Today, you’re going to discover top 10 signs of toxic shame in a person and best 20 healing shame exercies to help you break free from it.
Healthy shame is the psychological foundation of humility.
It gives us permission to be human.
It lets us know we can and will make mistakes and that we need help.
However, shame as a healthy emotion can be transformed into shame as a state of being and take over one’s whole identity.
When you believe that your being is flawed, that you are defective as a human being, shame turns into an identity and becomes toxic and dehumanizing.
Toxic shame usually begins during childhood.
What Is Toxic Shame?
Toxic shame (also called debilitating shame), is the feeling that we’re fundamentally flawed and inadequate.
Toxic shame is a very painful emotion, so it’s only natural for us to do everything in our power to avoid it.
Rather than seeing failures and mistakes as part of the learning process, we see them as proof of our inferiority. (*)
The Real Self vs. The Ideal Self
The Real Self
The real self helps us feel whole and authentically express our feelings and desires.
Just like the assertiveness of a toddler, the real self helps us spontaneously respond to others and communicate what we need and want without apology.
Our real self thrives when people around us allow us to express our thoughts and feelings and encourage us to embrace our individuality.
Therefore, our parents’ response to our needs, feelings, and behaviors is important in helping our real self thrive. Affirming responses from our parents and others that reflect our authentic real self back to us will help us feel seen and heard.
This happens when parents put themselves in the child’s shoes and try to understand situations from the child’s perspective. Then, the parents accurately name and mirror the child’s feelings and meet his or her needs. The child learns to own and trust his or her perceptions and feelings.
However, when children don’t receive the empathy and understanding they need to validate their experience, they end up feeling invisible and helpless. This can stand in the way of expressing our real, authentic self and lead to feelings of shame and the construction of a new identity.
The Ideal Self
When our real self becomes overshadowed by shame, we end up rejecting the real self and creating a new ideal self that is shaped by our experiences and defenses mechanisms.
This ideal self represents what we believe we should be in order to survive. The ideal self serves to protect our real self and helps us receive the love we need.
However, rather than protecting the real self, the ideal self ends up further alienating us from who we really are.
For example, in a family where love is conditional, the child might become a people-pleaser to receive the love he needs. The child grows up disconnected from his needs, wants, and desires.
Although the ideal self seems to provide a solution to receive love and survive, we end up even more alienated from our real self and may choose a career, lifestyle, or a partner that doesn’t support our original goals and desires just to win the approval of others.
10 Signs Of Toxic Shame In A Person
1. Isolation and Fear of Intimacy – You are afraid of intimacy, being vulnerable, and exposing yourself.
2. Feelings of Inferiority – As a child you suffered extreme shyness, embarrassment, and feelings of being inferior to others.
3. Low Self-Worth – You struggle with feelings of worthlessness and believe that no matter what you do, you won’t be lovable. You may also struggle with excessive negative self-talk.
4. Avoidance – You feel defensive when even minor negative feedback is given. You struggle with feelings of severe humiliation when you’re forced to look at mistakes or imperfections.
5. Feelings of Debilitating Guilt – You suffer from debilitating guilt as a result you find yourself constantly apologizing and assuming responsibility for the behavior of those around you.
6. Feelings of Loneliness – You feel like an outsider and struggle with feelings of loneliness throughout your life, even when surrounded by those who love and care.
7. Hiding – You often feel flawed and imperfect. These feelings regarding self may lead you to try hard to hide flaws in personal appearance and self.
8. Perfectionism and Performance Anxiety – You struggle with perfectionism and feel that you must do things perfectly or not at all. This internalized belief frequently leads to performance anxiety and procrastination.
9. Destructive and Compulsive Behaviors – To block your feelings of shame you may find yourself struggling with compulsive behaviors like workaholism, eating disorders, substance abuse, and other addictions.
10. Lack of Healthy Boundaries – You have little sense of emotional boundaries and struggle to say no to others. Any attempts of setting boundaries, usually involve walls, rage, pleasing, or isolation. (*)
How Does Toxic Shame Start In Childhood?
Shame is born in a child in the following cases:
1. When parents and other adult caretakers indicate through their words and/or behaviors that the child is not wanted.
2. When the child is humiliated in public.
3. When disapproval is aimed at the child’s entire being rather than at a particular behavior.
Example: “You are a very bad boy,” rather than, “I don’t like it when you hit your brother. I don’t want you to do it again.”
4. When parents and other adult caretakers indicate through their words and/or behaviors that the child is wrong for having needs or expressing emotions by not meeting his needs or soothing him.
5. When the child’s emotional or physical boundaries are violated (e.g., physical or sexual abuse of an overt or covert nature).
Physical and sexual abuse leads the child to believe that, “I must be a really bad person. I am not lovable or accepted… I am only lovable and accepted when…”
6. When adults ignore or treat indifferently the child’s gifts or events that are important to him. The child develops a sense that he is just not important enough.
Examples: The child gets his mother a flower and his mother says, “What am I supposed to do with this?” and puts it away. Or when the parent consistently does not attend functions that are important to the child, like ball games.
7. When the child feels that parents are somehow flawed when compared to other adult figures in his life.
Example: A parent who is an alcoholic or a drug abuser.
8. When the parents themselves are ashamed and feel powerless in the world. Shame is contagious.
9. When the child is consistently blamed for the actions or emotional state of their parent. The child might think, “If only I were more lovable, then my parents would drink less, be happier, or less depressed.”
10. When parents use silent disgust as a way of disciplining a child’s behavior. When silent rejection is used as punishment, there is little opportunity for the child to understand what is expected from him and repair the relationship.
Best 20 Healing Shame Exercises To Break Free From Toxic Shame
To heal toxic shame you need to come out of hiding. We cannot change our “internalized” shame until we “externalize” it.
#1. Let Go of Denial
Survivors of childhood trauma might find it easier to cope if they simply denied that the trauma really happened to them.
Whether it happened or not, your job isn’t to declare that something is definitively, historically true.
You might remember some aspects wrong. Some memories might have gotten distorted in the process of encoding them and then recalling them. Still, it’s reasonable to rely on the overall gist – the body doesn’t lie.
People don’t develop post-traumatic stress disorder for no reason. Trauma is what causes these disorders.
You might not be able to know exactly what that trauma was, on what day, how it happened, who perpetrated it. But you can fairly confident that your emotions, your behaviors, your symptoms, your shame and self-loathing, your hyperarousal and dissociation, are not random – it’s trauma.
It’s important to recognize that avoidance is the natural response to trauma. The brain is wired to avoid something aversive. So it’s only natural for your brain to avoid the reality of your trauma by denying it.
Accepting that your trauma is true can be frightening. You’ve spent your life trying to shield yourself through denial. So it’s a big ask to move beyond that.
It’s a different way of coping – something you’ve never done before. But just because you haven’t done it before – you don’t have any evidence that you can – it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.
Why accept your trauma when you can deny it?
Because denial keeps you a prisoner. It limits you.
Denial is an exhausting strategy. You need to put a lot of effort into avoiding reality.
It’s much better and healthier to resolve the pain and the trauma and not have to expend all that energy avoiding it any more.
Moreover, denial and dissociation don’t just eradicate negative feelings. It eradicates positive ones too. It prevents you from knowing that you exist, from enjoying yourself.
And however helpful denial could have been in the past, you can’t separate your feelings completely from your body. Even if you don’t acknowledge these feelings, they’ll still come out in physical symptoms – either way, they are going to be felt.
#2. Identify Your Shame
Feelings of shame come from doing something that we believe will be judged as unacceptable by others. We then internalize this judgment and believe that we are unacceptable, not our actions.
Identify events or situations that trigger your feelings of shame. Below is a list of things that often cause feelings of shame:
- having a mental illness
- abusing drugs or alcohol
- your appearance
- getting divorced
- being abused or being abusive
- having a family history of poverty, abuse, mental illness, or criminal record
- being fired
- having an abortion
- being infertile
- being in debt
- having an affair
- doing something that goes against your values or morals
Related: Toxic Shame Quiz
#3. Understand The Power Of Negativity
You might find yourself stuck at times in a downward spiral of negative thinking.
You can’t see anything positive. You don’t have any hope that things will get better.
You might have found yourself thinking something along these lines:
‘Things aren’t getting any better. They’re getting worse. I’m in constant pain. I can’t stop the flashbacks. I can’t stay present. I can’t see a way forwards. I can’t cope. I just… can’t… do it anymore…’
You might realize that being negative isn’t going to help you move forward. But what you don’t realize is that being negative is helping you.
It’s a great way to deal with unbearable feelings – something you do unconsciously.
You have every right to be negative, given what you’ve been through and what you’re suffering now.
And negativity helps you feel safe because then you won’t be disappointed when things go wrong.
Letting go of negativity means that you’re going to hope and that is too risky.
However, this becomes problematic when you start believing the negativity – it makes your experience even more painful.
And while negativity used to prepare you for the worst and protect you from being hurt back then, things have changed now. You’re not powerless anymore. Things are different and there is hope. You’ve learned a lot since then, you have allies – yourself and people who would help you.
So maybe it’s safe to hope a little now.
You don’t have to let go of negativity. You can use it if it helps you. Just be conscious of whether it is actually helping. And make it a conscious choice, rather than doing it as a habit.
#4. Acknowledge The Safety Of Self-Hatred
Self-hatred is helping you.
There’s usually a good reason for everything you do.
Hating yourself keeps you safe. If you hate yourself, then you’re ready for others to hate you. You will feel safe and you won’t be taken by surprise.
It’s the way it’s always been.
You don’t want to be angry and hate the people who hurt you, but you ended up hating yourself. Because if you blame and hate yourself, you don’t have to become angry at those who hurt you and that keeps you safe.
And you don’t have to fight it. Self-hatred has been a survival strategy. You were just trying to protect yourself.
It does help in the short term, but it doesn’t improve anything in the long term – you’re just perpetuating the abuse.
And you can’t recover from the abuse if you’re still being abused.
Self-hatred is familiar and safe. Stepping out of it can feel scary. You don’t know what life looks like without it, and the way your mind is wired after trauma makes it automatically react to new things as if they’re dangerous and set off an alarm.
So the first thing to do when the alarm goes off is to breathe through it, and calm down your panic response. That will help you see things in a different way.
How do you stop hating yourself?
Don’t force it. Just notice it.
Begin to notice your self-talk, every time you feel that rush of self-hatred.
Don’t try to change it. Simply focus on calming down, soothing the emotion, and speaking compassionately to yourself.
Be towards yourself as you would be towards a dear friend.
#5. Overcome Helplessness
This is the freeze response. When fight and flight response don’t work, there’s freeze left.
It’s an instinctive, automatic response – an evolutionary thing, for survival.
So when you’re faced with danger, you don’t respond rationally. You respond instinctively.
When you’re in freeze, you become immobilized and stuck – you play dead.
This response becomes a belief. A habit. A way of thinking.
The freeze response helped you back then survive danger.
But the danger isn’t there anymore and without breaking the habit of freezing, you can’t do a thing. You can’t think. You can’t act.
I can’t now isn’t adaptive or helping anymore. It’s keeping you stuck. It’s a belief that used to fit that world, but it doesn’t fit this world.
#6. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness can help you reduce symptoms of trauma.
You’ve trained yourself, all your life, not to notice you body or pay attention to it, it’s only normal for you to find it hard to pay attention to your body and practice mindfulness.
The insula is a small region of the brain that tells it, basically, what’s going on in the body. Brain scans show that trauma survivors often have an underdeveloped insula.
In an attempt to protect you, the brain shield you from what’s going on by not receiving data and images from your body when you’re being abused or going through a traumatic event.
However, this safety comes at a cost. You eventually become disconnected from your emotions and body sensations.
The best way to connect again with yourself is through mindfulness meditation. In fact, one study shows that just after six weeks of mindfulness meditation, the insula becomes thicker.
This won’t just help you have a better sense of what’s going on inside yourself, but also increases your empathy and help you see what’s going on inside others, too.
If you still find it hard or you tend to beat yourself up when you fail, remind yourself that you’re not different from other people. What works for other people will work for you, too – it just hasn’t worked yet.
Mindfulness is a skill so keep practicing.
The following exercise will help you cultivate awareness of your body without judgment:
* Sit in a comfortable position and take a moment to tune into each area of your body.
* Bring your attention to your breath. Notice any areas of tension, heaviness, or constriction.
* Next, Bring your attention to your feet, legs, and pelvis. Notice the sensations in your muscles and on your skin.
* Take a deep breath as you bring your attention to your torso. Notice any sensations across your abdomen, lower back, chest or upper back.
* Bring your attention to your shoulders, arms, and hands. Notice any areas of tension or relaxation.
* Last, bring your attention to your neck, throat, and face. Notice the general sensations of your head.
* Now, take a final moment to notice your body as a whole.
* In your journal, write down your notes about your experience.
This awareness exercise helps you deepen your curiosity about your sensations, relax and release holding.
#7. Confront and Changing Your Toxic Inner Voices
If you were ashamed in childhood, your negative self-talk is probably filled with what Fritz Perls and the Gestalt school call “introjected parental voices.”
This inner voice is characterized by dominant, negative shaming, self-deprecating voices initially derived from the parents’ and other adult caretakers’ negative messages you received as a child.
You become most aware of these voices in certain stressful situations or after mistakes when your shame is activated.
Getting rid of these voices can be extremely difficult because of the way shamed children can idealize their primary caretaker. The child desperately relies on his parents. They can’t be bad. And so he believes that he must be the bad one.
Even after the child leaves the parent years later, the voices remain and intensify toxic shame.
This is why changing the inner voice can cause overwhelming anxiety.
The best way to change your inner voice is through externalization.
When you verbalize or write down your negative self-talk, intense feelings are released and you become able to examine these thoughts and challenge their validity.
Practical Exercise 1 – Keeping An “Overreaction Journal”
One of the best ways to examine your negative beliefs about yourself is to keep a journal of your defensive overreactions.
Each evening before going to bed, think back over the events of the day, and ask yourself the following questions:
Where did I overreact? What was the context? What was said to me? How does what was said to me compare with what I tell myself?
Practical Exercise 2 – Answering The Voice
Once you’re aware of your negative self-talk, start challenging the voice.
When the voice tells you “you’re a bad parent,” argue back that, “I’m a loving parent and I’m trying my best, and that’s good enough.”
Repeating this process, day after day, will help you change your inner voice, from critical, to compassionate.
#8. Stop Seeing Yourself As “Too Much”
You might find yourself worrying about people leaving you if you are “too much” to deal with. But at the same time, you know that if you don’t open up and be honest and real, they might also leave.
You think to yourself, “I have to express my needs without being needy.”
Often people feel that they are ‘too much’ because that’s how they were treated by their very first caregivers who can’t cope with emotion and closeness. They learn that when they express their emotions or their needs, they don’t get a positive response.
So they suppress their feelings and needs.
This treatment manifests itself in their attachment style and what’s called insecure-avoidant attachment.
The child gets the message that they are wrong for having feelings or needs and for wanting to be close – It’s difficult, maybe impossible, for a child to understand that it’s a problem that the parent has, rather than them.
As an adult, you approach your relationships and connections on the basis that it’s safer not to express your feelings or have needs, in case you’re rejected, like you were by your parent.
It might be true for now that you have more than most people to deal with, that you believe others won’t be able to handle it. But that doesn’t mean you are “too much”.
The trauma you survived is “too much” – there’s a difference.
Having a lot of trauma to deal with can be overwhelming for most people. They wouldn’t know how to help or how to handle it. And it’s understandable.
Different people can cope with different levels of need.
This is why therapy can be a safe place for you to open up about your trauma and express your needs. With acquaintances, you can just exchange pleasantries. With friends, once you reduce some of the pressure of trauma after therapy, they will be able to cope with it better.
In any case, you need to always keep in mind that your trauma is part of what happened to you, but your trauma isn’t you.
And if people say you are too much, you don’t have to take it personally. Maybe the trauma is “too much” for them, but that doesn’t mean that you are “too much.”
#9. Let Go of Your Feelings of Guilt
Most trauma survivors struggle with feelings of guilt. They feel like it was all their fault and that they could have done something to prevent what happened.
Try here to imagine someone else – a dear friend, or a foster child – and imagine what you would tell them. Would you tell them that it was their fault that they were abused?
And would you also, by extension, tell them that they don’t deserve to be looked after, because they’ve caused the situation they’re in?
If you wouldn’t tell them that, why would you say it to yourself?
How could you have caused the abuse? What did you do that led to you being abused?
Think of one or two times when you were abused. And consider what you did in the lead-up to those incidents that caused them to happen.
It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t choose to be abused.
You were groomed – grooming being the transfer of responsibility from the abuser to a victim. It’s a deliberate act by the abuser.
They wanted you to feel that it was your fault, so that it wouldn’t be theirs.
Except it wasn’t your fault.
The fact that you were powerless might seem unbearable to you and so you’d rather choose to be bad and wrong than to admit that you were powerless.
But just because you were powerless back then, doesn’t mean that you’re powerless now.
What else to feel?
Anger, when pointed in the right direction, is the energy you need not to act powerless any more.
#10. Give Yourself Permission To Make Mistakes
When you were shamed in childhood, you will find yourself trying hard to never make a mistake.
You not only believe you shouldn’t make mistakes, but you also believe you “are a mistake.”
To break-free from shame, you need to reframe your mistakes by changing your interpretation or point of view and learning to think about your mistakes in ways that remove their catastrophic qualities.
Instead, you begin to view your mistakes as essential and valuable components of life. This is exactly the purpose of healthy shame.
Healthy shame tells us that being human means that will make mistakes and that these mistakes should be used as occasions for learnings or as warnings to slow down and look at what we’re doing.
Mistakes As Feedback
Mistakes are a form of feedback. They act as warnings to look at what we’re doing and what we need to correct. If you get a speeding ticket, it can be a warning to drive slower, which could ultimately save your life.
Toxic shame prevents you from learning from your mistakes. You become preoccupied with defending yourself and hiding your mistake that you miss the opportunity to heed the warning of the mistake.
Reframe your mistake and focus on learning from the warning, rather than the culpability.
When you see your mistakes as necessary feedback for the learning process, you free yourself from toxic shame and give yourself permission to learn from these mistakes.
#11. Overcome The Fear Of Facing Your Emotions
You might find yourself thinking, “What if I start crying and never stop!”
Feelings can be overwhelming and feelings can often be out of your control.
But no one ever cries forever. Emotions move. They don’t stay the same.
So if you allow yourself to feel them, they might feel overwhelming for a while. But then they will pass.
Being vulnerable can also mean that other people will hurt you, especially when you’re a survivor of abuse, although, part of you does want that because then they’ll be close to you. Because being hurt is the only way you’ve known to be loved.
But pain and real love don’t go together.
Not everyone wants to hurt everyone. When you cry or are open about your feelings, you let others know you’re upset and that gives them the opportunity to come and comfort you.
It’s not manipulative. It’s normal. It helps bonding.
#12. Keep Yourself Safe
If coming up with a plan to keep yourself safe seems difficult, try looking at it the other way around: What would unsafe look like?
Unsafe behavior might include self-harm, driving dangerously, drinking too much, going back to where the abuse happened in a dissociated state, etc.
Oftentimes it’s not about doing what will keep us safe, but letting go of what’s preventing us from staying safe.
What if you don’t feel motivated enough to keep yourself safe? What if you don’t care if you’re not safe?
Examine your beliefs around staying safe.
Trauma survivors struggle with beliefs of not being worth keeping safe because safe feels unfamiliar.
Safe feels quite. Not being on guard and distressed might mean to you that you won’t be ready for the bad things when they happen.
In a sense it is not safe to feel safe.
But that isn’t helpful, not anymore.
Recovery from trauma requires learning to feel safe again. So it does matter when you don’t keep yourself safe, because it perpetuates the trauma and reinforces your trauma responses.
Because trauma has hyper-activated your nervous system, to prepare you for danger, an essential part of recovering from trauma is to get your nervous system to calm back down to baseline.
And while you don’t intentionally put yourself in danger, you need to remind yourself that nature abhors a vacuum and so if you don’t take charge and make a determined effort to self-soothe and manage your distress and put yourself into a safe setting, then you will default back to coping strategies from the past and unsafe-feeling parts will come in and fill the vacuum.
Your old coping strategies were your best attempts to survive. But to recover from trauma you need to develop better ways.
#13. Understand The Cost of Invulnerability
You might think that vulnerability is what makes you an easy target and gets you hurt.
Vulnerability can be very hard, but vulnerability doesn’t mean weakness.
But you weren’t abused because you were vulnerable and didn’t try to protect yourself. You were vulnerable because you were a child, and they abused you because they are abusers.
In this sense vulnerability is not an excuse for abuse and being invulnerable is no defence against abuse.
What would be the benefits of vulnerability?
Having been abused, it’s natural for you to play it safe, and assume everyone is dangerous in an attempt to protect yourself.
But that strategy comes at a cost: you’re missing out on intimacy and connection with safe people. You’re missing out on all the richness of real relationships – love, kindness, and support too.
How to avoid getting hurt?
Being wise in relationships, means you need healthy boundaries with people, especially with unsafe people.
But that’s different from being invulnerable. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
You cannot guarantee to yourself that you would always know who’s safe and who isn’t or that you won’t be hurt again.
And if you get hurt, it will never be your fault—and it never was your fault. It’s the fault of the abuser.
How to be vulnerable?
By having courage.
The courage to connect, and to risk. The courage to be yourself, and to be vulnerable.
And the courage to be compassionate towards yourself, and forgive yourself when you make a mistake.
#14. Come Out of Hiding and Isolation and Become More Authentic
The excruciating loneliness fostered by shame can be dehumanizing.
Since your toxic shame was fostered by your significant relationships, in order to be healed you need to come out of isolation and hiding and connect with others.
This can be a tall order for shame-based people.
The idea of being exposed to the scrutiny of other people can be terrifying.
This is where courage comes. You need to have the courage to risk being vulnerable with safe people.
When you trust someone else and experience their love and acceptance, you begin to change your beliefs about yourself and learn that you are not bad, that you are lovable and acceptable.
One of the best ways to do this is through Twelve Step groups.
Twelve Step groups were born out of the courage of two people risking coming out of hiding, Bill W. and Dr. Bob who turned toward each other and told the other how bad they really felt about themselves.
Today, Twelve Step groups address more than Alcoholism, there are also groups for drugs, co-dependency, love addicts, debtors, food addicts, workaholics, etc.
As social beings, we thrive on social connection and heal in a community.
Why Be Authentic?
Authenticity is the antidote to shame.
Authenticity allows us to be ourselves and receive acceptance for who we are.
Authenticity helps us connect with others when we’re willing to be vulnerable—to be fully seen.
You may find it challenging and even scary to let your guard down and allow someone else to see you, especially your imperfect parts.
It’s important to remind yourself that people can’t like us if they don’t know us. Deep connection only happens when people see our mistakes and imperfections and like us anyway.
Begin by identifying safe people you can open up to and practice being vulnerable with.
Identify imperfections and mistakes you want to share with safe people and share more of them through incremental steps. Start with mistakes and imperfections you feel a small amount of shame about.
#15. Cultivate Empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share how someone else is feeling.
It means that you are feeling their emotions with someone else. Unlike sympathy that means you are feeling sad for them.
When we empathize, we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective without judgment.
Empathy conveys acceptance and validates our experiences without trying to cheer us up or change our feelings.
When we share something that’s vulnerable or shameful, the other person will also share their own experience of shame. When this is done in an empathetic way, it builds connection.
Empathetic responses may sound like this:
- “I would feel X too in that situation”
- “I can understand how going through that can make you feel this way.”
- “Wow, that really sucks.”
- “I can see how that would be difficult.”
- “That sounds really challenging.”
- “It makes me really sad to hear this happened.”
#16. Choose to Love Yourself
Toxic shame’s greatest enemy is self-love, which can be your most powerful tool in overcoming toxic shame.
Love is a decision – an act of will. No matter how you feel about yourself right now, you can always choose to love yourself and act accordingly. Sometimes action has to come before belief.
Understanding The Distinction Between Being And Doing
Toxic shame turns you into a human doing because you believe that your being is flawed and defective.
However, when you believe that your being is flawed and defective, nothing you do could possibly make you lovable. You can’t change who you are until you change the way you see yourself.
Practical Exercise – The Felt Sense Of Self
Sit in a comfortable position. Take a few deep, calming breaths.
Close your eyes and imagine the person you love most (a spouse, lover, child, parent, friend, hero, etc.) sitting across from you.
Take three or four minutes to feel your love towards them. Feel the warmth and appreciation. This is your felt sense of that relationship.
Now see yourself sitting across from you, feel the same feelings you felt earlier with your loved one. Stay in the experience for three or four minutes.
Resist any need to criticize or judge and simply allow yourself to feel the warmth of love and acceptance.
Decide that you don’t need to change anything about yourself to be lovable. Unconditionally accept yourself
Repeat to yourself, “I love myself. I will accept myself unconditionally.”
#17. Giving Yourself Time And Attention
Choosing to love yourself involves giving time and attention to yourself. This includes:
1. Taking time for proper rest and relaxation:
When you’re a human doing, you drive yourself unmercifully. Each time you’ll need more and more achievement in order to feel okay about yourself.
When you’re a human being, on the other hand, you allow yourself time to just be.
2. Taking proper care of yourself:
Take time for hygiene and exercise. Make sure your diet is healthy and that you’re getting quality sleep each night.
3. Surrounding yourself with your loved ones:
Be willing to give yourself the pleasure and enjoyment of being around the people you love.
4. Listening to yourself:
You show yourself love and acceptance when you stop avoiding your thoughts through distractions and numbing your emotions through addictions, and instead choose to listen to your thoughts, feelings, needs and wants through self-reflect and mindfulness.
#18. Let Go of The Shame of Wanting To Be Loved
Shame is an interpersonal emotion. It’s what you feel when you’re at risk of being excluded from the group.
It’s a survival thing: the group affords the best chance of surviving. It provides protection, reproduction, and shared resources.
So when that membership is at risk, your neurobiology reacts as if your life is in danger.
How to feel less ashamed about wanting love?
First, you need to notice shame towards yourself – your membership of yourself.
You need to be belong not just to a group, but first and foremost to yourself: the sense of belonging and feeling ‘at home’ within yourself – feeling safe to be ‘you.’
Your shame has served a purpose. It kept you alive when you were abused. Because you couldn’t afford to hate the people who hurt you, or failed to love you, so you had to hate yourself.
When your needs weren’t met, you couldn’t afford to get angry, so instead you concluded that you were wrong to have needs in the first place.
Your shame helped you here by preventing an uprising, which could have led to being hurt and rejected even more. It’s a smart thing to do at the time.
But it’s not helping you now. It’s keeping you away from nourishing relationships and drives you towards relationships where you’re abused. So it doesn’t actually keep you safe at all.
What other strategy is there?
You might have used shame before to control yourself because that’s the way you were parented. But you don’t have to use it to parent yourself anymore.
You weren’t abused because you wanted to be loved. You were abused because your abuser chose to abuse you – it wasn’t your fault.
You don’t need to be ashamed of wanting to be loved.
#19. Find Your Sense of Belonging
Survivors of childhood abuse, can go through adulthood feeling like they don’t fit in or belong anywhere.
This is usually a result of feelings of shame. It’s a conviction that you are intrinsically defective, that there is something wrong with you, even in a way that you cannot identify. And so you feel excluded and unwanted.
This affects the way you view everything about yourself and other people.
How do you fix it?
The first step to your feelings of not belonging is to dismantle some of your beliefs and see where they don’t fit reality or where they’re not helpful any more.
Then, you can work on you experiencing the opposite of shame in your safe relationships – belonging, being accepted and wanted, having your needs met, feeling connected.
At the same time, you’ll need to work on accepting yourself as well.
While we can’t control other people, and force them to show us that they accept us, we can still control our reactions to ourselves – we can ‘belong’ to ourselves and be part of the group—of ourselves.
In fact, unless you accept yourself, you won’t be able to experience that feeling from other people, even when they do accept you – you’re unable to receive it.
It’s also important to remind yourself that you can’t be loved or liked by everyone – it’s unrealistic, and you don’t really need to.
You need to be loved and accepted by yourself, and then by a few key people in your life. But until you accept yourself, you won’t be able to receive it from even those key people.’
Forgiveness might sound like a good idea, because no-one wants to remain bitter.
But asking you to forgive your abuser might feel like asking you to jumpstart the process you’re in and fast-forward to the final step of trauma recovery.
But you can’t fast-forward to forgiveness. You can’t let go of something that you haven’t yet taken hold of.
You might have spent your life trying to forgive them, but unless you acknowledge what happened and feel the anger of being abused, you won’t be able to forgive.
When you try to forgive without acknowledging the trauma, you end up blaming yourself rather than them. You don’t want to feel angry or hate them, but you end up hating yourself.
Forgiveness might not change past, but it helps you not to become an abuser like them – it breaks the chain.
Forgiveness means that you don’t abuse them back. It helps you focus on fixing the damage, rather than getting even or pursue them to pay for the damage they caused.
Forgiveness also doesn’t mean you have to have a relationship with them. If anything, it’s when you forgive and let go of them that your relationship can come to an end.
But forced forgiveness is no forgiveness at all. The decision to forgive has to come from within.
Anger is an appropriate response to the trauma. While you don’t want to be angry forever, you want to be angry long enough for it to count and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Anger isn’t just a fight response and doesn’t always mean being out of control. Anger can be energy for action. And you need anger to stand up for yourself.
While the desire of revenge is a natural, the best revenge you can get is living well – recovery is your best revenge.
After trauma, it can be easier to stick with what’s familiar. New things, even new ways of thinking, can feel dangerous. But this sense of safety comes at a cost – it limits you.
It keeps you stuck in painful thought patterns and beliefs.
But you don’t have to be a victim of your own shame – It doesn’t have to be in charge of your life.
You don’t have to put your shame out there as something over which you have no control and accept what it says about you.
Your shame is only an opinion, and don’t have to take it to be a fact.
It’s you who get to define who you are and what to feel – you are in charge of you.
FREE Printable Self-Love Worksheets (PDF)
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Shame & Guilt: Masters of Disguise, © 1990 by Jane Middelton-Moz. All rights reserved.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Healing the Shame that Binds You, © 2005 by John Bradshaw. All rights reserved.
- Toxic Shame: Causes, Symptoms, and More (webmd.com)
- Toxic Shame: What It Is and How to Cope (healthline.com)
- Overcoming the Paralysis of Toxic Shame | Psychology Today
- (PDF) Childhood, toxic shame, toxic guilt and self-compassion (researchgate.net)