Do painful memories haunt you? Or do you constantly walk through life feeling like you did something wrong?
These are all signs that you struggle with toxic shame and guilt.
Everyone experiences regretful moments where they wished they had done something better. But a person that struggles with toxic shame is constantly battling negative thoughts and self-hate.
What is toxic shame?
The root cause of toxic shame is insecurity, guilt, regret, and self-hate. Unfortunately, people carry around guilt and regret as a part of their identity. If someone lack a sense of self or a solidified identity then it’s hard to view themselves with positive traits. Ultimately, the core of who they are is broken.
Individuals that severely struggle with shame usually have memories of moments they deeply regret carved in their brain. The guilt they feel from the experiences cause them to internalize the concept that they are bad people or “screw ups.” This self-hate becomes their identity and they start to believe they’ll never change and others view them the same.
Usually, people with toxic shame appear to lash out for no reason. But they have a reason for lashing out. The anger is unleashed whenever they feel others can see the things they hate about themselves.
The person that struggles with shame often thinks they’re being attacked and/or ridiculed, so they’re on the defense to protect themselves from pain. Everything related to their past experiences of guilt makes them remember how horrible they are.
What is guilt?
Guilt is feeling regret for how we handled a situation. A healthy level of guilt pushes us to fix our behavior.
Guilt indicates you’re able to see a situation from someone’s else’s perspective and sympathize with their emotions. A normal level of guilt also shows growth and the ability to aspire to handle a situation better in the future.
Guilt vs Shame
Shame occurs when guilt becomes the loudest voice in a person’s thoughts. It will cause someone to eventually start thinking they’re a bad person and believe others will view them negatively as well.
The results of this feeling can look different, but it’s equally dysfunctional. It causes some people to engage in behavior to try and get others to like them (people-pleasing). Or, it causes people to emotionally numb, hurt themselves, or hurt others. They tend to feel they can’t ever please anyone. So why even bother?
Both ways of dealing with shame are selfish because it causes us to do things with self-fulfilling motive (to feel better).
People that struggle with shame struggle with low self-esteem and deep rooted insecurities. Therefore, they don’t see conflict as a chance for mutual growth in relationships. They mostly see conflict as black and white where someone is wrong and must be punished. Punishment hurts! To feel better they will often times use unhealthy coping skills to transfer their pain to someone or something else.
Related Article: Am I Toxic? Quiz + 11 Tips to Heal Toxic Traits!
20 Signs You Struggle with Shame
- You typically feel ashamed of yourself around people or when you leave a social engagement
- You often feel people don’t like you
- You have painful memories that you regret
- You are constantly apologizing for everything you do
- You call yourself negative terms
- You see problems as right and wrong
- Someone must be blamed in a situation
- You’re nervous people will think you’re a bad person
- You lie, manipulate, and use other tactics to control what people think about you
- You attack before others attack you
- You obsess and over analyze every detail of your behavior/thoughts
- You constantly trying to see if you made someone feel uncomfortable
- You over explain yourself
- You cater to the emotions of others so they don’t explode
- You point out what everyone else is doing wrong instead of fixing your contribution to the problem
- You feel stuck in painful emotions
- You feel guilty about different situations
- You have negative thoughts about yourself
- Little mistakes make you question your self worth and qualifications
- You aim for perfection and get frustrated when you don’t measure up
Unhealthily Coping with Shame Causes Toxic Behaviors
Shame is a nasty emotion. We all experience it at moments, but when its a dysfunctional pattern it leads you to avoid stepping on eggs shells and doing everything to avoid thinking or feeling the negative emotions.
The dysfunctional methods of dealing with guilt is called a negative coping mechanism. Coping mechanisms is the way that you express and deal with your emotions. Not all coping mechanisms are bad, some are good, and some just depend on how you use them.
What is unhealthy coping?
For instance, let’s say you’re talking to a friend and they mentioned your comment hurt their feelings. An unhealthy way to deal with that is to blame the friend for being too sensitive. By blaming the friend, you don’t have to take responsibility for hurting them and you don’t have to accept you did anything wrong. If you did accept some responsibility it would potentially cause a cycle of self-hate and pain that you hurt someone.
Related Article: 6 Negative Coping Mechanisms That Are Unhealthy!
What is Good Coping? And when does it turn ugly?
Someone with healthy coping would deal with the problem by accepting that their friend is different and that’s okay. They wouldn’t take the need to adjust their communication as someone being right or wrong. Also, if a healthy person felt pain for hurting their friend they would seek trusted counsel to help them move from shame to self-love.
But healthy coping can turn ugly. Sometimes we can be so quick to reflect, introspect, and change our behavior to make someone else feel comfortable (people-pleasing), that we can fall prey to abuse. Relationships should have mutual growth.
Also, talking to someone about how we feel for clarity, encouragement, and advice is a great way to cope with pain. However, individuals that feels toxic shame may seek counsel from many people and constantly share biased information about the situation. Venting In excess and with resentment leads to gossiping and slandering someone’s character.
Then, if any of that information is leaked the person doing the venting may continue to use lies, manipulation, blame shifting, and other strategies to avoid responsibility and feelings of shame. This is a perpetual cycle of shame. Ultimately, shame causes us to enter a spiral of unhealthy behavior that is impossible to exit without admitting one’s own problematic behavior and changing the behavior.
Toxic Shame and Codependents
Narcissism, Borderline Personality Disorder, other disorders, and individuals with toxic emotions have trouble regulating their negative emotions (mood swings and intense highs & lows). They cope with their shame by giving away the negative feelings through methods such as blaming, manipulating, gaslighting, and controlling what others think about them. Such individuals usually seek out empathetic codependents to carry their pain for them.
Codependents struggle with intense shame too, so it’s a perfect dysfunctional pairing. The codependent fears saying NO and feels guilty when they don’t meet their partners needs! An empathetic codependent is like a for individuals that struggle with toxic shame. The codependents usually does everything for them, takes all the blame for anything that went wrong, and bends over backwards to please the other person. This relinquishes the to grow and remove dysfunctional traits because the codependents is accommodating their pain.
Toxic Shame in Relationships
Shame in marriage, friendships, and relationships can be extremely difficult to deal with. Remember, an individual with shame has a broken core and views life through a dirty window. To function they developed toxic traits to make themselves feel unbroken and to convince themselves and the world that they don’t have a dirty window.
It’s embarrassing for them to admit that they need others to help see the world clearly and to learn to love themselves. Their embarrassment is rooted in fear of people thinking negatively about them.
10 Characteristics Of Toxic Shame in a Relationship
- They may have anxiety, constantly check to see if they’re hurting you, and go out of their way to make you happy
- Your partner twists everything in their mind to make it everyone else’s fault (blame shifting)
- They may hurt you so that you feel what they do and to trigger your worst self comes out so they can say you’re just as bad (Emotional Abuse)
- They falsely believe they are being attacked by their partner/spouse (victim mentality)
- Your spouse may get mad and hurt you in their rage and then become even more ashamed after. This is the shame rage cycle that gets more intense as more negative experiences happen.
- They may assume you’re saying and doing things to hurt them because of their sensitivity to you believing they’re a bad person
- The person rejects or belittles your attempts to love them because they feel unworthy
- It is common to bring up all the things you’re doing wrong to distract you from the real problems (projection)
- They may be prideful and overcompensate for their low self esteem by denying ridiculing your perspective of the problem (gaslighting)
- In extreme situations, toxic shame in marriages can lead to physical abuse.
Related Article: Toxic Relationship Quiz: Test If It’s Emotionally Abusive!
Shame and Depression
Depression can lead to shame. And shame can further depression. Shame can be so tormenting that individuals may feel like they don’t belong on the earth, like they’re monsters, and everything will result in pain.
People who are depressed generally have a lack of motivation, hope for life, and tend to be going through the motions of life without purpose. Many people that use toxic coping mechanisms are walking around with functional depression. This means they are still able to look normal, but inside they feel lifeless and unhappy.
Dealing with Shame at Work
To deal with shame at work you need to build your self esteem. Making a mistake shouldn’t make you feel like you’re going to get fired and you are not qualified.
Break the Cycle and Let Go of Shame
- Your future self should not judge your past self. That’s unfair. That’s like a 60 year old man judging an 18 year old teenager.
- Accept that everyone is on a journey of growth and makes mistakes.
- Learn to trust your gut: sometimes you’re looking at your past and that feeling back then was your gut trying to instruct you. Learn to hear what your spirit is saying to guide you away from mistakes that calls for a higher power to avoid. (God’s voice and prompting)
- Change your perspective of the situation: what were you trying to do? Did you think what you were doing was the best you could do at that moment? Did you know it would result in pain before you did it? Would you have done it if you saw what would happen? If you’re seeing areas that you’d like to improve in, you’re a good person that just made an uninformed decision in the past.
- Start the heart detox and start to fix your broken core with love and introspection. The free workbook contains exercises for healing shame. One exercise is to write the lies and negative things you believe about yourself. Then, look up the dictionary antonym. Use those words to affirm yourself. More detail are in the workbook.
- You can book a free EMPOWERMENT COACHING session with me where I’ll help you find your inner power and strengthen your ability to love yourself!
- Check Out 8+ Self Inventory Quizzes: