Toxic shame is a deep-seated issue that can have a powerful impact on your life. Here we take a look at how it comes about, and how it can shape the kind of partners you end up going for. It’s not an easy subject, but let’s take a closer look at how to understand, and overcome, this tricky topic.
Unravelling Toxic Shame
The term ‘toxic shame’ was first introduced in the 1960s by American psychologist Silvan Tomkins. While famous for many of his theories, his most well known is affect theory, which talks a lot about shame. In its most basic sense, shame is an emotion.
However, shame has more significant physiological ties than other emotions. Importantly, shame triggers the same sympathetic nervous response as fear. When shame is internalized, a person lives in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze.
And this often starts in early childhood. Parents may behave in a way that’s emotionally harmful towards the child. A number of comments can make a child feel unloved pr as if it’s a failure. Some people refer to this as “core shame”. It’s important to separate this kind of shame to that which stems from an embarrassing situation.
Over time and reinforced by negative messages, the individual starts having very deep feelings of inadequacy. They may start to see themselves as the reason they are unloved. If this is not corrected and a positive message instilled in the child, this shame continues to grow and fester. This can fuel a range of responses, including low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
For those dealing with toxic shame, a narcissist’s charisma is an attractive force. The narcissist can sweep the individual off their feet, pulling them into a fantasy world where they’re lavished with a love longed for since childhood.
The irony is that some narcissists are also dealing with toxic shame, but they have responded by shutting off all feelings. Instead, they’ve created a personality that’s covered up by a mask of selfishness.
People with toxic shame may also try to find a partner who they see and broken and needy. An individual internalizing shame from childhood could see redemption in caring for a partner who struggles with addiction. This often results in a codependent relationship that neither party is likely to leave.
Working From Toxic Shame
Thankfully, there are some practical ways to address toxic shame. For starters, working with a therapist is vital. Therapy provides you with a safe way to look at those deeply rooted negative messages, and shows how they’ve impacted the way you’ve seen yourself throughout life.
In addition, working through toxic shame requires you to take a number of steps, including the following:
- Get out of your own thoughts – talking to others about how you feel about yourself and facing these thoughts is a critical step in addressing the problem and moving towards healing.
- Seeing the inner child – healing our adult selves as well as the little child looking for love and recognition is critical. This is also a step in codependency treatment, and it is an effective way to address issues associated with toxic shame too.
- Learning to love yourself – finding things about yourself you love and affirming them is a difficult task, but also one that changes the internal dialogue from unfounded shaming to self-appreciation.
- Remove the shamers – another essential factor is letting go of people who’ve negatively impacted your life. This may be difficult, but building new relationships with positive and authentic people can help in this necessary step.
Untangling yourself from years of shame is no mean feat. It will take time and conscious effort on your part. That said, the benefits of doing so far outweigh the comfort of accepting things how they are. You deserve to live a life free of guilt where the possibility of meeting someone amazing isn’t just a pipe-dream.