The underworld of toxic shame and how to release it
Like moss, shames grows in the dark. Vanquish it by bringing it into the light, Ross Rosenberg
Have you ever been in a relationship where you were forced to feel overwhelming guilt just for being you? Your partner made you feel as though you were flawed in such a way there was nothing you could ever do to fix yourself? Did you believe you were fortunate to be with this person although they treated you terribly? Have you finally broken free of the relationship but you’re not sure if you will find someone who ever understands you?
You’re not alone in your experience. This is the underworld of toxic shame – what toxic and abusive people use against their targets to isolate them, degrade their self esteem and cause them to undermine their self worth.
Many people have come to me to describe their experience with toxic shame and their struggles to release it and move forward. If your partner has subjected you to toxic shame, is causing you to doubt yourself until your self worth has evaporated, and you’re feeling isolated and confused about who you are and what you should do next, this blog is for you. This week, Happiness Weekly looks at how you can release toxic shame and move on with a happier and more fulfilling life than what you currently have.
What is toxic shame?
According to John Bradshaw toxic shame is: “The feeling of being flawed and diminished and never measuring up. Toxic shame feels much worse than guilt. With guilt, you’ve done something wrong, but you can repair that – you can do something about it. With toxic shame, there’s something wrong with you and there’s nothing you can do about it, you are inadequate and defective”.
Still unsure? People who experience toxic shame demonstrate the following behaviours:
– Irrational paralysing feelings of worthlessness, humiliation, self loathing
– Stopped identifying with themselves or lacking a sense of self
– Other people bring them more peace than they feel they could ever bring to themselves
– When they’re hurting they are very quick to disengage, disconnect or detach
– They are comfortable being abused and often don’t recognise it – friends may see it first
– They feel completely unlovable and less-than human
Toxic shame is what holds us in toxic and abusive relationships and prevents us from leaving and people who are targeting you will depend on it to hold you there.
Experts say toxic shame is linked to childhood traumas, and while I agree this could trigger toxic shame in adult life – I don’t think it’s essential to have a traumatic shaming childhood experience in order to suffer from toxic shame as an adult.
People who experience toxic shame will demonstrate the following behaviours:
– Lack of intimacy in relationships
– Poor communicator
– Engage in relationships with: non-productive circular fights, manipulation, games
– Vying for control
– Fear of anger – your own or someone else’s
– Ongoing short-term relationships (caused by a subconscious fear of people getting to close) and this can be demonstrated in romantic relationships or jumping from job to job
– Low self worth and confidence
– Prone to knee-jerk reactions to benign comments, inquiries or situations to attempt to maintain some control (Note: Coming out of an abusive relationship – this behaviour not an unusual experience and can be part of self-preservation following your experience)
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