What Is Toxic Shame?

Toxic shame is a feeling that you’re worthless. It happens when other people treat you poorly and you turn that treatment into a belief about yourself. You’re most vulnerable to this type of poor treatment during childhood or as a teen. When you feel toxic shame, you see yourself as useless or, at best, not as good as others.

What’s the Difference Between Shame and Guilt?

These two emotions are often confused with one another. You feel guilt when you know that you did something wrong. It can be a helpful emotion when maintaining relationships. Guilt can keep you on track when you’ve drifted from your moral standards.

But you feel shame when you believe you’re not enough, usually because parents or peers keep telling you so. Your confidence suffers from this deep-seated emotion that affects the way you see yourself.

Guilt tells you, “That thing you did was wrong.” Shame tells you, “Because you did that thing, you’re a bad person.”

How Does Shame Become Toxic?

You probably have felt and will continue to feel shame at various times in your life. Shame can last a few hours or even a few days.

Toxic shame, though, comes from constantly being told you’re not enough. It results in negative self-talk that stays with you.

The Dangers of Toxic Shame

Shame is behind these two common symptoms:

  • Withdrawal. You might want to curl up in a ball and disappear when you feel shame. Shame makes us feel like we’re not good enough, and all we want to do is hide away.
  • Anger. Because you feel emotional pain, you become angry to try to aim your pain away from yourself.

Toxic shame has also been linked to substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm. You may also become a perfectionist or have unrealistic expectations in your attempt to avoid being shamed again.

How to Recover From Toxic Shame

It’s possible to overcome toxic shame and change the way you think. Self-compassion is key to the process.

Face the root of your shame. It’s important to understand and examine your feelings.

Become aware of how you talk to yourself. Try to observe your own thoughts but not react to them.

Have compassion for yourself. Everyone has flaws and makes mistakes. Learn from the past, but don’t get stuck in it.

Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation can work wonders as you learn to observe your thoughts. Feeling shame forces you to react, so it can be very powerful to just notice your thoughts and question them.

Recognize when you’re feeling shame. Mindfulness can help alert you to when you’re feeling shame. Shame thrives in dark places, so shine a light on it and watch its power fade away.

‌Seek support. A support network can give you an outlet to talk things out when necessary and boost your sense of belonging.

Excerpted from “What Is Toxic Shame?” on WebMD. Read the full article online for additional details.

Source: WebMD | What Is Toxic Shame?, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-toxic-shame | © 2021 WebMD, LLC
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