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  • Writer's pictureDana Arcuri

Toxic Shame: Signs of Toxic Shame & How to Heal

One common and normal trauma response for abuse survivors is feeling toxic shame. According to Brené Brown, "Shame is insecurity that attaches to self-identity and gets in the way of action or vulnerability. It causes people to believe that they’re unworthy or unlovable."

Generational shame is often caused by family secrets, fears of abandonment, and chronic patterns of emotional denial or avoidance. Oftentimes, trauma survivors will bury their pain, try to dull their anguish, or deny what took place. Or they may dissociate, have an intense trauma response of being slammed with fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Trauma is not what is wrong with you. Dear Soul, nothing is wrong with you. It is about what happened to you: Abuse.

In the Internal Family System (IFS) model, feelings of toxic shame that are transferred from one generation to the next, are described as legacy burdens. A legacy burden is any belief or emotion passed down generationally through the family tree, ethnic lineage, or environment/society.

"Shame hates it when we reach out to tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it - it can't survivor being shared. Shame loves secrecy. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes." ~ Brene' Brown

According to, "The feeling of shame is often followed by guilt. So, what is guilt? Simply put, it is a self-conscious emotion that is driven by an intent to rectify a mistake or wrongdoing. You may or may not be able to set things in order but if you experience guilt, it is a sign that you will avoid the same mistake in the future. Sharing your guilt is always easier because it talks about remorse for your actions that may have impacted others. Shame on the other hand is more complicated since it is associated with you. This also allows shame to have a stronger impact on your feelings. The feeling of shame lingers around for longer than that of guilt."

Signs of Toxic Shame:

  • Self-loathing

  • Lack of self-confidence

  • You make yourself smaller or you feel invisible

  • Anger

  • Guilt

  • Unhealed trauma

  • Substance abuse

  • Deteriorating mental health

  • You feel haunted by your past mistakes

  • You're extremely vulnerable

  • You ignore your physical, emotional, & spiritual needs

  • You may isolate yourself from friends, family, etc.

How to Heal Toxic Shame:

  • Seek emotional support by a trauma-informed professional.

  • Release "false guilt." (It's not yours to carry. Return it to the perpetrators.)

  • Have the courage to process, face, & work through your past abuse & trauma.

  • Tell your true story to a trustworthy person who will keep it confidential.

  • Practice speaking daily affirmations reclaiming your self-worth.

  • Set healthy boundaries in all of your relationships.

  • Don't keep secrets, including with your family or friends.

  • Practice self-compassion & nurture yourself.

  • Avoid harmful behaviors & self-destructive behaviors.

  • Confronting your fears will help you overcome them & avoid shame.

  • Journal your challenges, emotions, & abuse experiences.

  • Do not take the blame when cruel people project toxic shame onto you.

  • Identify unhealthy, abusive relationships. Consider ending toxic relationships.

“Traumatized clients often experience rapid, dramatic, exhausting, and confusing shifts of intense emotional states, from dysregulated fear, anger, or even elation, to despair, helplessness, shame, or flat affect.” ~ Pat Ogden

According to Terry Real, a family therapist, author, and teacher, "Real intimacy – with oneself and with others- dissolves shame. You cannot connect from either superiority or inferiority. Love demands democracy."

If you struggle with toxic shame, guilt, depression, or roller coaster emotions from your past abuse, I offer emotional support as a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach. To learn more about what I do, my specialties, and what you will receive when you work with me in private sessions, visit my coaching page.

For my coaching packages and prices:

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