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Toxic shame is life destructive and is the root of many mental-health problems.
Often in life, we become ashamed of our very being; ashamed of who we are at our core. We feel unworthy, less than, undesirable, and unlovable. We don’t want to be the person that we are, rejecting ourselves from the inside as not good enough or important enough, creating a deep self-hatred.
Shame is the root of many mental-health problems.
The common feeling that comes out of toxic shame is the fear that people will reject you once they know the real you. That is why shame based personalities will openly tell people how bad they are (sharing their view of their “badness”) just to get it out of the way and then go on with their lives.
There is a strong feeling that one would die if revealed to others or themselves. Shame based personalities have this feeling of being small and insignificant, often resulting in bowed heads, trying to cover their “unworthiness”, and avoiding any eye contact.
They even try to hide their shame from themselves, because the very feeling of shame makes them feel sensations of disgrace.
But by covering shame and painful emotions, we cut ourselves off from good feelings too. We cut ourselves from our true identity. With deeply shamed based personalities, it’s sometimes impossible to know who they truly are. The saddest part is that these individuals don’t know how to have any contact with themselves.
Shame keeps us from being alive, awake, and present in our own bodies and lives.
Where does it all start?
A child being shamed for his inability to do perform a task is told that he is a disappointment and that he should be aware of his failure. A vicious circle is created: the child will continue to fail the more often he is put down, causing him to fall deeper into shame. The more he feels ashamed of his character, the more he will try to dissociate from the event.
When being repeatedly or traumatically shamed in childhood, with caregivers that are more harsh than warm and loving, it is easy for a child to develop a strong vulnerability to feeling shame. The child sees everything as proof of his own “badness”. This eventually leads to living a life as though truly defective and worthless. The more unworthy we take ourselves to be, the more we will seek some sort of compensation, trying to distance ourselves from this strong underlying feeling of unworthiness.
Unfortunately, many of us unaware of the deep impact that shaming can have when we use this approach because someone has failed our expectations. The more the other side tries to measure up the more he fails.
But this is a proof that much of the shame comes from failing to meet others’ expectations, which later on leads to shame from failing our own, very often unrealistic expectations. This also shows that in the core of the need to be perfect lies nothing else but toxic shame.
Shame based personalities either choose to be overachievers or underachievers.
Toxic shame creates an extremely harsh inner critic that is absolutely merciless towards oneself. Unfortunately, being merciless very often and very easily pushes shame to mutate into aggression. Being angry at ourselves for being less than, is often times triggered by not meeting our own expectations. Since we treat others the way we treat ourselves, that aggression commonly becomes externalized and directed to others.
Aggression related shame can be transformed into guilt, with the constant need to punish ourselves, into withdrawal or dissociation.
Our unworthiness is a lie
Growing up believing that we are defective, we build up an emotional defence system based on external qualities which sole purpose is to keep hidden our defective self.
It is a picture of our “I am worthy” self: looks, success, pleasing people, righteousness, independence, etc. Although in a way dishonest presentation of ourselves this image is still based on some true aspects of who we are but exaggerated and twisted in order to match the impact of toxic shame. This is how we create reasons to feel a bit better about ourselves.
How to heal from shame?
The journey to overcoming toxic shame is all about self-acceptance and self-love. You have to be brave enough to allow yourself the vulnerability to acknowledge your shame and sit with it for a while before we proceed to heal it completely. Seek the help of a therapist, or a professional. Most importantly, stop believing your harsh inner critic.
“We do not need fixing. We are not broken. Our sense of self, our self-perception, was shattered and fractured and broken into pieces, not our True Self.” – Robert Burney “Codependence: The dance of wounded souls”
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