The concept of toxic shame was created by an addiction specialist by the name of John Bradshaw, who is now lauded as a senior fellow at The Meadows in Arizona, where inpatients can receive treatment for various disorders, behaviors, and addictions. Toxic shame is an incredibly helpful concept that helps individuals heal from it once they understand that it is at the root of many problems.
Essentially, there are two types of shame that can overcome us. There is healthy shame, which is what we feel when we do something or perform an action that is fundamentally not good. This action can be towards another person or to ourselves, and we tend to feel ashamed about it because we realize it’s wrong. This is healthy because this kind of shame teaches us that it’s not right to do the behavior again, and helps us realize that we don’t want to be that type of person and so we have to try not to do things that make us feel bad.
Healthy shame is how we learn to modify our own behaviors for the better.
Toxic shame on the other hand causes us to feel worthless as a person. Moreover, unlike healthy shame, toxic shame is untruthful. That is, toxic shame is an incredibly dishonest way of feeling about ourselves. It mostly arises from childhood trauma and depends on the kind of parenting we were brought up with, such as whether or not our parent was judgmental, critical, or shaming. Having this time of upbringing causes us to have feelings of toxic shame growing up and leaves us feeling very sensitive towards judgment and blaming ourselves quite often.
Seeking help from a trained professional who is familiar with the concept of toxic shame can help, because they can help you realize when you have this feeling of shame. They can differentiate it from healthy shame and warn us that the way we think about ourselves is neither healthy nor positive. Once the toxic shame is identified by the professional, you can find out its source and subsequently realize that it’s got nothing to do with who you are as a person.
Toxic shame also has to do with feeling witnessed, looked at, and judged; for instance, we may feel this unhealthy shame when we feel that people are looking at us and finding us lacking or not good enough and consequently internalize these untruthful perceptions.
If we are dealing with any kind of toxic shame, it is essential that we get help from a trained professional; doing inner work like this and working on ourselves from the inside will cause us to feel so much better when dealing with toxic shame.