What is toxic shame and how can it be overcome?

Shame is one of the self-conscious emotions, along with guilt and pride. It arises when we ourselves or others evaluate us critically and negatively, highlighting the failures. While we all experience this emotion at different times, when we speak of toxic shame the consequences are serious and limiting.

This emotion is not, in itself, negative. In fact, it plays an important role in alerting us that we have acted improperly. So it allows us to correct the course of our actions.

Partly, it is this feeling that allows life in society. However, when its presence is frequent and intense it can cause great suffering.

What is toxic shame?

We talk about toxic shame when that normal and fleeting feeling becomes a chronic pattern of reaction that affects the sense of self. That is, they no longer feel ashamed for a specific act that has been committed, but rather permeates the entire identity of the person, making them feel vulnerable, defective and inadequate.

Why happens?

Toxic shame begins to develop in childhood, as a result of the parenting style implemented by the parents. All children make mistakes and it is the task of adults to guide their behavior from understanding and respect.

When the fault of a child is pointed out, must be done with the intention of conveying that it is lawful to be wrong and guide you to a better way to proceed. However, this does not always happen.

Sometimes adults judge minors harshly, sending them messages that threaten their own identity. It is not the same to say "You have acted wrong at this time", what to affirm "you are bad".

In this way, the words they receive from their main reference figures become part of their own internal dialogue. Henceforth, it is the child himself who is harshly judged and considered unworthy.

The way in which mistakes are made to children determines the parenting style and the possibility that certain sentences are incorporated into the internal dialogue.

Possible Life Consequences of Toxic Shame

Toxic shame produces a feeling of inadequacy, a fear of being vulnerable and judged and a desire to hide or flee, so social relationships are usually the most affected aspect. Thus, the person is unable to be natural and to be fully involved with others.

In addition, since the person has a very negative image of himself, he does not feel worthy of success, respect or happiness. Therefore, you can end up tolerating harmful situations and relationships, missing multiple opportunities to advance in various aspects. In other words, toxic shame is a brake, a severe limitation.

On the other hand, due to the need to flee from the discomfort and discomfort that it generates, many people end up engaging in toxic behaviors and unhealthy habits. The use of alcohol or drugs is frequent, as a way to escape from that feeling and be less present with the shame itself.

How can it be overcome?

Toxic shame is a learned emotion, so it can also be unlearned and replaced by other more suitable patterns. To do this, it is essential to identify this self-critical internal dialogue and replace it with a more compassionate and realistic one.

When a thought of judgment or self-reproach arises, it is important to ask yourself if it is really true and if there is another, kinder way of interpreting the situation. The more we engage in this new style of thinking, the easier it will be for us to maintain it.

When to see a professional?

This simple-sounding guideline is not always easy to apply. Sometimes professional support is essential to get rid of this crippling embarrassment.

The time to seek help would be when We identify the discomfort and limitations that stem from that shame. That is, when it affects our academic, work or social performance or personal well-being.

A therapist can help discover and heal the origin of this emotion and provide guidelines to start living in a different way.

Keep reading: Tips to heal the wounds of the past

Tips to avoid toxic embarrassment

Repairing the mistakes in the relationships we have with others is a way to move towards combating toxic shame.

Childhood is the time to prevent the onset of toxic shame through respectful parenting. However, as adults, we will have to apply those same guidelines to ourselves, in order to correct the tendency to self-critical interpretation that we have been dragging along.

Thus, the main guidelines would be the following:

  • What is inappropriate is the specific behaviors, not the person. Carrying out this differentiation is essential to prevent shame from permeating identity.
  • Making mistakes is lawful and human. When this happens, instead of punishing ourselves, we can learn from the failure and act to repair the damage.
  • Self-compassion is essential to develop a friendly and functional internal dialogue. Take care of the words you dedicate to yourself and make a conscious effort to always treat yourself with love and respect.

Find out more: The value of accepting the mistakes made

Limitations can be worked

Toxic shame leads to self-demanding, self-critical, and perfectionist individuals who live trying to avoid judgment and punishment. This is an exhausting position that creates great suffering.

For the same reason, if you identify with the above, do not hesitate to seek professional support. It is never too late to heal, change and start living free of limitations.