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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Toxic Shame and How To Heal It

Have you ever had a shame attack? That feeling of being a bad person and it just hits you out of nowhere? Something will trigger a memory from your past and all of a sudden you're feeling terrible?

It happened to me the other day. I was at work and I was suddenly triggered to remember a terrible relationship I engaged in as a teenager. I was suddenly stunned with shame at the fact that I allowed my self to date someone who treated me so horribly. I immediately felt sick to my stomach and had the thought "how could I have been so stupid". I felt sad and embarrassed and just "bad". It took me about 30 minutes to remember....I am a healthy happy person now. Whew, I hate when that happens.

Having this shame attack last week prompted me to write a little about shame. I hope it can help someone else heal their shame. Luckily, I was able to pull myself out of it rather quickly. Unfortunately, some people live in the trap of toxic shame every day.

Toxic shame is an intense and private pain that is rooted in blaming yourself unjustly. It is based on unreasonable expectations of how you should have been or should be. The toxic part is when you continue to blame yourself and your thinking becomes poisoned. It can make you try to become a perfectionist so no one knows you are "bad". It keeps you from truly being yourself with others which keeps you disconnected spiritually and in all relationships. If a person is suffering from toxic shame they can become crippled emotionally. It can keep a person from moving forward in life and can cause a person to move into a state of self hatred.

If we are shame based to our core, we may believe that no one has the same shameful problems that we have. As a therapist, I can tell you that I hear the same shame based problems on a daily basis. While each person has unique situations and life stories, most problems are a variation on a similar set of problems that we all experience.

Fortunately, there are ways to heal toxic shame. Some people may seek out a therapist that can help challenge and change their negative shame-based thoughts. Others may seek out 12 step programs that let you know, you are not alone and that others have experienced the same problems. Some people make amends or choose to forgive. If we talk about the shame we carry suddenly becomes less heavy. We must remember to talk to people that are nonjudgmental and that will offer unconditional support.

I got over my "shame attack" last week fairly quickly. Mainly it was because I recognized the feeling and was able to call my boyfriend and tell him how I was feeling. He was nonjudgmental and reminded me, "you were just a kid, you didn't know any better. You're a wonderful smart person now. Don't beat yourself up over it!"

How did he get so smart? lol. I'm grateful to have such a supportive person in my life.

If you are suffering from toxic shame, seek out a professional to help you. Also, Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw is a wonderful resource.

1 comment:

  1. I have shame attacks all the time! I didn't know there was a name for them and obviously thought I was the only one who has ever had one before. It's good to know that I'm not alone there.


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