What does healing from toxic shame entail?

September 23, 2022

Toxic shame is an overpowering feeling where no other feelings such as care or compassion are felt simultaneously. In order to cope with such intensity, we are left to create a strong identity known as the false self. If you carry within yourself a feelings of being unlovable, flawed or defective, you will try to make up for those feelings by using this false self.

How do I know if I'm living off of a false self?

  1. Denial about what happened in the past or fantasy about getting all needs met. This may result in having difficulty distinguishing relationships that are unhealthy such as chasing after an unreciprocated relationship 
  2. Learned to “numb out” and  living in this state as an adult on an ongoing basis, this may involve a difficulty experiencing a vast array of feelings that include happiness, sadness, fear, hope, etc
  3. Dissociation and forgotten memories. The body remembers but the mind has a difficult time remembering why the body feels the way it does
  4. Projecting your feelings onto others

For example, Peter witnessed his father physically abuse his sister. Peter was a young child as well, and felt hopeless to protect her. Peter now as an adult carries toxic shame for not being able to protect her, despite shame not belonging to him in the first place, but to his father. This consuming guilt and shame eats at him day by day, as he tucks in his daughter to bed. One day, his daughter brings up that she would like mom to tuck her in, instead. Peter, now triggered by his old toxic shame of not feeling enough, lashes out to his daughter stating it is a mean request and shames her for being spoiled. This does not come from Peter’s true self, but from a wounded inner child that is still alive in the form of shame inside. Had he had a chance to heal this toxic shame and grieve what happened in his childhood, he might have had more access to feelings of compassion and nurturance. Not just for his daughter but also for himself in the human experience of feeling flawed when his daughter asks for his mother instead of him.

If you carry within yourself a notion of being unlovable, flawed or defective, you will try to make up for those feelings by using this false self

This is also why any intimate relationship will include some level of healthy shame. Rarely, if ever, do people enter in a relationship completely healed and healthy. Most of the time there’s a lot of work to be done. Which is why you will often hear mental health teachers invite their clients to look for a relationship - it can be a powerful vehicle for healing. When both individuals are aware of their mistakes and willing to work through difficulties in themselves, they will also have humility to appreciate the other’s mistakes. This leads to unconditional love, which is one of the most healing sources in our lives. If I accept myself with kindness and compassion, I will forgive, love and accept the other as they, too, learn to be better. This is something a narcissistic personality is unable to do as they are unable to recognize they were wrong and experience a level of shame that is accompanied by compassion. This, as a result, invites them to lash out or project their mistakes onto someone else.

For example, going back to the case of Peter, if he has any sense of self awareness or ongoing introspective work, he will find time to discuss what happened with his daughter. This may look like this “when you asked about mom, daddy felt sad because it reminded him of a time he did not feel enough. I am really sorry for calling you spoiled." What Peter would've instead worked on, is feeling more comfortable with the sadness and grief that came up for him, and through his own self-compassion, thanked his daughter for asking for what she needed. This repair, although not ideal from the get go, can create a strong father-daughter bond where they both feel safe to make mistakes and repair.

This post is not intended as advice, guidance or therapy in any way as is for entertainment purposes only.

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