I always known that I live with self-shame. It’s been at the core of my being for literally as long as I can remember. It’s what I’ve associated myself with then and what I quite often associate myself with now.
Even with the work that I do on a daily basis to heal, the daily feeling of toxic shame is seemingly endless.
What’s interesting is, and sad at the same time, is that while I knew I lived with shame, I only recently discovered that it’s actually toxic shame.
I say, “sad”, not to intentionally degrade myself but rather to illustrate just how deep these feelings really do go.
There is a really great article from PsychCentral, written in 2013, that talks about what toxic shame is.
Shame is a soul-eating emotion.” Simply, shame feeds on itself. Shame survives in the darkest recesses of one’s insecure, self-loathing and self-doubting mind. Shame needs fear and negativity to survive.
I would respectfully add something to that quote by Psychiatrist Carl Jung, and that is “soul crushing”.
When you realize just how easily is to shame yourself, like a default state of being, it can be so difficult to embrace any type of hope.
No matter how many times people tell you, “Things will get better. You are loved, You are important, You can heal, There is hope”, it can very easily fall on deaf ears. Not intentionally of course; but when shame is so deeply rooted in your being, at a subconscious level, it’s hard to see past anything other than despair.
You work through healing, doing everything you can to the best of your abilities, and while others see progress in you, you only see an unending cycle of despair.
You try and try, doing all you can but shame has such a grip that you continuously draw back into the safety and comfort of what you know. The fact that it’s unhealthy is undeniable, but that doesn’t keep you from running back into it’s open arms.
Shame-based individuals can often be stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although they desperately want to look at themselves with love and compassion, just like others see them; their core shame keeps them anchored in their world of self-degradation and, ultimately self-sabotage.
As much as they try to break the curse of their core shame, they end up maintaining it.
The seeds of this shame are rooted in early childhood years, specifically for me between 5-10 when the sexual abuse happened, in middle school when the bullying happened, and all during my growing up years living in a home without validation from caregivers.
It’s been said, “now you know and knowing is half the battle”. While that is true in many areas of life, for survivors the real battle is just beginning in that “second half”. Perhaps the hardest part of the battle.
I say that not to minimize the trauma that set the stage for shame, because that was horrific to endure in every way imaginable. Instead though, I want to emphasize just how difficult working through the shame brought on by trauma is.
I’ve asked myself this question many times before, and have been asked by others:
“If you knew just hard this healing journey was, would you ever have embarked on it in the first place?”
A quick answer would likely be, “Yes”, because we know that while it’s difficult, this hard work will one day allow us to reap the benefits of feeling better, having more confidence, and being able to love and accept ourselves.
Toxic Shame would have us say, “oh hell no”. I was perfectly content feeling miserable. At least it wasn’t so much work and at times so disheartening. Why, because we already felt that way to begin with.
To say that I had a lightbulb moment surrounding Toxic Shame, would be an understatement.
Often times those moments are inspiring, validating, and encouraging. They give us hope because we learned something about ourselves and we can run with it and nourish that new found positive revelation.
Other times, those lightbulb moments feel like they just lit up a whole new room full of insurmountable challenges. That feeling can be extremely difficult to sit with, and feel overwhelming.
I know this because I have experienced it. Maybe you have too?
There aren’t always wonderful words of wisdom and encouragement to fall back on. No positive ending to a therapy or coaching session that makes us feel better. Sometimes it’s all you can do to just hang on and try to keep healing; holding onto that lone thread of hope that is still left.
If a thread is all you have to hold onto right now, friend, then hang on for dear life, and don’t give up. We will hold onto that thread together!
We have to believe there is hope, even when it seems far away.
Yes, keep holding on – we sure need each other. If one of us lets go, the rest of us may do a free fall. I think I’ve struggled with plenty of shame for such a long time. Its gotten much better but every now and then I sit at the table of shame and feast heavily. Good how you put this in words. Some of the statements while they were hard to hear, sometimes they were just enough to help prop me up (within reason because too many feel good statements and my ears turn off) It’s a delicate balance for me.
Holding on that thread with you man, always. If my grip starts to give, I’ll reach out and yours start to give, you do the same.
Thanks Matt. I’m feeling validated to know that after all these years I am not alone in still struggling with shame.
You are most definitely validated Marianne. As you can see it’s a big thing for me as well, and such a daily struggle. Never alone friend! 🙂
So true. Easy to fall back. Healing is work. Deep painful work at times. The reward takes time to see and feel.
Great blog Matt.
How do you heal from toxic shame? What sort of work are you doing? Thanks