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Author Topic: 6.10 | Toxic Shame - What Is It and What Can We Do About It?  (Read 20317 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

God doesn't see me as my parents' child, He sees me as HIS child.

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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.   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

hit If I make even a silly mistake, I feel ashamed.

hit I feel undeserving of people's kindness, love, affection

hit Sometimes I feel like I don't have the right to just "be."

hit I can't seem to do anything right.

Possessing a Negative Self-Concept

hit Deep down, I wonder who I am.

hit 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.

hit I often repress or deny my feelings and say things like, "Oh, it wasn't that bad."

hit If I don't have the same beliefs and feelings as others, I worry that they won't accept me.

hit I'm uncomfortable telling others, directly, how I feel and addressing issues with them.

hit I prefer to stay in the background; I feel uncomfortable when I'm the center of attention.

hit I feel unlovable.

Judging Yourself and Others Harshly

hit Doing things exactly right is important to me.

hit People will think less of me if I make a mistake.

hit I've been told I'm a perfectionist, and that may be true.

hit I find that I'm quick to judge others (in positive or negative ways).

hit I tend to focus on people's flaws rather than their good points.

hit I tend to focus on my flaws rather than my good points.

hit It's generally hard for me to accept someone just as they are. I find that I wish they could be different.

hit It's hard for me to accept myself. I often wish I were different.

hit If I'm with someone and they do something wrong, it reflects on me.

Feeling Out of Sync with Others

hit 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.

hit I sometimes feel many years older than my contemporaries.

hit People have told me that I seem wise beyond my years.

hit No one really understands me or what I've been through.

hit I'm different than other people.

hit I feel like I'm playing catch-up all the time.

hit I can become highly anxious in new social situations.

Engaging in Self-Harming or Self-Defeating Behaviors

hit There have been periods in my life where I've been quite promiscuous.

hit I show my feelings for people I'm interested in romantically through physical intimacy.

hit When someone suggests I not do something, I take it as a challenge and do it anyway.

hit I beleive in throwing caution to the wind. You only live once, right?

hit I use things like alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, gambling, or shopping to make myself feel better.

hit I've had a problem in the past with addiction.

Areas of high scores indicate places to focus your recovery work.

What they call you is one thing.
What you answer to is something else. ~ Lucille Clifton
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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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Health - even mental health - is a choice.

« 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?

Act as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference. ~a wise buddhist
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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.



What they call you is one thing.
What you answer to is something else. ~ Lucille Clifton
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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...

Act as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference. ~a wise buddhist
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