It has been said that shame is the hardest feeling to tolerate and it is not hard to see why. This is because when someone experiences shame, they will feel bad and as though there is something wrong with them.
One can then experience guilt, with this being a sign that they have done something bad, and they can experience shame, with this being a sign that they are bad. After a while, and perhaps after they have made amends, the guilt and the shame should pass.
Back In Balance
After this, one will no longer feel as though they have done something bad and neither will they feel as though they are bad. When it comes to experiencing guilt, this can carry the expectation of being punished.
On the other hand, when it comes to experiencing shame, this can carry the expectation of being ostracised. Therefore, each feeling serves a different purpose, and they play an important role in personal relationships and in being able to have a civilised society.
When It Goes Wrong
Now, while these feelings can stop someone from doing bad things and from acting in a shameless manner, they can also cause a lot of unnecessary damage. So when it comes to shame, there can be the damage that is done when someone doesn’t experience shame and the damage that is done when they experience too much shame.
If one doesn’t experience shame, they can end up causing others to suffer, and, when they experience too much shame, they can end up suffering. In the second instance, one wont experience shame from time to time, they will most likely experience shame practically all of the time.
A Living Nightmare
In a way, it will be as if a machine that is supposed to only produce a small amount of poison produces an endless amount. Therefore, instead of keeping certain things at bay, it ends up wiping out everything.
The similarity here is that by having so much shame inside them and seldom getting a break from it, it won’t merely keep one on the straight and narrow; it will take away their ability to feel good about themselves and to feel comfortable in their own skin. A feeling that should allow them to behave in the right way and to get along with their fellow human beings will be making their life a living hell.
Far More Complex
To say that this type of shame is just a feeling wouldn’t be completely accurate, though, as it is likely to be something that has permeated their whole being. They are then going to experience shame, but it will seem as if it is more than just a feeling and that their whole being is flawed.
The type of shame that they will experience was described as ‘toxic shame’ by the late John Bradshaw (Healing the Shame that Binds You, Family Secrets, et al.). And, as this shame has permeated their whole being, it won’t be seen as something that they can do anything about.
When this toxic shame comes up, it is something that one can experience in their lower body (in their third chakra) and in their face. Their face can feel hot and they can have the need to hide, to ‘save face’, and to get away from everyone and everything.
Being seen for who they are is not going to be possible, which will most likely mean that they will typically hide behind a mask or what is often described as a false-self. Through feeling inherently worthless, it can be normal for them to feel depressed and even suicidal.
When it comes to why one experiences life in this way, it is likely to be due to what took place during their early years. Perhaps their early years were a time when they experienced some kind of abuse and/or neglect.
This would have been a time when they were egocentric, causing them to take everything personally. What happened wouldn’t have been seen as a sign that there was something wrong with their parent/s; it would have been seen as a sign that there was something wrong with them.
As toxic shame will give them the need to hide who they are, in order to avoid being rejected and then abandoned, it can make it hard for them to change their life. Opening up to others, the very thing that will allow them to change their life, will be the very thing that they don’t want to do.
Ultimately, toxic shame can only exist in hiding; it can’t handle being brought out into the light or the loving presence of others. Still, this doesn’t mean that one can let go of all of their toxic shame in one go.
One way of looking at toxic shame would be to say that it is made up of many different layers. Ergo, when one opens up to a supportive other about something that they feel ashamed of and this person basically holds the space for them, one can experience a small shift.
It might not seem as though anything has happened, but one will have taken the first step to building the bridge between them and others. This interpersonal bridge wouldn’t have been developed when they were younger; setting them up to feel as though they were different to others and less-than human.
In addition to opening up to the right people – people that can be trusted and are supportive – working through emotional wounds and resolving trauma is also likely to help. There can be a lot of pain inside their body that needs to be released.
When it comes to healing emotional wounds, and dissipating toxic shame, inner child work can be incredibly powerful. To do this work, one may need to reach out for the assistance of a therapist or a healer.
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Oliver JR Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.