Today’s guest post is written by freelance mental health writer Taylor Blanchard, who talks about toxic shame, what it looks like in our lives and how we can manage it.
You’re at work; your boss is frustrated. In passing, with a furrowed brow, she briskly asks you if you’ve remembered to call that Very Important Person.
Oh no. You forgot.
What happens next? Does your face turn hot? Do you lose sleep for days or weeks afterward, hearing uncontrollable thoughts spring up such as “You’re no good at anything. Why do you always screw up?”
This is what we call toxic shame, my friends, and when left unhealed, it can suck the soul from your life like a looming, invisible dementor.
What is Toxic Shame, and Why Does it Happen?
You might carry toxic shame if you feel terrified of what people think. I mean: paralyzing terror at the thought of someone making fun of you or being mad at you.
Usually, toxic shame stems from trauma. This can be emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in childhood or adulthood, but it can also be bullying, assault, homelessness, addiction, and especially racism and homophobia. All of these experiences signal to the individual (in some way) that who they are at their core is wrong, bad, or defective. PS: this is a horribly shitty experience that no one ever deserves to go through.
How Toxic Shame Can Turn Your Life Bleak
Okay, so besides making you afraid of everything, how does toxic shame eat away at your life?
It Severs Your Relationships
For me, it feels ridiculously difficult to make and sustain friendships. The second I get close to someone, my brain screams: “RUN! They’re going to reject you anyway!”. Hello, toxic shame! This sinister force makes us feel undeserving of love; thus, intimacy feels unbearable.
It Suffocates Your Dreams and Desires
“Life paralysis” is when you feel so terrified of looking stupid or failing, that you become completely frozen in life, unable to take a single step in any direction. (This was me at age 23!)
In short: shame can feel so unbearable, that the mere possibility of feeling ashamed can stop us from doing anything at all. And here’s the thing: you actually can’t go after what you want without failing a few times.
It Makes You Feel Empty
Perhaps most insidiously, toxic shame can blossom into feelings of emptiness and even depression. (Putting my hand up for this one, too.) Simply put, if you walk around feeling as if nothing you do is good enough, that umbrella of shame will act as a sponge, soaking up all of the good feelings from your life.
How to Heal Toxic Shame
Toxic shame survivors often feel completely hopeless about their lives; this is a mightily painful experience. However, you must remember these two things: this shame was never your fault, and there is hope.
Trauma-Informed Therapy is a Game Changer
Yes, it’s true. You’re likely going to need therapy to overcome toxic shame. However, I hear what many of you are probably thinking: “Therapy didn’t work for me! It made me feel worse!”.
For years, I had no idea that I needed trauma-informed therapy: therapy which validates the intensely shame-inducing experiences I’ve had. Not all therapists actually do that!
So, where to begin? If you’re not already in therapy, try using PsychologyToday’s find-a-therapist tool, making sure to select “trauma focused” under “types of therapy” after entering your location. This should give you a fantastic starting point for your journey.
Summing it Up
In short: toxic shame is hellaciously isolating and self-perpetuating, and it often feels hopeless… But there is hope for you, no matter who you are.
Remember: your toxic shame was never your fault– it was the result of a terrible experience that you were forced to go through. It sucked. However: trauma-informed therapists will know precisely what you need to heal. And with enough time and loving self-focus, you can heal. You can start to live a colorful life again…Or perhaps for the first time ever.
Taylor Blanchard is a freelance mental health and wellness writer for hire. Her lived experience and extensive knowledge on mental health, emotional wellness, and spirituality guide her to create deep, compassionate blog posts, which she hopes will help people to feel less alone in the world. Self-care for Taylor looks like staring at the sky, drinking cacao while listening to metal, or cuddling with her rescue Pitbull mix.