“Like moss, shames grows in the dark. Vanquish it by bringing it into the light”
Shame is inexorably tied to the question that many of us will eventually ask ourselves, “Are we a human doing or a human being?” In other words, is our value and appreciation for and about ourselves determined by what we do (and how it impacts others) or by just who we are? Self-worth determined by what we do is neither life-affirming, nor is it personally and emotionally sustaining. We can never do “good” enough to free us from the shackles of low self-esteem, self-doubt and insecurity.
Self-esteem or feelings of self-love never result from actions, but instead just by who a person is or desires to become. Human doers live their lives chasing the proverbial carrot, which is not actually attainable. Because core shame in maintained from the inside, no amount of “carrots” will ever relieve a person of it. It is simply impossible to reach a goal that is neither possible nor realistic.
According to the world-renown psychiatrist Carl Jung, “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. These “dark” forces are no match for the “light” of love, acceptance, self-respect and, most of all, courage. Truth, courage and love of oneself brings shame into the light, where it cannot survive. Love of self, self-forgiveness and the pursuit of emotional healing are soul affirming, the universal elixir to the cancerous condition of core shame.
I call the beginning point of one’s core shame the “original condition,” where the seeds of adult shame are planted in the fertile soil of a child’s early psychological environment. Abusive, neglectful and/or depriving narcissistic parents sow the seeds for what will manifest into a psychologically damaged child whose self-concept is void of self-affirming and self-loving feelings and beliefs. Like a weed that never dies, shame is buried deep in the inner recesses of a child’s unconscious mind, where all the too painful memories of our childhood wounds reside. Childhood trauma is ground zero for one’s toxic self-contempt and self-hate.
The parent’s treatment of the child becomes the metaphorical “mirror” into which the child learns to see and understand themselves. The manner in which a child was raised creates a mirror of sorts through which a child views and interprets their self-worth. When parents unconditionally love their child, the child interprets their parent’s love and commitment for them as a direct reflection of who they are. Consequently, they “see” themselves as a worthy, valuable and lovable person. However, when a parent(s) abuses, neglects and/or deprives their child of unconditional love and safety, this child “views” themselves as unworthy of love and protection. The shame-based child becomes the adult “human doing” who can never outrun their shame.
There are two types of shame: shame for who you are and shame for what you have done. Shame for who you are is one’s “core shame” and shame for what you have done is “situational shame.” Both are toxic; however, the former is a lifelong affliction. We can choose to be victims of our shame or try to vanquish it through a courageous battle that includes psychotherapy, support from friends, family, and other nurturing and affirming influences.
Shame-based individuals seem to be stuck in a self-fulfilling prophesy. Although they desperately try to free themselves from the suffocating influences of self-doubt and self-contempt, they are never quite able to relate to others from a place of self-esteem and self-love. 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. And so it continues, sadly for some, for a lifetime.
According to Joyce Marter, LCPC, psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance LLC, a counseling practice in the greater Chicago area, “Shame is self-sabotaging. It triggers feelings that we are unwell, unworthy, unlovable. Clients often identify with their shame and feel unworthy to welcome into their lives all the love, prosperity, abundance and happiness that is inherently theirs, simply for the asking.” She further explained that shame is corrosive, paralyzing and cancerous. It prevents us from fully being able to love and accept ourselves and others while contributing to our feelings of unworthiness. When we identify with our shame, we simply will not self-actualize or reach our full potential because we do not feel worthy.
How to rid yourself of toxic shame:
1. Work with a qualified and experienced psychotherapist that understands the complex nature of shame and trauma.
2. Avoid relationships with people who cannot see your self-worth based just on who you are, not what you do.
3. Nurture relationships that recognize your inherent value.
4. If you are codependent, read books about codependency, i.e., “The Human Magnet Syndrome” or “Codependent No More.”
5. Seek codependency psychotherapy.
6. Participate in a codependency 12-Step group like Co-dependents Anonymous (CODA) or ALANON.
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Psychotherapist & National Seminar Trainer