Healthy Shame and Toxic Shame
January 19, 2016 · Posted in Mental Health, Parenting · Permalink

shame2There are two types of shame. Appropriate and toxic.

Shame is defined as:

1.     the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another:
2.     susceptibility to this feeling

Healthy shame (or embarrassment) is necessary. It guides us. It corrects our behavior. After yelling at your child–“Wow, I really lost it. I am not the worst parent in the world but I don’t want to do that again!” After over eating–“I totally pigged out tonight, I feel crummy. I need to be more careful to stop eating when I feel full. ” Getting back a paper–“I hate that I got a C on this paper, next time I need to start on it a little earlier.”

Not excusing yourself from accountability but not trashing yourself.

Take toxic or unhealthy shame.  Everyone goes there sometimes. “I am the worst parent!” “I am a loser”, “I am so stupid”. What purpose does this serve? Absolutely none. Toxic shame is an exaggerated, negative and absolute place. It is self-flagellating. It is totally self-involved.  We are lost in an abyss of self loathing and we are not really available to those around us.

Terry Real, an expert on healthy relationships, uses the graphic above to plot toxic shame and grandiosity on a “y” axis.  This visual is a helpful way to conceptualize sinking into toxic shame. Remembering that it’s self-absorbed, or narcissistic, you can more easily yank yourself out and get back to a more grounded place.

When you go to that painful place, remind yourself– “I am in toxic shame, I am being mean to myself and it is also very self-absorbed. I’ve got to get to a more balanced place.” You will get better and better at staying grounded and teaching yourself and your children the difference between learning from mistakes and punishing yourself.

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