Back when we were kids, teachers, parents, and peers often shamed us for many reasons. Sometimes the shaming was even intentional. Nonetheless, we felt the emotion and it did hurt quite a bit. But, the best part was that the feeling would pass away. So why do we make such a big deal of it today? Well, a person experiences shame on many occasions in his or her life.
It is a very normal emotion triggered by your nervous system. Mind you, this emotion holds the power to trigger many feelings (both good and ugly). However, the problem starts when people internalize the shaming and refuse to get rid of the baggage. Many people believe that shame is necessary, it keeps a check on the law and order in society. The idea is that people are ashamed to commit a mistake.
What is Toxic Shame?
Psychologist Silvan Tomkins has explained the concept in detail. Often, people are confused about the difference between shame and toxic shame. Very simply, toxic shame is just the remnant of a shameful experience that you are not able to let go. This experience somehow manages to make a place in a corner of your brain and just stays there, gradually overpowering your other emotions. You may not notice the impact on your behavior immediately, but you end up becoming a victim over some time.
Toxic Shame Symptoms
Now that you are aware of the definition of toxic shame, let us understand the symptoms. Remember, it is important to keep a lookout for these symptoms in people around you.
These people will find it difficult to maintain eye contact during conversations. They will try to avoid confrontations and never bother to voice their opinion. The low self-esteem makes them lose confidence in their ideas and therefore they want to avoid conversations on most occasions.
Victims of toxic shame will refuse to acknowledge any positive traits in their personality. Such people usually find it very difficult to meet the expectations of their peers in professional as well as personal life.
Victims will also find it very difficult to trust others around them. They are likely to be suspicious about everything.
Good for nothing
Since toxic shame is linked to a shameful experience/memory that refuses to erase from the brain, victims tend to associate it with every situation around them. This leads to a drastic drop in their confidence levels and the result is an individual who firmly believes that he/she is good for nothing.
A person experiences shame when he or she is elated or happy and someone or something suddenly interrupts this feeling. The sudden change in the emotional experience triggers a feeling of shame.
Toxic Shame Causes
Usually, it is associated with a traumatic experience. Often this experience happens in the early years of life. For example, a child who has faced extreme forms of abuse is likely to end up as a victim of toxic shame. This abuse can include anything like rape, molestation, incest, etc. Occasionally, it is also caused due to bullying by peers, scolding by teachers or your boss at work. The individual usually faces repeated rejections.
How to Heal Toxic Shame
The struggle with toxic shame is tough, but you need to pursue it with determination. Here are five simple tips that can help you heal.
1. Love yourself
This can be done through a simple exercise of staring into the mirror. Just sparing five minutes a day, can help you rebuild your confidence considerably.
The first step to getting rid of any toxicity in your body is to accept your personality and start loving yourself. This starts with a simple exercise that involves staring at your reflection in the mirror for 5 to 10 minutes daily. The first time you do this, you will experience an outburst of emotions, but that is normal and so let it happen. Once the outburst is over and you have calmed down, look into the mirror and say “I love you”. You may need to repeat the three words a few times, but the effect will be magical. The idea is to learn to not just accept but love yourself for what you are.
Gradually after a few sessions, you can even repeat this exercise 2 to 3 times a day. If you don’t find time at home, you can indulge yourself even during a loo break in the office.
2. Yoga is the way
Yoga has several breathing and meditation techniques that help relax the mind and build positive energies.
Indulge yourself into some form of exercise daily as it is known to uplift the mood. What’s more, is that it keeps you healthy too! Even yoga or meditation can help soothe the senses. The calm and serenity that you experience will help you see the brighter side of life. You can plan your exercise routine as per your convenience. For instance, some people prefer to start their day with exercise while there are others who like to do some yoga and meditation before going to bed.
3. Self-hating to self-compassion
When you are a victim of toxic shame, you are likely to experience self-hate. The healing starts when you indulge in self-compassion.
Self-compassion is all about indulging yourself. Do things that you would like to do. This could be anything like riding a bike, going to a music class, meeting friends, etc. The idea is to make time for yourself and take care of your needs. Initially, you may find it very difficult to do so. Therefore, start taking baby steps before it becomes a habit.
4. Face your inner fears
This is the most difficult part where you need to confront the feelings/experiences associated with toxic shame.
The healing is never complete until you don’t confront all the feelings associated with the toxic shame that you are experiencing. This is a painful process and you should not try to do complete it in one day. You can start by penning your down your inner feelings and analyzing them against the positive aspects of your life. The idea is to ultimately let go of the bad experiences by accommodating the good ones.
Confronting your hidden feelings is not easy. There is a possibility that you may need to seek therapy to get through this stage. Therefore, do not hesitate to consult a psychologist if you find it difficult to handle things.
Toxic shame is not a hot topic of discussion when it comes to mental health and well-being. However, its impact is dangerous. Therefore, never ignore the symptoms. The healing process is strenuous and will take up a fair amount of time as well as effort. But do not give up because the journey will transform you into a healthy and happy individual
A freelancer by profession, Kavita writes on a variety of topics, mental health being one of her favorites. Fond of traveling, socializing and meeting new people, most of her inspiration for writing comes from real-life scenarios as well as experiences. Her motto in life has always been to look for a reason to smile.