It’s not wrong to feel ashamed about something, but it is wrong to harbor toxic shame. How can we stop doing this?

If you do something wrong, it’s perfectly normal to feel a little shame. But some of us struggle with the trap of unhealthy shame that always keeps us repeating past mistakes in our heads. Then this process causes damage to our self-esteem. One thing leads to another and then toxic shame takes over your entire life. This should never happen.

What is toxic shame?

Toxic feelings of shame come from an irrational place, producing feelings of worthlessness. This feeling can come from our mistakes, trauma that may not even be our fault at all, or even from events that span all the way back to our childhood. How do we know if we have shame and toxic habits? There are a few indicators that stick out like a sore thumb.

Signs of unhealthy shame

1. You wear masks

If you suffer from toxic shame, one of the most common things you will do is wear a mask to cover your true identity. It’s not a mask to cover your physical identity but a mask to cover who you are inside. The shame of this nature makes you feel like who you really are isn’t presentable for the public. So, you create a version of yourself that you think would look better to others.

2. You isolate yourself

Even ordinary shame will make you isolate yourself for a little while, but usually not for long. Most of the time regular shame fades a bit as friends and family support you while you forgive yourself.

With unhealthy shame, however, isolation can carry on for a long time, even after friends and family have tried to coax you out of your shell. If you’re isolating yourself from everyone and everything, you could be dealing with toxic shame from some source.

3. You won’t express yourself

Whatever happened to cause your shame, you refuse to speak about the situation. Usually, there is so much more than a linear story and much more than a concrete right and wrong. It’s important to express yourself when you’ve made mistakes or lived through traumatic events. It’s even more important to express yourself about childhood issues that have caused shame in adulthood.

4. You lie about many things

Toxic feelings of shame will make you lie because the truth is harder to accept. If you’re asked about various personal things, you will lie, not just by using denial, but also by fabricating the truth. By utilizing this behavior, you temporarily place a balm on your shame, which never lasts. If the shame is bad enough, you will continue to do this until you accept the truth for yourself.

5. Low self-esteem

It’s impossible to have positive self-esteem or good self-worth and toxic shame at the same time. Your negative feelings about yourself which have grown into an unrelenting shame will cause extremely low-self-esteem. If you have unhealthy shame, you will always put yourself down in front of others.

How can we get over feeling like this?

If you’ve already fallen victim to toxic shame, it’s not hopeless. Even if it originated from childhood trauma, you can still learn to defeat this self-defeating behavior. Because that’s exactly what it is. This behavior will eventually erode your entire view of yourself.

Being compassionate with yourself is one of the most important things to do in order to let go of unhealthy feelings. Keep in mind, that whatever happened, we are all human and imperfect, many of us are healing from something that victimized us or something we’ve done.

So cut yourself a little slack. The active way to start doing this is by using positive mantras about yourself. Every day say things like, “I am worthy”, “I am loved”, and “Someone needs me.”

Mindfulness, through things like meditation, reminds us about the truth. Toxic shame is actually the inability to take healthy responsibility for what happened if any responsibility even belongs to you. If not, then mindfulness can also help you realize how strong you are and how you can get through anything, even your past trauma. No matter how hard it is to understand, we are more resilient than we know.

Also, you can learn to turn that inner voice of shame into an expression of anger. No, it’s not healthy to express anger with violence, but it is healthy to understand that shame is an expression of being angry about your present feelings and your situation.

Toxic shame has got to go

The point here is, no matter what it takes, you have to learn how to put away those feelings of unwarranted shame. Whether it comes from childhood trauma, some mistakes you’ve made or more recent experience, adopting shame of a toxic nature will only make things worse, for you and for those you love and care about.

The best thing to do is to take responsibility for your actions and learn how to move on. That means creating a positive life for yourself, paired with a positive self-image.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Euclid

    There are many times that I have struggled with toxic shame and it almost always causes me to go in a downward spiral. This spiral is hard to get out of, but I agree that mindfulness works. Sometimes just realizing that it is a downward spiral is good motivation to turn it around instead of dwell in it.

    1. Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

      At some point, you will come to the realization that every single one of us has experienced something that’s made us feel ashamed. When this happens, you will start to heal from those toxic feelings you impose upon yourself. It will take time, but it comes if you stay strong. I almost drowned in regret and shame, but I had to remember that it might just be someone else who should take part of that shame, and not just me. Stay strong! Be safe.

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