Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash
What is the connection between shame and blame? And how is shame different from guilt? Guilt is the feeling of doing something wrong, while shame is the feeling of being something wrong. While guilt can be healthy and positive, shame tends to lead to self-destructive behaviors. Shamed people focus on self-blame and self-loathing. Psychiatrist Carl Jung described shame as a soul-eating emotion that feeds on itself. Shame is often created in children through excessive scolding, judging, criticizing, neglect, abuse, and abandonment. While we all experience shame to some degree, toxic shame occurs when it becomes an integral part of a person’s self-image or sense of self-worth. So how does shame manifest itself in everyday life?
Shame-filled people apologize constantly and have little sense of emotional boundaries. They engage in negative self-talk, have unrealistically high expectations of themselves, overcompensate for feelings of inadequacy, and constantly compare themselves with others which leads to feelings of unworthiness. Toxic shame lasts much longer, with greater intensity, and can hide in our unconscious. Shame-based beliefs usually revolve around feeling unlovable or unworthy of connection, such as, “I’m not enough,” ” I don’t matter,” or “I’m a fraud.” Toxic shame can lead to depression, feelings of hopelessness, aggression, and addictions. People with unhealthy shame tend to self-sabotage and struggle with significant insecurity. What can a person do to get rid of toxic shame?
Shame needs fear and negativity to survive. Therefore, avoid relationships with people who devalue your worth and instead nurture relationships with people who recognize your inherent value. Develop a list of your positive attributes and learn to love yourself for who you are rather than what you’ve done. Replace destructive behaviors with affirming behaviors. For example, go for a walk outside instead of sitting alone in front of the TV. Eliminate excessive shame by working towards self-acceptance and self-respect. Sharing openly with supportive people who understand and are trustworthy can break the secrecy that accompanies shame. Engage in activities that generate pride and a sense of accomplishment such as gardening or learning a new sport. Setting healthy boundaries without guilt, being assertive, and self-forgiveness will invariably reduce shame. Lastly, incorporate affirming self-talk and build healthy relationships. Acknowledge shame and attack it with healthy and positive behaviors.