Toxic Shame Counselling Wolverhampton
Psychological Therapy for Toxic Shame Problems
Everyone experiences shame at one time another. It’s an emotion with physical symptoms like any other that come and go, but when it’s severe, it can be extremely painful and when shame becomes toxic, it can ruin our lives.
Strong feelings of shame stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, causing a fight/flight/freeze reaction. We feel exposed and want to hide or react with rage, while feeling profoundly alienated from others and good parts of ourselves. We may not be able to think or talk clearly and be consumed with self-loathing, which is made worse because we’re unable to be rid of ourselves.
We all have our own specific triggers or tender points that produce feelings of shame. The intensity of our experience varies, too, depending upon our prior life experiences, cultural beliefs, personality, and the activating event.
Unlike ordinary shame, “internalised shame” hangs around and alters our self-image. It’s shame that has become “toxic,” a term first coined by Sylvan Tomkins in the early 1960s in his scholarly examination of human affect. For some people, toxic shame can monopolise their personality, while for others, it lies beneath their conscious awareness, but can easily be triggered.
Characteristics of Toxic Shame
Toxic shame differs from ordinary shame, which passes in a day or a few hours, in the following respects:
- It can hide in our unconscious, so that we’re unaware that we have shame.
- When we experience shame, it lasts much longer.
- The feelings and pain associated with shame are of greater intensity.
- An external event isn’t required to trigger it. Our own thoughts can bring on feelings of shame.
- It leads to shame spirals that cause depression and feelings of hopelessness and despair.
- It causes chronic “shame anxiety” — the fear of experiencing shame.
- It’s accompanied by voices, images, or beliefs originating in childhood and is associated with a negative “shame story” about ourselves.
- We needn’t recall the original source of the immediate shame, which usually originated in childhood or a prior trauma.
- It creates deep feelings of inadequacy.
Unhelpful Beliefs Based on Toxic Shame
The fundamental belief underlying shame is that “I’m unlovable — not worthy of knowing.” Most frequently, internalised shame manifests as one of the following beliefs;
- I’m stupid
- I’m unattractive (especially to a romantic partner)
- I’m a failure
- I’m a bad person
- I’m a fraud or a phony
- I’m selfish
- I’m not enough (this belief can be applied to numerous areas)
- I hate myself
- I don’t matter
- I’m defective or inadequate
- I shouldn’t have been born
- I’m unlovable
The Causes of Toxic Shame
In most cases, shame becomes internalised or toxic from chronic or intense experiences of shame in childhood. Parents can unintentionally transfer their shame to their children through verbal messages or nonverbal behaviour. For an example, a child might feel unloved in reaction to a parent’s depression, indifference, absence, or irritability or feel inadequate due to a parent’s competitiveness or over-correcting behavior.
Children need to feel uniquely loved by both parents. When that connection is breached, such as when a child is scolded harshly (for example ‘you should feel ashamed of yourself‘), children feel alone and ashamed, unless the parent-child bond of love is soon repaired. However, even if shame has been internalized, it can be surmounted by later positive experiences.
If not healed, toxic shame can lead to aggression, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, and addiction. It generates low self-esteem, anxiety, irrational guilt, perfectionism, and it limits our ability to enjoy satisfying relationships and professional success.
Thinking Errors Associated with Toxic Shame
Shame related problems may be exacerbated by any number of common thinking errors that people tend to ‘suffer’.
You can find out more about each of these by clicking on the links below:-
- Catastrophising – Making mountains out of molehills
- All or Nothing Thinking – Ignoring the middle-ground
- Fortune Telling – Trying to predict the future
- Mind Reading – I know what you’re thinking!
- Emotional Reasoning – Feelings aren’t facts
- Overgeneralising – Always, Never and Everybody
- Labelling – Successful / Failure
- Imperative Thinking – I need to, I have to and I must
- Confirmation Bias – He didn’t mean I was good because I know I’m not
- Processing Positive Experiences – I didn’t really deserve that Nobel Prize
- Low Frustration Tolerance – It’s too hard I can’t stand it / I can take it I’m worth it
- Personalisation – it’s always my fault when things go wrong
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