Bringing Light to Toxic Shame

Bringing Light to Toxic Shame

 Shame is the master emotion. It’s the fear we are not good enough ~ Brene Brown


 Shame is the internalized conviction that something is ‘wrong with me’, that ‘I don’t count’, ‘I don’t belong’, ‘I don’t deserve to be loved’ or that ‘I feel like a fake’. Inherent in shame is a deep-seated belief that if people really knew you, they would not like you.

In his book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw defines two aspects of shame. One is healthy shame, which is the emotion felt that signals when boundaries and acceptable limits of behaviour have been reached (I have made a mistake). The toxic version is hidden, suppressed and covered up and says there is something basically wrong or bad about me (I am a mistake). Toxic shame is the secret you keep about your defective nature that you would never tell another person for fear of judgment or loss of love.


What Causes Shame?

The spiral of shame begins when children are criticised, punished, abandoned or otherwise abused or neglected that generates the belief that they are flawed. These convictions are unconsciously embedded and breed an adult who believes they are inadequate, inferior or unworthy. You can experience shaming around your sexuality, your body, and your behaviours. Disapproval, primarily from parents, for your actions can be the result of their own toxic shame being triggered because your behaviour is causing them discomfort. Your parents’ shame can be passed on to you from their inherited cultural, ancestral and community norms, which can create a multi-generational stigma of shame. So, in some ways, the shame that holds you back may not even be yours!



“A person with internalised shame believes he is inherently flawed, inferior and defective. Such a feeling is so painful that defending scripts (or strategies) are developed to cover it up. These scripts are the roots of violence, criminality, war and all forms of addiction.”  ~ John Bradshaw


Uncovering Shame-Based Beliefs

Shame is a stealth emotional wound that operates in the shadows of your awareness. It runs unconscious programs in your life that need to be made conscious in order to be released. Nothing less than your personal peace is at stake.


Consider your answers to the following to help you assess the level of toxic shame at work in your life:

  • Do you find yourself exhausted from working long hours just to prove you are worthy to your (boss, family, yourself?)
  • Are you always feeling ‘on guard’ and want to be in control because you are fearful that you will be exposed as an imposter?
  • Do you deflect attention away from yourself by blaming or criticizing others, or by being righteous or judgmental?
  • Do you engage in angry, reactive or defensive responses in an attempt to push back against your imperfections or shortcomings.
  • Do you engage in self-criticism and make self-deprecating comments?
  • Are you driven by perfectionism because nothing ever feels ‘good enough’?
  • Are you afraid to make a mistake or admit that you did?
  • Are you only comfortable and secure in a relationship where you are needed?


5 Steps to Healing Shame
  • Learn to accept your limitations and gain self-acceptance by acknowledging that being vulnerable and imperfect is simply part of being human. To avoid shaming failure, choose to work within reasonable and ‘doable’ parameters.
  • Learn how to say ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ when it is appropriate in response to a request or call to action.
  • Be aware of the possibility that procrastination around starting anything new can be shame-based (I will fail so I won’t start) and take steps to slowly embrace new projects.
  • Identify and release the source of shame by speaking about it to a trustworthy, safe person who will witness the shame and maintain confidentiality.
  • Journal about the feelings, source, details of shame and create a ritual to release it (burn the pages, bury them or otherwise dispose of them permanently). Embrace post-ritual self-care and time-out.


Personal wholeness and happiness is only possible through being able to give and receive love unconditionally. Healing shame can be the most powerful way to disperse the inability to accept your lovability.


Recommended Reading:  

Healing the Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw


Feel free to share your thoughts about managing chaos in your life and be sure to visit www.johnstamoulos.com to find out more about the healing power of your breath through the powerful process of Breathwork.


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