandoned, whether physically or emotionally, or has experienced neglect or abuse, or is rejected and severily criticized by family, they experience loss of self—leading to a deeply rooted sadness and potential for shame.
Nowadays, several parenting rules and methods may lead to shame in children. Parents can unintentionally cause emotional harm by employing love and praise as rewards, such as saying “if you behave this way then…”. Additionally, thinking that by ignoring children, their misbehavior will improve can also have a negative impact.
Emotional abuse, lack of boundaries, negligence, overprotection, parentifying roles, conditional approval, love as reward, violence as discipline, isolation, lying, manipulation, fear tactics, and public humiliation as discipline all contribute to fostering shame in children. Additionally, most children tend to blame themselves for the mistreatment they receive, feeling that they somehow deserved it. They often think that if they had behaved better, their parents wouldn’t have scolded or yelled at them. This behavior is an attempt to regain a sense of power and control.
It is common to blame ourselves and think that we could have done better or avoided a situation. This is because it feels easier than accepting that we had no control over it. However, this self-blame can turn into toxic shame if we internalize it.
The good news is that we can overcome toxic shame. By understanding our feelings, showing ourselves compassion, and building nurturing relationships, we can rediscover our true selves.
Effects of shame
Shame is a powerful emotion that can be difficult to endure. As a result, we often develop defense mechanisms to hide it. This can make it challenging for us to recognize the presence of toxic shame within ourselves, as it tends to be intertwined with other emotions that we are more conscious of feeling.
Some of the behaviors and beliefs that may limit us due to toxic shame are:
- It is possible that in adulthood we continue with behaviors that threaten our well-being and criticize ourselves ruthlessly. One way this happens is by developing an incessant inner critic.
- It is possible for negative beliefs about oneself to develop as a result of certain experiences. When shame is experienced regularly or constantly, it can lead to beliefs such as “I am worthless,” “I am stupid,” “I am not worthy of love,” “It’s all my fault,” and “I do not deserve.
- Behaviors that avoid connecting with inner reality can cause a person to become codependent, putting the needs of others before their own.
- Attempting to escape painful internal and external realities through addiction, such as alcohol, drugs, porn, shopping, work, or social media.
- They may blame, attack, and criticize others or become bullies in an attempt to avoid feeling helpless and powerless, seeing themselves as victims due to childhood experiences.
- Individuals who suffer from a sense of mistrust and/or feelings of inadequacy and incompetence may tend to isolate themselves from others by avoiding social situations. Although this may lead to feelings of loneliness, they don’t know how to break the pattern of isolation, which can then result in frustration, anger, and helplessness.
- Sensitivity to correction or criticism: easily embarrassed
- Defensive attitude: creating a wall between oneself and others; blocking criticism
- Tendency to be self-critical, hard on oneself, relentless.
- Perfectionism, in an attempt to avoid feeling ashamed or as a method of obtaining the approval or acceptance of others.
- Inability to speak up for yourself or say what you really want to say for fear of offending or hurting someone else, thereby risking further embarrassment.
- An excessive focus on achieving success and/or power in an attempt to gain control over others.
- Lack of motivation (inability to meet established goals and plans); confusion (inability to discover a career path or commit to a partner)
- Excessively high expectations of oneself and others.
It’s common to notice some of these behavior patterns and ways of thinking in our personal lives. However, it’s crucial to understand that these are normal responses developed by our nervous system and mind to protect us during challenging situations. This is particularly true during our formative years.
How to heal from toxic shame?
To begin healing from toxic shame, we must acknowledge that there are emotional wounds that need healing. This involves expressing our truth and connecting with our emotions. In addition, we need to involve our nervous system in the healing process to feel safe. Developing a practice of self-compassion is also essential in healing trauma and emotional wounds.
Some tips that will help you in this healing process are:
Recognize your emotions and start expressing them
One of the reasons why we may find ourselves trapped in a cycle of shame is because we try to conceal our emotions. Moreover, the fear of being judged and humiliated forces us to hide our feelings even more by denying them and thinking that they are insignificant. However, this only intensifies our shame and makes it even harder to overcome.
To break this cycle, the first step is to recognize when we feel shame or any related emotions, acknowledge them, and give ourselves the space to experience them.
We may also find it helpful to share our experiences with someone we trust, someone who provides a safe space for us to explore our emotions. Alternatively, therapy can also be a valuable resource in working through these issues.
Secrets and shame can be isolating and prevent us from seeking help, receiving support, and feeling understood.
Working with your negative beliefs
It is necessary to address the false beliefs that give rise to our feelings of shame. Although the thoughts we have might seem true, they are actually based on beliefs and behaviors that we adopted as children, the way they made us feel, emotional trauma, or things they told us.
When you identify these limiting beliefs, it is important to use techniques such as Havening (a method for eliminating negative emotions – video) to help you work with the emotions associated with that belief.
You can also practice positive self-talk, such as the example below, while performing the Havening exercise.
I didn’t cause problems in my family. No child is responsible for the abuse he suffered or the addiction, illness or actions of his parents. My feelings of unworthiness are based on false assumptions I made as a child based on those experiences. Over the years, I have searched for evidence to reinforce this belief. But now I can search and find evidence that I have good qualities, that I am enough, that I am valuable, and that I deserve love, acceptance, and happiness.
Shame can make us feel unworthy and unlovable, but that’s not the truth. It attacks our self-image, but we have the power to heal and change it.
One of the most effective ways to improve our self-image is to cultivate self-love and become comfortable with who we are. Practicing self-compassion is an excellent way to achieve this.
You can start treating yourself with kindness and respect. Here are some ideas:
- Remember to be kind to yourself.
- Try new things and challenge yourself.
- Be compassionate with yourself when you make mistakes.
- Acknowledge your progress and the effort you put in.
- Reward yourself with healthy treats, not just food, especially during difficult times.
- Take care of your physical health.
- Make time for enjoyable activities.
- Surround yourself with supportive people who make you feel safe.
- Use the Havening touch frequently, which helps generate oxytocin and regulate your nervous system.
- Allow yourself to rest.
You can heal shame
When shame is deeply ingrained in your beliefs, making you feel like you are not good enough, it can affect your self-image and how you view yourself. However, I assure you that it is possible to overcome this feeling.
I recommend taking a comprehensive approach to your healing process, including your mind, body, and spirituality. This will increase your chances of success and allow you to start living life to the fullest.
If you are searching for an effective method to heal emotionally, I invite you to contact me. I am happy to explain how I use psychosensory techniques and hypnosis to achieve profound change.