Remorse is the feeling you get when you’ve done something wrong. It may passes quickly, or linger, and is often part of a range of healthy emotions we have once in a while.
Shame, on the other hand is different. It’s not just remorse about something you did, it’s shame about yourself. Self-shame in other words. Someone who has this often feels flawed, defective, inferior and unworthy of acceptance, love and belonging. This is a toxic emotion.
Toxic shame is extremely unhealthy and destructive. It can force you to isolate yourself from other people, can be instrumental in you spiralling down into depression, it can lead to addictive behaviors, and the stress it causes is even dangerous to your physical health. Studies show that constant mental stress leads to cardiac problems and can suppress your immune system.
These are some of the symptoms that arise from the experience toxic shameof
When you feel like you are inherently bad or flawed, then it only makes sense that you do not want other people to see you, because you suspect that they will reject you. So toxic shame causes you to avoid people and hide away.
You also hide your true thoughts and feelings from people. It’s another way of hiding your ‘flawed self’ to avoid other people’s judgement and rejection. Hiding your thoughts can lead to feelings of a ‘blank mind’ with nothing to say in social situations.
Hiding makes it extremely difficult to form close connections or relationships with people.
• Reliving Embarrassing Memories
Toxic shame also affects your attention. It makes you randomly remember humiliating moments and embarrassing situations from months or years ago. This is one way that shame reinforces itself over years. When you have shame, it can be almost impossible to simply stop these thoughts from popping up and making you feel like terrible about yourself for no reason.
• Physical Insecurities
Shame biases your attention, and it makes you focus on all your little flaws and shortcomings more. With really bad social anxiety, there will always be a few insecurities you obsess over.
Recognise that your thoughts are being formed by your shame.
When you have toxic shame, you sometimes ‘treasure/guard’ one or more ‘dirty secrets’ that other people would instantly reject you for if they found out.
However, bear in mind that you are not the only person with personal secrets or shortcomings. We assume our problems are unique when in fact it’s impossible to meet all social standards for how life is supposed to be. You or I will never measure up to perfection.
The good news is that there is hope for you. Toxic shame is possible to overcome. Not always easy, but there are specific exercises and steps you can take to stop feeling this way for the rest of your life.
The opposite of toxic shame is the recognition that “I am enough.” This means feeling that people can like and accept you, just for you. It’s a feeling of freedom where you feel like no matter what you say or do people will still like you. This makes socialising and forming friendships and connections easy.