Month: November 2018
What is Toxic Shame?
When shame becomes toxic, it can ruin our lives. Everyone experiences shame at one time another. It’s an emotion with physical symptoms like any other that come and go, but when it’s severe, it can be extremely painful. Strong feelings of shame stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, causing a fight/flight/freeze reaction. We feel exposed and want to hide or react with rage, while feeling profoundly alienated from others and good parts of ourselves. We may not be able to think or talk clearly and be consumed with self-loathing, which is made worse because we’re unable to be rid of ourselves. We all have our own specific triggers or tender points that produce feelings of shame. The intensity of our experience varies, too, depending upon our prior life experiences, cultural beliefs, personality, and the activating event. Unlike ordinary shame, ‘internalized shame’ hangs around and alters our self-image. It’s shame that has become ‘toxic,’ a term first coined by Sylvan Tomkins in the
Source: What is Toxic Shame?
Shame v. guilt
Shame v. guilt
PSAs and psychology papers alike tend to treat shame and guilt as one emotional state. And there aresimilarities. Both are negative and self-focused. Both arise from doing something bad and then realizing you are responsible.
But they are also different in important ways. “Guilt and shame are very intense negative emotions,” Agrawal says. “They can drive us into depression and anger and all sorts of complex behaviors. And we’re seeing more of them in our society. But we don’t understand them very well.”
Her work is defining and distinguishing the related emotions, while offering positive ways of coping with them. According to Agrawal, guilt is a negative emotion in response to a particular instance of regrettable behavior. Shame is negative emotion associated with one’s overall identity.
“Guilt is easily fixed by taking positive actions,” Agrawal explains. “But shame is not so easily erased. It tells you, ‘I am bad and I will always do bad things.’ In this case, avoidance is sometimes the only solution.”
Shame is a more complex emotion than disgust, because unlike disgust, shame is an inherently social emotion that depends on an awareness of social relationships before it can occur. It is impossible for a newborn baby to experience shame because a newborn has no concept of a social world yet. There’s just the baby’s needs and that is pretty much it. Only through gradual interaction, frustration and slow social-emotional development does a baby eventually realize that it is a separate being from other people. It is only after this realization of self as part of a web of social relationships that shame can occur.
Challenge Shame-Based Thoughts
Choose a specific thought that you’d like to work with, such as I’ll never find a job or If this relationship ends, I’ll never get over it. Then challenge this thought by asking any of the following questions:
- Is this thought really true?
- How do I know it’s true?
- What is the evidence for this thought?
- What is the evidence against this thought?
- Can I think of any times when this thought has not been true?
- Is this thought helping me or hurting me?
- Who would I be if I let go of this thought?
- What could I do if I let go of this thought?
- Am I willing to release this thought?
- What’s the worst that could happen if I let go of this thought? Can I live with that?
Excerpted from the e-book How to Change Your Thinking about Shame: A Hazelden Quick Guide. Published by Hazelden, 2012. Visit the Hazelden bookstore for more information.
Overcoming Shame-based Thinking
When we consciously articulate these shame-based thoughts, we might be shocked at their severity. In Letting Go of Shame, Ronald Potter-Efron and Patricia Potter-Efron list the following examples:
- I am defective (damaged, broken, a mistake, flawed).
- I am dirty (soiled, ugly, unclean, impure, filthy, disgusting).
- I am incompetent (not good enough, inept, ineffectual, useless).
- I am unwanted (unloved, unappreciated, uncherished).
- I am weak (small, impotent, puny, feeble).
- I am bad (awful, dreadful, evil, despicable).
- I am pitiful (contemptible, miserable, insignificant).
- I am nothing (worthless, invisible, unnoticed, empty).
Shame develops as the slow, relentless accumulation of such thoughts–one self-insult at a time, delivered to ourselves over weeks, months, and years. Notice that each of the previous statements starts with the words I am. This reinforces our definition of shame as a state of being that goes far beyond anything we do or fail to do.
Here is something to consider, though: shame (closely related to guilt and regret) is an essential part of our survival and functioning and, in fact, is a gift from Mother Nature.
Let’s back up here a bit and first talk about the functions of emotions generally. Emotions are hardwired into our brains and help to warn us, facilitate connections to other people, and work through challenges. “Positive” emotions such as joy, pride, and love tend to feel good, while “negative” emotions such as anger, shame, and sadness tend to cause discomfort. It is easy to want to push away and avoid the “negative” emotions, but it is important to note that both types of emotions are necessary in order to function in the healthiest way possible.
Now let’s get back to our friend, shame. Shame’s function is pretty important. Basically, it helps to keep us in check. Shame is a signal that there has been some sort of action that could harm others or ourselves. This could be an action that hurts a relationship with a loved one, something that could get us in trouble somehow, or a behavior that would be dangerous or harmful to us.
As an anger management specialist, I’ve witnessed the powerful impact that shame can have in fueling anger arousal as an adult. Some direct their anger outward, while others focus it inward. Each moment of anger directed in this manner can provide a powerful distraction from experiencing shame or the feelings that may accompany it. Shame, like guilt and embarrassment, involves negatively judging ourselves when we believe we’ve failed to live up to either our own standards or the standards of other people (H. Lewis, 1971).
Recall a time when you experienced shame, whether it was a reaction to judgment by others or your own. You most likely experienced intense discomfort, feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness and the desire to hide (M. Lewis, 1995). And you most likely felt anger toward others or with yourself.
Shutting Shame Down – Experience Life
Shame used to run my life, out of a need to constantly prove myself,” says Roberts, now a counselor and author of Movers, Dreamers, and Risk Takers: Unlocking the Power of ADHD (Hazelden, 2012). “Now I can identify shame and allow it to pass through me without getting trapped in it.” Today he leads shame-recovery groups, in which the biggest reward, he says, is being able to help others out of their own shame spirals.
Shame – Courage Coaching
Shame is caused by negative messages. The shame I am highlighting in this video is caused by dysfunctional parents. Shame is insidious and can have detrimental effects on the way we view ourselves and others.
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