Unabashed Emotions

Toxic Shame: Meaning & 7 Ways to Deal With It

By unabashedemotions


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Toxic shame is a term used to describe the feeling of being ashamed and embarrassed about one’s own physical or emotional health. It can be a debilitating and persistent feeling, which can make it hard to deal with problems or seek help. 

Toxic shame may also cause one to feel bad about themselves, causing depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Understanding more about toxic shame can help you identify it in others and possibly work to overcome it yourself. 

What are the signs and symptoms of toxic shame?

Here are 10 signs of toxic shame to look out for in yourself and others:

“Toxic shame can make you feel like you are worthless.” It can also lead to feelings of loneliness and depression.

– “Your reaction to any situation will usually be negative.” You may tend to see the worst possible outcome to a situation. This can leave you feeling anxious or stressed.

– “You may feel that no one is on your side.” You may feel like no one cares about you or is there for you.

– “You may feel like you are a bad person.” You may feel like you are a bad person and like there is something wrong with you. You may also be hard on yourself for being this way.

– “You may constantly compare yourself to others.” You may tend to worry about what others think of you. This can lead to constant feelings of insecurity and anxiety.

– “You may be ashamed of your own appearance.” You may feel like your appearance is not good enough and that you “should” look different.

– “You may feel that you need to look a certain way to maintain friends or find a partner.” You may feel pressured to look a certain way for other people’s approval and not your own. This can lead to low self-esteem.

– “You may feel the need to mask your emotions.” You may try to keep your feelings to yourself to avoid being judged or criticized.

– “You may avoid situations, such as school or work, that make you feel self-conscious.” You may try to avoid situations that make you feel self-conscious.

– “You may feel anxious or nervous.” You may feel like people are constantly judging you.

– “You may feel self-conscious around other people.” You may feel self-conscious around other people. 

How does toxic shame start?

Shame is one of the most difficult emotions to manage. It’s often associated with feelings of disgrace, humiliation, and guilt. So, how does toxic shame start? Here’s a theory:

Toxic shame can begin when a child acts out, like throwing tantrums or acting out in other ways, because they are upset with something that happened to them (e.g. being reprimanded). 

When the parent reacts by scolding the child even more, for example, by saying things like “you are the worst kid ever” or “how could you do this to me?”, the child’s feelings of shame and embarrassment can grow. 

This can cause the child to develop a deep sense of distrust towards their parents and other authority figures. They might begin to question their own self-worth. They may start to isolate themselves and avoid interacting with other people altogether. Over time, these feelings of guilt and self-blame can develop into toxic shame.

Shame and embarrassment can be caused by many things, including failing a task, not being invited to a party or event, or even just a bad haircut! 

But these embarrassing situations don’t have to be a big deal; we just have to learn to manage them. The most important thing is to learn from our mistakes and move on. Nothing should stand in the way of our happiness and fulfillment in life.

7 steps on how to deal with toxic shame

There’s no denying that toxic shame can be a tough thing to overcome. It can have a debilitating effect on our self-esteem, confidence, and overall well-being. But there’s also no denying that it impacts our relationships, too. In fact, recent research has shown that it’s not only possible but very common for toxic shame to impact our romantic relationships in some pretty significant ways.

So how can you know if your shame is affecting your relationship? And what can you do about it? Well, there’s a 7-step process that can help you get to the bottom of it. Let’s take a closer look…

Step 1: Identify and acknowledge any of your own triggers for shame. Many people find it helpful to begin with an inventory of their own internal triggers for shame. Try to identify what situations or emotions tend to trigger feelings of shame in you. 

Identifying these patterns can help you better understand your own internal triggers for shame as well as the ways in which they might be impacting your relationships.

Step 2: Identify and acknowledge any triggers your partner has for shame. Sometimes it helps to start with an inventory of your partner’s internal shame triggers. Again, identify any patterns that seem to play out in your dynamic.

 Identifying these patterns can help you better understand the triggers that your partner experiences as well as the ways that they may be impacting your relationships.

Step 3: Learn to recognize when shame manifests in a relationship. Once you’re able to identify your own triggers for shame as well as your partner’s, the next step is to learn how to recognize the signs that your shame might be getting in the way of your relationship.

Shame is designed to strengthen our connections with others. It can provide us with valuable feedback about how we feel and what we need in order to feel loved and accepted. But as with everything in life, too much of a good thing can have a negative impact on our health and relationships.

Step 4: Practice empathy. As difficult as it may be, try not to blame your partner for triggering your shame. Instead, try to reach out to them and ask them gently if they want to talk about it. 

Allowing yourself the space to share your feelings with your partner can be really helpful. Often just the act of speaking our shame aloud can help diminish its power and reduce the intensity of our emotional reactions.

Step 5: Learn to manage your shame. Learn how to recognize your triggers for shame, and when you feel shame coming on, you can take steps to diffuse its power. 

You can use different strategies to help reduce your feelings of shame, such as grounding yourself in the present moment by practicing mindfulness and deep breathing, journaling your feelings instead of acting them out, and practicing mindfulness meditation.

Step 6: Practice self-compassion. If shame is triggered often in your relationships, practice being more kind and compassionate toward yourself. Being more self-compassionate can help you feel less shameful and less judgmental toward yourself. 

In addition, it can also help you feel more empowered to stand up for yourself when you need it the most. Cultivating a more compassionate inner dialog can serve as an alternative to a harshly critical voice.

Step 7: Cultivate self-forgiveness. Learning to forgive yourself for past mistakes or failures can make you feel more empowered and less shame. Sometimes, when we’re feeling shame, it can be easier for us to point the finger at ourselves rather than look inward and identify our own faults. 

By forgiving ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made in the past, we can set ourselves free to move on with our lives and create better relationships in the future. Cultivating self-forgiveness can also help us feel more empowered, less shame, and more positive about ourselves. 

Check out this video to learn more about how to release toxic shame:

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