Overcoming the Paralysis of Toxic Shame

Overcoming the Paralysis of Toxic Shame | Psychology Today

Recall a time when you experienced shame, whether it was a reaction to judgment by others or your own. You most likely experienced intense discomfort, feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, and a desire to hide (M. Lewis, 1995). And you most likely felt anger toward others or with yourself.  

I agree with Dr. Brené Brown, who describes healthy shame as being guilt (Brown, 2012). Guilt can be healthy in moving us toward positive thinking and behavior. It is specific in its focus. Shame, when toxic, is a paralyzing global assessment of oneself as a person. When severe, it can form the lens through which all self-evaluation is viewed. As such, some words used to express the emotion of shame include feeling insecure, worthless, stupid, foolish, silly, inadequate, or simply less than. 

Everyone experiences shame at some time, but not everyone is ruled by toxic or overwhelming shame. Some researchers suggest that shame comes about from repeatedly being told,not that we did something bad, but that we are something bad. Consequently, it can close us off from accepting any form of positive regard from others or ourselves.