Home Psychology What Is TOXIC SHAME And What Can You Do To Heal Yourself

What Is TOXIC SHAME And What Can You Do To Heal Yourself


“Shame on you!”

How many times have you heard this phrase as a kid?

When we were children, often, our parents or teacher would intentionally or unintentionally shame us for doing something we were not supposed to do. This wasn’t a pleasant experience, but we learned that the guilt feeling was temporary, and it passed quickly.

Even now as adults, we experience shame from time to time. So, what’s the problem with this feeling?

We can all agree that shame is indeed a painful emotion and it can be also highly destructive and toxic to us if we internalize it instead of letting it go.

So, what is toxic shame аnd what causes it?

The psychologist Silvan Tomkins first coined the term. It means that unlike ‘regular’ shame that passes away, toxic shame stays ingrained within the person and it will become a part of the person’s self-identity.

The person will start feeling worthless, their self-esteem will go out the window, and feelings of self-loathing will soon emerge.

This toxic shame most commonly happens through childhood experiences, when our parents have most probably punished us verbally or physically.

Or, this toxic shame can be a result of more extreme forms of abuse such as rape, incest, or any sexual assault that make us lose touch with reality.

Also, this toxic feeling of shame can develop later in life when we experience some traumas from being in dysfunctional or abusive relationships, experiencing humiliation at work, betrayal, etc.

Suffering from toxic shame myself, I can tell you that when this feeling stays with you long enough, it shows in the way you talk, in your relations to others, in your way of thinking… in your whole body and mind.

What are the symptoms of this subtle ‘mental illness’?

There are many signs that tell you have experienced toxic shame: mistrust of others, reliving past traumas, low self-esteem, dysfunctional relationships, self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness, self-victimization, and self-sabotage, ‘settling’ for unfulfilling relationships or jobs, a defensive mechanism, addictive tendencies, and so on.

So, what can you do to heal your toxic shame?

I will reveal to you 5 simple techniques that helped me to get out of these self-destructive feelings and mindset and fix my life. I hope it will help you too.

1. Release the tension from your body.

Our feelings, thoughts, as well as traumas, are stored in our body as muscle pain and illnesses. Feelings of shame are most commonly stored in our lower back area and the stomach region.

So, try to relax and learn how to calm down and soothe your body. Practicing yoga, massage therapies, stretching, or a nice hot bath can help you.   

2. Practice authentic self-compassion.

Self-compassion means showing genuine care, love, and concern for oneself. And turning a self-loathing mindset into a self-compassionate one can be a hard process indeed. So, start small.

Start doing one little good thing for yourself every day. For instance, keep repeating to yourself that you are worthy, and also take a good care of your physical as well as your mental needs.  For instance, if you tend to have dysfunctional relationships, start removing toxic people from your life. And the sooner the better.

You need to practice self-compassion every day. Without exceptions. Always take a good care of yourself, because at the end of the day, you are what you have. And yes, you are worthy, strong, loveable, intelligent, and yes – you can!

3. Look at yourself in the mirror.

This is a simple exercise that can help you a lot. First, find a quiet alone space where you can relax. Look at yourself in a mirror and allow yourself to feel every emotion that arises when you look yourself in the eyes.

When I first did this exercise, I admit I cried. All those bottled up emotions that I had flooded out. So, feel whatever you feel – be it shyness, anger, disgust, embarrassment, or pain. And when you finish, just smile, hug yourself and say to you that it is okay to feel whatever it is that you are feeling.

4. Become aware of your self-destructive thoughts.

Begin exploring your cognitive distortions and fundamental core beliefs because these are your black lenses from which you see yourself and the world around you. Keeping a private journal can help you with this process. Write your deepest feelings, insights, and don’t forget to keep track of your progress.  

5. Re-parent your inner child.

You must go back to your child-self in order to begin your healing process. Because your feelings of toxic shame have its roots in childhood-abuse and abandonment.

By learning how to take care of you as a little kid, and do your inner child work – you can feel the emotions that you might have repressed a long time ago.

By accessing and experiencing those toxic feelings again, you can finally be able to release them from your mind as well as your body.

In turn, you will develop a stronger and deeper connection with yourself and start seeing and respecting yourself in a way you have never done before.