Shame & Toxic Shame

It’s A Shame We Are Ashamed

Shame is taking a leading role in society today, both on a personal and global basis. The increase in shame is directly related to the modern world’s increased connectivity through TV, social media and the internet. Shame described in the dictionary as:

A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.

Nearly every person on the planet has experienced or will experience this negative emotional state. For most people, it’s an uncomfortable temporary feeling that passes in a short time, maybe after making some changes or apologies. This negative emotion, at the core of their being, is implanted in childhood and continues into adulthood. An ongoing sense of shame is debilitating for the person who experiences it. Like sulphuric acid, shame destroys the person from the inside out and tarnishes their whole existence.

What causes shame?

Shame can is caused by many factors such as personal traumatic experiences like abuse, cultural law and practices, religious expectations, social media and lots of other reasons. We are currently living in a blame and shame culture in the West where people and businesses are ‘cancelled’ mass media shaming of celebrities happens daily. Character assassination through online and offline media outlets is now the norm. External experiences or internal attitudinal processes can cause shame.

Shame can include one or more of the below emotional negative attributes:

•  Inadequacy – Inferiority, not enough, lacking, less than, a sense of being wrong

•  Humiliation – Embarrassment, disgrace, degradation, loss of face

•  Guilt – I’m at fault 

•  Remorse – Regret

When shame becomes toxic

Toxic shame is when we have internalised shame at the core of our being. Shame suffocates any goodness and self-worth one might feel and is an excruciating negative emotional state in its toxic form. It makes us recoil from the world around us and promotes unhealthy reactions to others and circumstances. Shame fosters the growth of a hole in the soul feeling

The brain interprets shame as a crisis.

When we feel shame, the brain reacts as if we are in a crisis. Shame activates the autonomic nervous system, which causes a fight or flight or freeze reaction. When internalised, toxic shame can turn into self-loathing with all its attributes such as self-blame, self-condemnation, and mental/emotional self-flagellation. This negative internalisation of shame is called ‘Toxic Shame Syndrome’, a term used by Silvan Tomkins in his shame theory.

When a person suffers from toxic shame, they are blocked from any joy, happiness and freedom in life. The mental/emotional filters they use to discern life are discoloured and warped, turning everyday living into a personal verification of their wrongness as human beings.

“Toxic Shame leads a person to feel unlovable and undesirable …” – Paul Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at the University of Derby

6 Powerful Techniques To Combat Standard and Toxic Shame

If you are suffering from shame and would like to get rid of this negative emotional and mental state, you will find below 6 potent tools, techniques and actions that will help to combat standard and toxic shame and create a sense of overall personal wellbeing.

Powerful Personal Techniques to Reduce Shame:

  1. Meditation – by practising meditation for just 10 minutes a day, you can help release shame. Meditation is a potent tool that can be used by people who are experiencing standard and toxic shame. Ten minutes a day, practising meditation will aid in calming you emotionally and mentally while creating a sense of peace and ease within. Meditation can help you throughout the day with long-lasting effects that can help alleviate shame. Check out this simple meditation guide for people who feel ashamed.
  1. Name The Shame – Dr. Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, states “If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.” With focused awareness, we start to become aware of the sense of shame when it arises and look at it closely. Name it for what it is ‘shame’, in doing this you are bringing this negative state into the light. Shame thrives in darkness and secret and diminishes in the full view of conscious awareness. The more we practice naming our shame when it appears, the less power it has. As part of this practice, try to share the sense of shame you have experienced that day with other people, which will decrease its power.
  1. Positive Self Talk – the words we use in self-talk significantly impact the way we feel about ourselves. If we are continually berating and putting ourselves down, we build on the negative self-image we have and feed the shame inside. We must combat this negative self-talk immediately and replace it with positive affirmative self-talk. Affirmative self-talk takes effort but is a potent and worthwhile tool when it comes to fighting shame. Whenever you catch yourself in negative self-talk, put the effort in to change the dialogue into a positive one. For example, “I’m such an idiot…” change to “I’m a perfect human being that grows from making mistakes…”. Replacing negative self talk with positive and affirming self-talk gradually imprints on the brain and becomes a healthy way of thinking/reacting, thus creating feelings. At first, you have to put effort into doing this, without any real belief and motivation behind it, but the more you practise this self-loving skill, you will find the confidence and motivation will follow.

  2. Writing – start a daily journal/diary and write about the shame you feel and have experienced in the day. Jot down any triggers related to the experience and try to trace back the origin of the shame you have felt. By starting to write about your emotional and mental wellbeing throughout the day, you will be engaging in a positive self-dialogue and analysing any shame experiences. This form of journal writing will help you be more reflective about how you feel and bring your emotional and mental state more into the light of your consciousness. In doing this, you will be empowering yourself and decreasing the power of negative-feelings through the cutting light of awareness. The more you do this, the more you will be released from the bondage of shame.

Powerful Techniques Used Working With Others To Tackle Toxic Shame:

  1. Individual Therapy – toxic shame syndrome requires more effort and more involved introspection than standard external shame. Toxic shame is internalised at the very centre of the person and will need some expert and professional help to analyse and dispel this debilitating state. Two forms of individual therapy to help deal with toxic shame are CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which reveals the relationship between beliefs, thoughts, and feelings, and the behaviours that follow. Individual therapy can help the person suffering from toxic shame to discover, analyse and remedy shame-based thoughts, feelings and actions. Another excellent one-on-one treatment for people with toxic shame is CFT (Compassion Focussed Therapy), which helps promote mental and emotional healing by encouraging people with shame and who are self-critical to be compassionate toward themselves.
  1. Group Therapy – although it might feel scary to take part in group therapy, it is a fast way to combat standard and toxic shame. Taking part in group therapy with fellow shame sufferers allows you to identify with others and gain hope. Group therapy breaks the sense of isolation and alienation that shame creates by joining you with other people experiencing the same sense of poor self-image as you. As there will be different levels of recovery within the group members, some further along the lines of recovery, you can gain a sense of hope and support.

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