Do You Suffer From Toxic Shame?
How to heal persistent self-reproach
Toxic shame derived in childhood has the power to stay with you for life. It can cause flashbacks and make forming healthy relationships difficult. It dents your self-esteem and may lead to depression and self-harm. In this article you’ll learn a technique to aid healing of your inner child, plus other ways to reduce the feeling of not being good enough.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!”
These words, or similar, are devastating when aimed at a child. They’re often accompanied by finger-pointing, name-calling, and more demeaning body language and accusations meant to create an impact.
Before shame, comes blame.
“You didn’t do what I asked.”
“Other people will suffer because you weren’t thoughtful.”
“You’re not good enough.”
“It’s your fault I am abusing you.”
“It’s what you deserve.”
What is toxic shame?
Shame that damages, causing deep wounds, begins in childhood. Initially, it’s triggered by someone you look to for care and comfort.
It’s perceived as a threat to survival because, when your caregiver or someone else you imagine is powerful and responsible for your wellbeing acts like they hate you, or abuses you, terror ensues.
Fearful thoughts arise:
“They might abandon me.”
“They have rejected me.”
“I am alone.”
“I’m unworthy of love.”
“I’m not as good as other people.”
“No one can love me.”
“I am less than…”
These thoughts embed themselves in your psyche and pop up throughout your life.
They influence your behavior, and as your behavior affects who and what you attract, a never-ending circle of painful relationships can follow.
Your inner self wants to heal and looks for similar hurtful relationships to those you experienced as a child. It wants to resolve issues and produce a better outcome, but gets stuck in a continual stream of abuse and unhappiness.
Unless, of course, you heal on the inside and show your psyche you’ve found a better way to deal with shame than experiencing it repetitively.
Your inner child
Your inner child isn’t a separate little being in your head; it’s the innocent, playful part of you that gets crushed by toxic shame. The result of shame on your inner child can be:
Fear of experiencing more shame
PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)
How to heal
There’s no magic cure, and healing takes time. What works best for someone else might not be the easiest route for you. Nonetheless, many methods that may help you exist.
The following are examples.
Be aware of toxic thinking
Toxic shame stimulates toxic thoughts that feed the fire of low self-esteem.
“I am unworthy.”
“I’m a failure.”
“I’ll never be good enough.”
“There’s no point trying.”
“No one wants to be with me.”
“Everyone is more attractive/brighter/funnier than me.”
You can’t stem the flow of shame-based thoughts unless you recognize them. Once you are aware of them, you can catch them as they arise and reframe them or challenge them.
To raise your awareness, note when you think or say something degrading. This includes self-talk, and words spoken aloud that put you down or make you appear less than good enough (like in the examples).
The more aware you are of disparagement, the easier taking control will be.
Reframe/ challenge negative thoughts
“I am unworthy.” Reframe and challenge as: “I deserve as much as anyone else.”
“I will fail.” Re-fame and challenge as: “I open my mind to possibilities. There’s a good chance I will succeed, and even if I don’t this time, I will be okay. I learn from my mistakes and they aid future success.”
“I’ll never be good enough.” Reframe and challenge as: “I am and always have been good enough. The feeling of not being good enough is just that, a feeling rather than a fact.”
“There’s no point trying.” Reframe and challenge as: “It’s always worth trying, doing so is the only way to succeed.”
“No one wants to be with me.” Reframe and challenge as: “I am not a mind reader, so I don’t know what other people want. They might want to be with me.”
“Everyone is more attractive/brighter/funnier than me.” Reframe and challenge as: “At present, I can’t see the real me, so I’m unable to assess myself or make comparisons. Most likely, others see me in a more positive light than I see myself.”
You might think of better ways to reframe and challenge negative thoughts. These examples are just ideas.
Connect with your inner child
No doubt, you have flashbacks to painful memories, and in many of them, you see yourself as a child being shamed. Your mind takes you back to difficulties because it wants you to heal. It supports healing and is open to helpful therapeutic techniques.
As a certified counselor, hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner I’ve sometimes combined my knowledge and experience to help people work with their inner child.
Here’s an example that might help you too.
Adding your adult-self’s wisdom to a painful childhood memory
Note: You may want a friend to support you as you carry out the exercise. If you take turns, do so on separate days. Make the individual in the hot seat the focus of attention so full-support is available.
It’s often useful, and healing, to observe painful memories rather than fight them. Usually, you become absorbed in them and battle with them.
But this time, when you recall a memory, begin an inner dialogue; one you control rather than controls you. Or, if you’re with a friend, speak aloud. Observe what you see and feel as though you are witnessing the scene.
“I am three years old. My father’s shouting at me. I am afraid. I don’t think he loves me. I don’t know what to do.”
Instead of imagining you are in the body of your child-self view the memory from above or to the side so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
When you are part way through the memory, freeze the scene on the screen of your mind, but imagine the child-you in the scene can turn to you and speak.
Ask the child-you what he/she needs. Maybe it’s reassurance? A hug? To be told daddy is ill and not in control of what he’s saying?
Swoop into the frozen scene with your imagination and support your child-self. Let him/her know you survived the episode and are ready to heal. Say your adult-self cherishes your child-self and will always be there for him/her.
Now float back out of the scene as an observer and picture your child-self grow tiny and place him/her in your heart, and open your eyes.
Jot what happened in a journal and make observations.
You may recognize why you experience specific relationship patterns or repeat negative thoughts, for instance, and work toward positive change.
The great thing about acts of self-care is they gradually change you from the inside out, even when you don’t yet feel you love yourself much when you carry them out.
For the best results, do them every day at a particular time so you don’t forget, plus other times you feel the urge to do them.
Do something wonderful for yourself you would usually only consider doing for another person.
You might prepare a three course meal just for you, complete with wine and candles. Or massage your feet, neck, hands, and shoulders with essential oil.
Or buy yourself a present, if you can afford it, or make yourself something. A painting, or write a poem perhaps?
Set aside time every day for self-praise too. (Use self-talk, or write praise in your journal).
“I perked up my neighbor when I smiled and complimented her today.”
“Even though I was tired, I did a great job.”
“I’ve done everything I set out to do!”
“For a while today, I experienced a sense of peace and calm.”
“I was in a funk, but got myself out of it!”
“I noticed the beautiful flowers and birdsong outside my window this morning.”
Note I include positive observations to celebrate and praise. You want to highlight all positive behaviors and thoughts you wish to repeat.
Toxic shame is damaging and seems permanent, but you can heal. Practice the suggested methods and your self-esteem will rise. Don’t forget to enlist the support of a good friend or a professional if it helps.
Copyright © 2019 Bridget Webber. All rights reserved