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Toxic Shame vs Healthy Shame: Reparenting

The term 'Toxic Shame' comes from the work of John Bradshaw, because unlike other languages in English we only have one word for shame. There is a healthy side to shame which is a natural emotion that arises when we acknowledge a mistake. It's a feeling of guilt or remorse which motivates us to amend and learn from mistakes, it's also a safety mechanism that we hard wire into our nervous systems so we can avoid making the same mistakes again. Healthy shame is a natural part of human development and self-awareness and empathy for others.

On the other hand, toxic shame is a destructive feeling of being fundamentally flawed or defective as a person. It is a deep sense of unworthiness and inadequacy that often stems from early childhood experiences of neglect, abuse, emotional neglect, abandonment, criticism, comparison and judgment, and other more subtle covert ways like ridicule or fear. Even if we have disowned or disassociated from this feeling it still lives in the subconscious and toxic shame can lead to low self-worth, low self-esteem, lack of self-love, self-destructive behaviors, addictions, hypervigilant nervous system or the constant fear of rejection and general unworthiness.

Remember when we receive these inputs into our nervous system as children we are not in our logical or moral minds, these have not been developed until 8-11 years old, we are in our feeling and kinaesthetic body, so the toxic shame becomes an internalised feeling and core belief about ourself.

As a child that received toxic shame, this manifested in my life as a constant need to be so-called perfect, if only I could be perfect then I would be worthy of love. Other people may feel frozen or unable to motivate themselves. For those like me that came from systems of stress and control the only way the body responds to this is by going into a chronic stress response and this is the baseline the body learns, to be hypervigilant.

Toxic shame is often kept hidden and unconscious making it difficult to recognise and address.

The key difference between healthy shame and toxic shame is that healthy shame is a natural emotion that arises from taking responsibility for a mistake, while toxic shame is a deep-seated feeling of unworthiness and inadequacy. Shame is the loss of trust in the world and the trust in oneself.

Working on healing Toxic Shame can be enriching and life-changing, I suggest Inner Child Healing , Hypnosis, and Integral Eye Movement Therapy (IEMT similar to EMDR), and working with a therapist who can help you navigate the challenging emotions that may arise. It can be very difficult to accept we have these emotions within us. Many people disown and dissociate from the original pain or core wounding as a survival mechanism, so they are not even conscious of the true pain. This is the phenomenal power of the body to dissociate from the pain in order to defend itself. What is left then is a lack of memory of the abuse but the physiological reaction and the emotional overwhelm.

Shame means exposure. The sense of toxic shame can control what we show others, this is the loss of the true self and when we start to put on an act, shame even controls what we allow ourselves to see about ourselves.

When your basic needs are not met especially in the developing brain during childhood and young adulthood, the first form of childhood abuse is denying children their emotions and not meeting their emotional needs. After years of suppressing emotional needs, you become disassociated from the feelings, the anger, the sadness, and the grief. When your feelings are not available to you the damage then plays out in your life and in your relationships.

The depression that comes in for many is that deep sadness and grief for losing yourself. Your true, authentic SELF with all the emotions, all the feelings, all of you loved unconditionally.

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