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Author Topic: TOOLS: Toxic shame--what is it and what can we do about it?  (Read 8355 times)
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« Reply #20 on: April 10, 2010, 11:56:00 AM »

I'm not sure if I can post to a workshop, but since this is on the "Coping" board, I'll try anyway.

Haven't read this entire thread yet, but someone at the beginning used the example of mother holding child, child touches something --  my mother detests being touched, but oddly will cling much too tight in a hug if she initiates it.  When I was seven or eight, my mother came into my bedroom unexpectedly one night and said she'd read me a story.  This was unprecedented, she had many, many recollections which she would tell at the dinner table and other places, especially when non-FOOs were present, that she had taught me to read before I ever went to school, by reading to me for hours on end when I was pre-kindergarten.  Don't know if that was true or not, but I've no memory of her reading to me anytime when I was older.  Anyway, she came in with a book and said she was going to read to me, and I was delighted, and I snuggled up to her as close as I dared, and when she didn't move, I reached up and touched her face, not roughly, just caressingly, and that tore it.  She leaped up like she'd been shot and stormed out of the room.  She went and got my father and he came in and put the fear of God into me, even though it was already there, LOL.  And I felt awful because I had done that, I can still remember how awful it made me feel.

And this never changed.  She would occasionally tolerate a brief hug if there was some kind of occasion of celebration, but not very welcoming of it, and of course I wasn't too astute about it, I was always pursuing her trying to prove I was worthy of affection.  When she complained about her back and shoulders aching a few years ago when I was around her for several weeks, I was thrilled because I was always told by friends and co-workers that I gave great backrubs and I was going to give her one, but she froze up under my hands and said, between her teeth, "I HATE being touched."  And I understood, like I couldn't understand as a child, because when people I don't like or don't trust touch ME, I freeze up too, but I lose myself when stressed like that and so I don't effectively get rid of them verbally and upfront like Mother.  (Gotta give her credit for that, and I do.)

But she would literally grab me in a gorilla grip when she was the one to want to hug, and I never knew what I would get.  There came a time when I started to shy away from her touching me, and it was when I was in my mid 20's and just a few months away from a nervous breakdown, she grabbed me in this bone-crushing, body plastered against body hug which I right away started trying to wiggle away from, it was awful, and she squeezed harder and started literally crushing the breath out of me, and she kissed me on the cheek because I turned my head, I think she wanted to get on my lips but I can't say for sure, and she opened her mouth and I felt her teeth, and while I was desperately trying to crane my head around to get away from the "kiss" she started sucking my face, it was unspeakable, and then SHE BIT ME!  She only got to give me a small nip, because
it was then I escaped out of the grip.  I've only ever twice since, had that kind of strenth and it was when my two babies were born, it was the same kind of spine curving, huge massive push that broke her grip and got me away from her.  And of course there was no scene, no disruption, everything just went on as before, because it was Saturday and my father? was around.  So there was some kind of a conversation, etc. as though nothing had happened, I don't remember running away screaming or anything normal like that.  Had I done something to make a scene, or anything to object about being treated like that, it would've been turned and twisted against me.  I may not have been  brave, but at least I'm still alive and still around, LOL.

However, I feel huge shame because I never learned to cope with my parents, and I experience it over and over and over again all the time.  That part of me has never changed, and I have to tell you in all honesty that I don't know if it ever will.  I use the example of the child touching something, but I have had many other things to bring down toxic shame on my head and the awful thing is, I can't get out of it.  Still living in it and actually having it happen via other people not in the FOO.  So I believe I know what shame is, I would love to learn ways to get out ot it.  Thanks for listening. (Can't possibly thank you enough for all the support and tools that are here.)

s a
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« Reply #21 on: April 10, 2010, 12:08:07 PM »

Still around, that just makes me cry.  You poor little bewildered kid, just craving to be close to your mother, and sweetly touching her face out of love got you rejected and abused by both of your parents.  Good Lord in heaven.  These pd people are just so damned damaged and incompetent to parent, and yet so convinced in their narcissism that they have what it takes to nurture little, helpless children.  The level of the narcissism and the profound lack of empathy I read of in post after post just staggers me.  It never ceases to stagger me.  I'm so sorry you experienced such a traumatic rejection,  no child should be subjected to that.
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« Reply #22 on: April 10, 2010, 04:09:54 PM »

LOAnnie, still around thank you for contributing some of your story. Still around, your story of your mother's rejection of you is so heartbreaking.  Empathy I hope you know that you are deserving of love, intimacy, and comfort.

Methinkso, one wonderful thing is that we can actually stop the pattern of shame carried across generations.

Underneath "I can sacrifice myself" (my needs, my time, my comfort, my interests, my growth, my money, my support, my life) is "I don't matter, I am worthless." That's toxic shame.

Undoing this shame has been the most profound personal project of my life.

Hi, B&W - would you be willing to share some of the things you've done to work on this issue? What's been successful for you?

Oceanheart, I absolutely will. We probably have more to discuss about the basics of toxic shame, but one method I used that also helps us identify it in our lives was a simple checklist to see what manifestations of it I could see in my life. I did this with my therapist as well in my reading. Surviving a Borderline Parent has a section called "Confronting Vestiges of the Past" that includes a list of "by-products" (what we tend to call fleas/ my-issuesaround here) of having been raised by a parent with BPD or similar emotional and cognitive patterns. The fleas are:

  • difficulty trusting yourself and others
  • feeling shame*
  • feeling guilt
  • possessing a negative self-concept, including self-definition, self-esteem, self-awareness, self-expression*
  • difficulty setting appropriate boundaries
  • being quick to judge; judging yourself and others harshly*
  • black-and-white thinking
  • feeling out of sync with others*
  • difficulty regulating emotions
  • engaging in self-harming or self-defeating behaviors*

The authors provide an exercise to help you determine which of these areas are of most concern to you (some won't apply and you may have areas of concern that range from mild to extreme). I've asterisked some sections that apply very closely to toxic shame--

*Shame, for obvious reasons.  smiley
*Possessing a negative self-concept because these core beliefs about ourselves flow out of shame and reinforce it.
*Judging harshly because it represents "shamelessness," in Bradshaw's terms--perfectionism or an impossible standard that when (inevitably) not met, causes a flush of shame about oneself or rejection of others.
*Feeling out of sync is probably the biggest stretch, but I link it to shame as well. There is a sense many of us develop that we don't belong or we're not like others. That sense of difference can be deeply shameful. We can even feel we are not quite human like others, not deserving of kindness, respect, age- or situation-appropriate care, or love.
*Engaging in self-harm because these are some of the compulsive behaviors that distract us from shame.
The self-test exercise for those sections is here:

Stop and Think: Where Are You
For each of the following statements within each area, rate how closely you identify--1 indicating that you don't identify at all; 10 indicating that you identify very strongly.

Feeling Shame

___ If I make even a silly mistake, I feel ashamed.
___ I feel undeserving of people's kindness, love, affection
___ Sometimes I feel like I don't have the right to just "be."
___ I can't seem to do anything right.

Possessing a Negative Self-Concept

___ Deep down, I wonder who I am.
___ It's a challenge for me to identify how I really feel about an issue or event. Sometimes I just feel numb, or the feelings can be so overwhelming, it's hard to separate them.
___ I often repress or deny my feelings and say things like, "Oh, it wasn't that bad."
___ If I don't have the same beliefs and feelings as others, I worry that they won't accept me.
___ I'm uncomfortable telling others, directly, how I feel and addressing issues with them.
___ I prefer to stay in the background; I feel uncomfortable when I'm the center of attention.
___ I feel unlovable.

Judging Yourself and Others Harshly

___ Doing things exactly right is important to me.
___ People will think less of me if I make a mistake.
___ I've been told I'm a perfectionist, and that may be true.
___ I find that I'm quick to judge others (in positive or negative ways).
___ I tend to focus on people's flaws rather than their good points.
___ I tend to focus on my flaws rather than my good points.
___ It's generally hard for me to accept someone just as they are. I find that I wish they could be different.
___ It's hard for me to accept myself. I often wish I were different.
___ If I'm with someone and they do something wrong, it reflects on me.

Feeling Out of Sync with Others

___ I was a late-bloomer in some ways; there are things I realize I need ot learn now that others learned when they were kids.
___ I sometimes feel many years older than my contemporaries.
___ People have told me that I seem wise beyond my years.
___ No one really understands me or what I've been through.
___ I'm different than other people.
___ I feel like I'm playing catch-up all the time.
___ I can become highly anxious in new social situations.

Engaging in Self-Harming or Self-Defeating Behaviors

___ There have been periods in my life where I've been quite promiscuous.
___ I show my feelings for people I'm interested in romantically through physical intimacy.
___ When someone suggests I not do something, I take it as a challenge and do it anyway.
___ I beleive in throwing caution to the wind. You only live once, right?
___ I use things like alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, gambling, or shopping to make myself feel better.
___ I've had a problem in the past with addiction.

Areas of high scores indicate places to focus your recovery work.
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« Reply #23 on: April 10, 2010, 06:21:57 PM »

This is an interesting thread to me.  I just started reading "healing the shame that binds you" by John Bradshaw.  Thanks

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« Reply #24 on: April 10, 2010, 06:41:00 PM »

Quote from: B&W
We probably have more to discuss about the basics of toxic shame...
Sorry for rushing things smiley I just found this topic very timely and useful and wanted to get started on what we can do. Didn't mean to try to control the direction. haha, I think I'm feeling a little ashamed  rolleyes But thanks so much for starting this!

For me, most of the statements rang very true, but especially the "feeling-out-of-sync" - I've chronically isolated myself for years (except for unhealthy romantic relationships) because I feel so alienated from other people. I want to belong but don't feel I deserve to unless I'm, well, good enough - and I'm way too far from that, so I just keep to myself. And people like to use the word "eccentric" around me, well, because I am. Even though it's used with affection (they say it is), it still makes me feel kinda bad about myself. Who wants to be weird?
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« Reply #25 on: April 10, 2010, 06:54:09 PM »

Quote from: B&W
We probably have more to discuss about the basics of toxic shame...
Sorry for rushing things smiley I just found this topic very timely and useful and wanted to get started on what we can do. Didn't mean to try to control the direction. haha, I think I'm feeling a little ashamed  rolleyes But thanks so much for starting this!

I'm super glad you asked!  Doing the right thing Those "what we can do" strategies are exactly what I hope we can explore and where we end up. I also hope others will jump in with their questions and approaches that have worked for them.

I also felt quite drawn to the out of sync section. I think when you have so many secrets you are meant to keep as a child, you swallow them and they become spaces inside you that separate you from other people. You know the face you present to the world isn't really true and you are set apart.

 xoxox

B&W
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« Reply #26 on: April 11, 2010, 03:04:45 PM »

I must confess I am not familiar with Bradshaw's writing surrounding shame but I am profoundly uncomfortable with the concept of "healthy shame".   I think these two words are mutually exclusive.   I looked up the term "shame" in in dictionary and the words used in the definition are:  guilt, blameworthiness, dishonor, and disgrace. 

There are other ways to get to the good aspects of what is referred to as "healthy shame" 

 If the goal is humility there are more organic ways to achieve this.   I think of the song "I hope you dance" and the words from it "I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean."    Just being out in nature and connecting with the cycles of life, are enough for me to gain humility.   

If the goal is to recognize when we make mistakes, I would prefer to use the paradigm of self-responsibility to take ownership of our own mistakes.  We're all human, we don't need to be feeling shame for making mistakes unless we are deliberately setting out to hurt others (and believe me abusers never feel shame). 

If the goal is community, I would think its an open heart that will achieve that goal.

If the goal is creativity and learning, I think we need to get in touch with our inner child - children have a natural curiosity and love of learning and if allowed to develop wonderful creativity. 

If the goal is spirituality, I would again go back to the lessons that nature has to offer. 

Shame, guilt and fear - to my thinking - are the tools of the abuser to exert power and control over someone else.  Its also used in other situations and never to positive effect.   I just can't view shame as being healthy in any circumstance short of say evil recognizing itself.

Those are just my thoughts,
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« Reply #27 on: April 11, 2010, 05:23:27 PM »

For me, it's one thing to own having done something shameful vs BEING shamed, as in toxic shame.

My mother would castigate me with shame over nothing and I mean absolutely nothing. She was my mother. I internalized it.

I also think when a child (IF a child) misbehaves the amount of shame a parent projects onto/into the child has an impact on how shameful the child's behavior feels. Ex: said in a very low pitched voice full of shock "How could you DO that"! then walking the parent turning away as if they are repelled. I don't see that as a useful too in any parenting.
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« Reply #28 on: April 12, 2010, 07:26:08 AM »

I am profoundly uncomfortable with the concept of "healthy shame".   I think these two words are mutually exclusive. 

I don't know, I found this to be very helpful.  For me, it's very important to own my own mistakes, because that's exactly what mom never did - whenever she did something wrong, it was my fault.  I never want to do that to someone!  And I never want to be so weak, so pathetically fragile, that I can't handle admitting that I did something wrong, or to try to make amends to the person that I hurt. 

I really like Bradshaw's distinction between healthy shame as being something you can fix - you realize what you did, you make an apology or restitution, and you resolve not to do it again and - you're free!  It's over, without damaging your sense of self.  Whereas toxic shame is where a mistake becomes an essential part of who you are and how you relate to the world, where you are not an individual who makes mistakes but an individual who IS a mistake.  That's when it become this wound that never heals, that people try to fix with addiction or other destructive behaviors. 

He writes that abusers are "shameless" - people who SHOULD feel ashamed of what they're doing, but don't.  And so their children or the people who are abused absorb that shame for them, out of a sense that *someone* needs to take responsibility for what's happening, and since the person who ought to isn't, they will themselves, even though it's unjust.  And as adults, we survivors need to work on putting that sense of shame back where it belongs - on the people who hurt innocent bystanders rather than deal with their own issues. 
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« Reply #29 on: April 12, 2010, 09:30:15 AM »

Yes, I like what salome was saying.

I was "shamed" when my parents caught me masturbating around puberty. Instead of dealing with it in a healthy, constructive way, my mom basically accused me of "doing something dirty", let alone doing it in front of my opposite-sex parent. I was toxically ashamed of my natural drive for years.

I felt healthy shame when a close friend of mine told me, "you know, you can be cruel." It was news to me up until he said anything (and I give him so much credit for telling me it in a really self-saving, non-judgmental way). It made me look at my behavior and it's consequences on someone I loved, and change it because I hated making him feel bad. After he told me, I noticed in myself a tendency to cut deep at others when I felt the most threatened and was able to learn to not fight dirty like that.

Shame is a natural emotion for a social species like ours and I think it is helpful in letting the individual know his/her behavior is hurtful. But just like all the rest of our emotions, it can be used against us. I think I'm the worst enemy I have when it comes to shaming myself - I must have internalized it as well...
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« Reply #30 on: April 12, 2010, 09:54:50 AM »

Sorry for monopolizing the conversation  rolleyes but I happen to have a looooot of free time  wink and obviously a lot of issues!

I also remember getting caught drinking when I was around 14. I lived in a community where everyone knew each other and everyone knew my parents because they were teachers. So anything I did got right back to them pretty quickly and the sister of the guy we were drinking with ratted us out. The next day I had to wait for my mom to get back from church, knowing she knew. My stomach felt like a black hole. I waited for her outside. She didn't say anything when she arrived, but the look she gave me caused me to burst out in tears and ask, "Do you hate me?" She said, "no, I'm just really disappointed in you" and walked inside and closed the door. I felt like I was  a rotten kid. There could be severe penalties for underage drinking since I lived on an army base on an island and my parents could have lost their jobs and we would have had to leave if I had gotten caught by the cops instead. What a horrible daughter I was!

I know to many people who have undergone horrific abuse by their parents, it sounds like I'm whining over nothing. And that's probably true. But there's something to be said about chronic "benign neglect" being destructive, too. Invalidation as a child is painful; never being right enough, never good enough, never being what they wanted, always being the one to blame (or even just feeling that way, whether true or not). And with the thought in the back of my head that since I was adopted, they could always take me back, like some defective toy... I used to make the joke that since I was born on Mother's Day, my biomom must not have liked her present, because she returned it (she was supposed to give me up, changed her mind, kept me for 9 days, changed her mind, then gave me up where I spent 2 weeks in the hospital with thrush before my adoptive parents took me home). Feeling like fundamentally you're unloveable by everyone important in your life. What's the common denominator? Me. How is a kid not supposed to come to that conclusion?
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« Reply #31 on: April 12, 2010, 10:12:16 AM »

B&W
I think my behaviours (not trusting, emotionally explosive) are things carried forward from "conditioning" of my childhood.  I think for me the idea was that my BPDm conditioned me so well that when I feel critisized, I react in a negative and distructive way.  I usually self sacrifice, but then I get annoyed with myself and others for "taking advantage of me" even though I set myself in that role.  I struggle to "let go" of things.  I usually explode of something stupid then I shame and guilt myself for being an idiot...and allow it to drag me down.
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« Reply #32 on: April 12, 2010, 11:22:40 AM »

So much of that list applies to me...but how can I change it?
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« Reply #33 on: April 12, 2010, 11:47:16 PM »

Wow, so much interesting stuff here. So much pain, too.  xoxox

Thinking about LionDreamer's concern over the term "healthy shame," it strikes me as a wonderful thing that we can have these differences. It's not black and white (in all due deference to my own screen name  grin); we can take what's useful to each of us and leave the rest.

I personally do see shame as an emotion that comes with being human, just like fear, joy, guilt, happiness, and so on. What I think goes wrong in a shame-based family is what the stories here have indicated. We are shamed in profound ways when we're too young, undefined, and vulnerable to let it roll off us; instead, we absorb it.

From hope4survivors.com (quoting Bradshaw):
Quote
"Toxic shame results from the unexpected exposure of vulnerable aspects of a child's self.  This exposure takes place before the child has any ego boundaries to protect himself.  The early shaming events happen in a context where the child has no ability to choose.  The felt experience of shame is the feeling of being exposed and seen when one is not ready to be seen."  Toxic shame often manifests itself in the form of dreams in which a person appears naked or in their underwear in inappropriate places.  These dreams can also involve being unprepared, as in being in front of a large group and being unable to deliver a speech, being in a classroom and not having studied for an exam, etc.

Our shame meters are "off" until we do something about it, just like our fear, anger, and other "meters" are sometimes off. (See US: Respecting Our Anger for more on exploring ways to rethink our own anger.)

When our shame "meters" are off, they are easily triggered. We make a small mistake, and we feel profound shame. Someone makes a joke, which we could take in humor, but instead we feel profound shame. I found a hole in my sock not long ago, and I felt...profound shame, quickly followed in my mind by "This is ridiculous! It's a hole in my sock. I'm not out there performing dastardly acts! It's a hole in my sock!"

Oceanheart and kkriesel asked the question we all have to ask: What can we do about it?

As the hole in my sock example illustrates, I'm by no means the poster child for completely eliminating toxic shame. But I've done a lot of work on it and feel immensely better as a result. So I'll share the strategies that have worked for me, as well as general information on ways to recalibrate that old shame meter. I hope others who are working on this will share as well.

The key strategies that have helped me (more detail later) include:

  • Examining and questioning specific negative core beliefs.
  • Developing healthy lifestyle patterns
  • Mindfulness practice
  • Supportive therapy with inner child work
  • EMDR/trauma recovery
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« Reply #34 on: April 13, 2010, 12:03:53 AM »

B&W,

You're supplying lots of useful information. I took an earlier test from here and though I felt I scored low on most, I scored the highest on the out of sync section. And I analyzed that. My out of sync is mostly due to exposure/invalidation by foo.So in a sense, I could be projecting their twisted interpretation of 'me'.

I'm wondering, and hope others will follow, how much improvement they have gained to ditch toxic shame by being subjected to healthy people who mirror back to them appropriatness? I KNOW that having contact with more healthy people than my family for years helped me come a long way in feeling much less toxic shame.

And as always, I hope others can make progress in ditching that 'monkey on the back' that was by none of their own doing.
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« Reply #35 on: April 13, 2010, 12:21:17 AM »

I'd like to elaborate on what I just posted about being subjected to foo. I can 'feel' exactly what I am talking about.

It's as if DH and I live in two different worlds. For many years my foo, even momster seemed like all the abuse/damage was behind us and I know now that I was in a position to project that onto siblings. A lot of projection on my part.

But I was sensing the two worlds up to probably ten years ago, and often, while things seemed relatively 'normal' around my foo, I'd come away feeling bad. Even brief phone calls, I can recognize now, had me feeling bad, though at the time I did not analyze or even 'own' it. I suppose I am talking about being triggered by very subtle things I did not want to see.

I also have learned that these things are why sometimes it is vital to cease all contact with foo for growth and survival. And  believe me, that has broken my heart for a year now, especially these last few months. I am still vulnerable to be cast in these ugly shadows they have in their minds of me due to their lack of seeking professional help/growth. It's like I would feel this pall after contact with them but not enough to get my full attention.

I hope this makes sense. I am saying that we can grow into a better place, but it can be hard to protect our growth from things that drag our subconsious into the past.

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« Reply #36 on: April 13, 2010, 02:46:35 PM »

Quote from methinkso
Quote
I am saying that we can grow into a better place, but it can be hard to protect our growth from things that drag our subconsious into the past.

Yes, it sure does make sense.  Empathy I think you're right on here as well:

Quote
I KNOW that having contact with more healthy people than my family for years helped me come a long way in feeling much less toxic shame.


Let me add that to our list of recovery strategies. Another I should add is fostering positive entitlement, as explored in the Survivors' Guide in the right hand panel of the Coping and Healing Board and also in this workshop:

US: Positive entitlement--taking the initiative to share in life's riches
We often view entitlement in a negative light, but there's also a positive version--honoring our own self-worth. Many raised in a BPD environment suffer from low self-esteem and fear and anxiety about pursuing our own fulfillment. This workshop explores the concept of positive entitlement, how to evaluate areas of self-esteem to work on, and ways to embrace positive entitlement.
http://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=111984.0

Recovery Strategies for Toxic Shame
1. Examining and questioning specific negative core beliefs.
2. Developing healthy lifestyle patterns
3. Spending time with and learning from (mirroring) healthy people
4. Mindfulness practice
5. Supportive therapy with inner child work
6. Fostering positive entitlement
7. EMDR/trauma recovery

On #1, Surviving the Borderline Parent has very helpful things to say:

Quote
Challenging Core Beliefs

Let's say you wonder whether you really are lovable. Growing up, you endured much erratic and perhaps cruel behavior from a parent who was inconsistent with affection, raged often and projected her angry feelings onto you, accusing you of being a "bitter" person who caused fights to erupt in your wake. Today, as an adult, have you noticed that you've found yourself in situations where that has indeed happened? Have you chosen friends who say or convey similar sentiments to you? Have you ever noticed that you react to people defensively as though they must be thinking you're a bitter person, when really they may not have any such notion? Have you lashed out at someone because you thought they were attacking you, even though they weren't? Your thoughts and your subsequent actions and reactions reinforce your core beliefs. They act as a self-fulfilling prophesy. They allow you to say, "See, I really am bitter."

That's the bad news. The good news is that once you can identify and challenge such beliefs, your experience changes too. As you stop seeing yourself as a bitter, unlovable person, you'll increasingly act with openness and acceptance towards others. People will notice and respond in much the same way. You'll seek out healthier folks to surround yourself with, and, rather than reinforce your earlier beliefs, new experiences will help you change them.

I'll add in more on challenging core beliefs in a bit.

B&W
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Backtome09
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« Reply #37 on: April 13, 2010, 02:55:13 PM »

 Doing the right thing
Great topic. I have to come back to this. Very triggered sad
I agree with some others. Most important topic I have run across in this whole board.
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« Reply #38 on: April 13, 2010, 08:15:09 PM »

B&W...I have totally missed this thread.  I've been a little off in la la land after my T session last week where we discussed the adult ADHD.  However, this is extremely timely to that pre-diagnosis reading I'm supposed to do.  I can answer yes to a lot of your questions up there, so I'm gonna copy/paste into Word, print, and take this to my appointment this week.  I keep resisting a biological explanation for my perfectionistic tendencies because I feel like I am the way I am more because of nuture (or lack thereof) than nature, and this might be the key.  Thank you so much for starting this thread.  I'm gonna go back and read more, and try to keep up now so I can see if it fits like I think it does.
 xoxox
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Falling down is part of LIFE.  Getting back up is LIVING.
blackandwhite
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« Reply #39 on: April 13, 2010, 11:22:29 PM »

Backtome09 and BMama,

 xoxox  xoxox

Following up with the "challenging core beliefs" strategy, here's an article about cognitive traps we get caught in. If I go back to my very simple "I have a hole in my sock" = shame example, I can see several of these. (More after the article.)

Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking
By Dr. David Burns
Companion article to bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=56200.0
From The Feeling Good Handbook (Plume Publishers, 1999)


Quote
1. All-or-nothing thinking - You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, "I've blown my diet completely." This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream.

2. Overgeneralization - You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the window of his car. He told himself, "Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!"

3. Mental Filter - You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the positive - You reject positive experiences by insisting that they "don't count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positives takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5. Jumping to conclusions - You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.

Mind Reading : Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.

Fortune-telling : You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, "I'm really going to blow it. What if I flunk?" If you're depressed you may tell yourself, "I'll never get better."

6. Magnification - You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the "binocular trick."

7. Emotional Reasoning - You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly." Or, "I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or, "I feel angry. This proves that I'm being treated unfairly." Or, "I feel so inferior. This means I'm a second rate person." Or, "I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless."

8. "Should" statements - You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn't have made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "oughts" and "have tos" are similar offenders.

"Should statements" that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general, lead to anger and frustration: "He shouldn't be so stubborn and argumentative!"

Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. "I shouldn't eat that doughnut." This usually doesn't work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this " must erbation." I call it the "shouldy" approach to life.

9. Labeling - Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying "I made a mistake," you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." You might also label yourself "a fool" or "a failure" or "a jerk." Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but "fools," "losers" and "jerks" do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration and low self-esteem.

You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: "He's an S.O.B." Then you feel that the problem is with that person's "character" or "essence" instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves very little room for constructive communication.

10. Personalization and Blame - Personalization comes when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulty in school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman's husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I was better in bed, he wouldn't beat me." Personalization leads to guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy.

Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn't work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It's like the game of hot potato--no one wants to get stuck with it.

So that dang hole in my sock...

All-or-nothing thinking: If I have a hole in my sock, I'm falling apart.

Overgeneralization: Nothing I do is ever right. I'm always a mess.

Mental filter: Instead of "I look great and have one tiny thing wrong that I can fix," I obsess about the small flaw.

Mind reading: Someone is looking at me funny. They must see the hole in my sock and think I'm falling apart.

Should statements: I should be able to avoid mistakes like this. I'm a mess.

Why should I be so focused on being a "mess"? I experienced periods of severe neglect as a child...I was indeed a mess. I was dirty, had worn, mismatched clothing that wasn't washed. My home was a mess. I felt shame for this (what's wrong with me that there's nobody to take care of me?). I was also tormented by others for it. Now when I perceive something that indicates "I'm a mess," it triggers these associations.

  • Do you recognize any of these thought patterns?
  • How do they relate to your feelings of shame?
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What they call you is one thing.
What you answer to is something else.
                           --Lucille Clifton


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