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  • Writer's pictureDana Arcuri

Healing Toxic Shame

Toxic shame is a serious concern for those who have survived unhealthy relationships, trauma, and narcissistic abuse. This type of shame goes far beyond thinking, “I made a big mistake” or “I regret doing something.” Toxic shame is usually dumped onto people by their toxic family, siblings, spouse, intimate partner, or ex. It’s done in a very subtle, sneaky way.

Toxic shame can have you believing, “I’m a bad person because I did ________.” Fill in the blank. You could feel toxic shame because you ended a destructive relationship. You may feel toxic shame because your relative or someone else had sexually assaulted you and then they victim-blamed and shamed you. I have personally experienced this. You can struggle with toxic shame if you have a low self-worth. If you were raised in a dysfunctional family with at least one abusive parent, sibling, or relative. You may experience toxic shame if you’re still in the midst of processing your trauma.

In other words, toxic shame judges the person (yourself), rather than the act of what someone inflicted upon you; psychological abuse, sexual abuse, mental abuse, and trauma. Oftentimes, survivors are not consciously aware if they have toxic shame. They may have grown up with it. In addition, it could be hidden and buried deep within your subconscious mind.

When shame becomes toxic, it can eat at us and destroy our lives. Everyone experiences shame on occasion. It’s an emotion with physical symptoms like any other that comes and goes. When it’s severe, it can cause extreme pain.

You may battle strong feelings of shame, which stimulate your nervous system, causing you a fight-flight-freeze trauma reaction. You can feel exposed. You may want to run away, hide, or react in anger. You may feel overwhelmed by confusion or not be able to think clearly.

Worse, you may feel intensely alienated from others and the good parts of yourself. This is common if you are no longer in contact with the narcissist and other perpetrators. You can be consumed with self-contempt, which is escalated since you’re unable to be rid of yourself.

You can experience triggers or tender spots that produce feelings of toxic shame. The intensity of your experience varies, too, depending upon your prior life experiences, cultural beliefs, personality, and your traumatic events.

Toxic Shame Traits:

· Isolation – With unhealthy shame, you may isolate yourself for a long time. Your friends and family may try to coax you to come out of your shell. You may isolate because you are suffering toxic shame, fear, and an overall sense of being unsafe.

· False Masks – If you have toxic shame, one common sign is that you will not feel comfortable being yourself. You may cover up your true identity. The shame of this nature can cause you to feel like you’re not accepted by society, friends, and family. Therefore, you may subconsciously create a ‘more appealing’ version of yourself to look better by others.

· Mental Health – Those who are dealing with toxic shame may spiral out of control. They may battle depression, anxiety, CPTSD, despair, and hopelessness.

· Silenced – Whatever happened to cause your shame, you stay silent about it. You may refuse to speak up about your abuse. Your toxic shame is intensified to such a high degree that you feel paralyzed to disclose the truth.

· Denial – Due to how traumatic toxic shame can become, you may live in denial about your past abuse. You may have a very difficult time admitting and talking about what happened to you. It may hurt so deeply that you are stuck in a denial stage.

· Disturbing Memories – You may have nightmares, flashbacks, and horrible memories that show up in your sleep, in images during a waking state, or in your negative beliefs that originated in your childhood. It can be linked to your ‘shame story’ about your abuse, trauma, and violent acts that were done to you.

· Shame-based Beliefs – Toxic shame creates a sense of being inadequate. You may feel unlovable, unworthy, defective, not good enough, like a fraud, and/or not important.

In most cases, toxic shame becomes internalized from chronic experiences of shame that were dumped onto you in your childhood or adulthood. Parents, siblings, spouses, and partners, especially if they have narcissistic personality disorder, can transfer their shame to their children and/or victims through verbal words and nonverbal behaviors.

For example, a child may feel unlovable in reaction to their parent’s neglect, abuse, absence, and/or indifference. If not resolved, toxic shame can lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD, CPTSD, addictions, eating disorders, aggression, low self-esteem, irrational guilt, perfectionism, codependency, and/or unhealthy relationships as an adult.

How can we heal toxic shame? If you’ve fallen victim to toxic shame, there is still hope for a full recovery. Despite it originating from childhood or adult trauma, you can still learn to conquer this self-defeating behavior.

Shame is internalized when one is abandoned. Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one’s authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically.” ~ John Bradshaw, Author of Healing the Shame that Binds You Since toxic shame is internalized and it’s linked to abandonment, you can start to shift your subconscious mind by first reconnecting to your inner child and your adult self.

Being compassionate with yourself is one of the most important things to do in order to let go of unhealthy emotions. Keep in mind, we are all human and imperfect. You don’t need to be perfect. You are enough just as you are today. Many of us are healing from something that victimized us or traumatized us.

Dear friend, please be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to cut yourself a little slack. The active way to start doing this is by using positive words, thoughts, beliefs, and affirmations about yourself. Each day, speak out loud, I am worthy,” “I am unconditionally loved,” and “My life has value and incredible importance.”

Healing begins within. The ability to heal starts in your subconscious mind. If you think you cannot recover, there is a likely chance that you won’t. If you confidently believe that you will recover, you will most certainly heal. The subconscious mind is extremely powerful. What you feed it, positive or negative, is exactly the results you will get. Even if you don't believe in this.

Therefore, pay attention to your thoughts, words, and beliefs. Build awareness about it because it correlates to your conscious reality. In addition, pay attention to the people, places, and various ways you may interact in our world; face to face and online. What are you feeding your mind? What are you saying out loud or silently? Is it healthy and boosting your overall attitude? Or is it poisonous, negative, destructive, and destroying your life?

Interesting facts about the subconscious mind: (Found on

· It records everything.

· It’s always alert and awake.

· It controls 95% of our lives.

· It is built on habituation.

· It speaks to you in dreams.

· It has no verbal language.

· It can do trillion things at once.

· It is not logical; it’s the feeling mind.

· It’s one million times powerful than the conscious mind.

Mindfulness, through things like meditation, prayer, journaling, daily affirmations, and practicing positive self-concepts reminds us about the truth. It helps us to stay in our present moment. To remind ourselves of who we are. It’s empowering to connect to likeminded people who have a similar practice of speaking love, peace, unity, harmony, healing, and encouragement into our own lives.

It can shift your energy to help you build momentum in your healing journey. Through time, consistency, and practice, taking your thoughts, beliefs, and words captive can help you realize how strong you truly are and how you can get through anything, including past abuse.

Also, you can learn to turn that inner voice of toxic shame into empathy towards yourself. Give yourself the love, warmth, and nurturing that you didn’t receive as a child. Have the courage to let yourself be seen. To let yourself be heard. Tap into your authentic emotions. No matter what you feel, all of your emotions are valid. It’s time to kick toxic shame to the curb!

According to Laura Giles, LCSW, "Shame comes from invalidation. Healing comes from validation. Something magical happens when you tell your story and you’re believed. Your experience is real. Your feelings are valid. You are important. Shame thrives in isolation. Healing comes from connecting. It may feel counterintuitive to be vulnerable when that’s exactly what got you hurt. That’s precisely what healing asks of you. Let yourself shine little by little in authentic ways until it becomes the new norm. You can break this pattern and thrive." You cannot heal in the same toxic environment and abusive relationships, which deeply hurt you. Healing requires you to name the abusers. To acknowledge it. To address it. To face what they did and said to you. To love yourself enough that you bravely reclaim your life to rescue your own self and fully recover from your traumatic events. I love the inspiring quote by Caroline Abbott who said, "Feeling unhealthy, toxic shame never redeems us. It only harms us." Today, may you release the toxic shame. For it was never meant to be a burden for you to carry. NOTE: This blog post is from my newest book, Soul Rescue: How to Break Free from Narcissistic Abuse & Heal Trauma. Get your copy today!

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