What we hear of as toxic shame is something more acute than common shame; it happens when you are overtaken by mighty loathing of yourself because you are dead sure you are no good at all. Those laboring under toxic shame believe they are totally unworthy. This unshakable feeling often incurs counterproductive behaviors like perfectionism, procrastination, and others. People are apt to fall under others’ dismissive attitudes, and when they hear a lot of derogation directed at them, they begin to believe it. Especially if derogation started when they were teens or pre-teens and were much more susceptible to this kind of treatment.
What makes shame turn toxic?
Actually, shame is a common feeling that accompanies us over all our life. It can be long-running or lasting just an hour or two. It may be caused by various reasons – it becomes toxic when it is the aftermath of having been told that you are good for nothing many times over and over. This kind of talk gets registered in your brain.
Toxic shame can start in the way you were given feedback for certain incidents as a child, usually by a parent. For example, if you wet the bed, your parent might have reacted in one of two ways:
Ever since your childhood, your parents must have been commenting on your actions and on everyday incidents – and could have initiated the toxic kind of a shame. Thus, the parents’ response to your wetting your bed could have been as follows:
- either they told you it was no big deal and put things in order quietly,
- or they yelled at you, claiming that it was what you always did and that something must be badly wrong.
If you experienced a lot of the second kind of reaction, you could have been led to think that things were not going right with you. As it goes on and your belief gets stronger, your shame turns into toxic shame. There are quite a lot of remarks that can assist in the process; some examples of them are:
- “You’re wrong because you do it like you shouldn’t.”
- “How could you not even think what you were doing?”
- “You can’t do it well at all. They are better than you.”
Hearing these and the like remarks on a regular basis, youngsters can grow up in the belief that they are unworthy of the parents’ affection. This belief can be highly detrimental to people’s mental development.
Here are some features that can help distinguish between the common kind of shame and toxic shame:
- a perception of self that is negatively tainted
- the feeling of shame is fiercer than usual and doesn’t die down quickly
- the idea of your inadequacy persists
- there is an ongoing inner dialogue of a very negative nature
- instead of thinking that it was a mistake to do this, you tell yourself that you are unworthy
- the expectation of incurring shame and attempts to avoid it
- driven along not so much by events as by negative thoughts
- the unrelenting feeling of being ineffective
- the unrelenting concern over what other people may think
- worrying that you may look foolish
- as you are afraid to botch, you try to avoid it indulging in perfectionism
- incessant negative inner dialogue
- flaring up when finding yourself in shameful situations
Why toxic shame is so pernicious
Toxic shame can generate two widespread symptoms:
Social withdrawal. When overcome by shame, we feel unworthy, and the predominant wish is to fade away and not be seen. People want to become small and shut themselves in from anyone else.
Furious outbursts. Since shame brings on emotional distress, the anguish can make you get excited and let your anger out.
Besides, toxic shame can be found to accompany such conditions as:
- substance abuse,
- poor self-respect,
- troubled sleep or sleeping too much
- belly pains
- overeating or lack of appetite
- inflicting injuries on oneself.
Ways to free yourself of toxic shame
Toxic shame can be dispensed with by changing your frame of mind. These techniques are based on developing self-compassion. Some pieces of advice how to set about it can be found below.
Recognize your feelings and thoughts
The very first thing to do once you’ve decided to get rid of toxic shame is to recognize our feelings and acknowledge them. The only stipulation is they shouldn’t be judged. We know that the shame should be active and we expect to encounter it at work.
Find out the underlying reasons
The essential way to treat your feelings is, first of all, to understand their nature. There was something that led up to your feeling shame in the first place. Some underlying mistakes and blemishes must be there; they may have been very dramatic ones, but still, everyone is entitled to do their portion of mistakes. You have to accept the fact.
When you fall into the habit of observing your feelings, aid yourself by practicing meditation and preserving a mindful state. Without reacting to your feelings at once, meditate on them, seeking a better understanding.
Be honest with yourself about experiencing shame
If you learn to stay mindful, you will know when the shame is on the verge of overflowing. As soon as you become aware of it, speak about it with a trusted person. Let them know about your shame to make it lose its acuteness.
Get to know what triggers your shame
You can feel the onrush of shame in the presence of certain people, in particular situations, or from thinking about certain topics. If given to writing these factors down, you can analyze and classify them, recognizing the triggers that affect your state. Then you can understand better how to deal with your shame.
Keep your thoughts under control
Toxic shame can call for an instant reaction. Don’t allow it to happen; make a pause and examine your thoughts and possible responses, checking them for extremity and social acceptability.
As you are sifting through your thoughts, identify negative inner dialogue and offer a challenge. Begin to ask questions like “Can I believe that this is what is really happening?” or “What if there are other interpretations of the situation?”
This is what you do to reframe your thoughts – look around for evidence that you can interpret the current situation positively. By finding the relevant evidence and using some techniques, you will be able to build up an optimistic construction of the way things are shaping.
Get expert help
If you are overwhelmed with onrushes of toxic shame, sharing your experience with somebody can help you a lot. Listening to professional advice you can get to the bottom of your emotions and work out strategies addressed at your personal emotional disturbances. Make use of psychodynamic therapy to reach a blissful state of inner peace.