Exploring Shame (a breakthrough after a toxic shame attack)

JBL Emotional Scale with Exclamation Point

One of our members shared this in our JBL Authentic Connections conversation at Basecamp (see treasure map) and it was so juicy good that a bunch of others in the group commented that they would be saving it and referring back to it. She references other books and people, but I credit her with choosing these poignant excerpts. This lovely lady would like to remain anonymous on our public blog, but it’s with her permission that I’m sharing it with you. It took a lot of courage for her to agree to let me share it. I’m sharing it, pretty much unedited (I added a couple of links to make searching easier for you and removed a member’s name. During her post, she mentions practicing emotional literacy, so I included the emotional scale we use in the group for you here as well). With so much love, Happy D!

After my latest toxic shame attack I realized what a huge difference it made to be able to reach out and talk to someone who listened to me without judgement and gave me positive feedback and a hug. I felt accepted in my shame and with my shame and seen without being hurt or hated. I felt validated with my pain. It made a huge difference how I felt afterwards too.

Since then I have been thinking about why this was so important, and I remembered Brene Brown’s antidote for shame, which is to be vulnerable, to expose ourselves and be seen. My pattern used to be to hide myself and wanting to disappear.

Debbie suggested to read “Shame begets Shame” by Christine Louis de Canonville and it gave me some more insights into the dynamics of my behavior and my blind spots.

There are some interesting parts that i wanted to keep here as a reference to come back to and also perhaps for others to read…

Both the pathological narcissist and the co-narcissist need to balance themselves, because a balanced state of agape not only adds to one’s life, but also protects one from being taken advantage of by those with lower levels of consciousness. Learning to say “yes” and “no” appropriately and putting down healthier boundaries while being empathic are ways of getting balanced and becoming one’s True Self. To do this work successfully requires the co-narcissistic victim to focus on themselves, at least for a while. They must learn to recognise their own emotional markers so that they can differentiate between themselves and others, especially the emotional needs of all the narcissists they are likely to meet along life’s highway. They also need to learn how to balance their empathy and compassion so that it is available for them too. If it does not include themselves as well as others, then it is incomplete.

As they become balanced in their personal aspects of agape, empathy and compassion, they are being aligned with their True Self.

When they reach this point, the victim can begin to understand the cause of their suffering, they can then begin to release their narcissistic perpetrator with compassion, and with it, they begin to thaw out their shame.”

Another interesting book that I came across is, “Healing the shame that binds you” by John Bradshaw, in which he explains the different types of shame.

There are two forms of shame: nourishing shame and toxic/life-destroying shame. As toxic shame, it is an excruciatingly internal experience of unexpected exposure. It is a deep cut felt primarily from the inside.

It divides us from ourselves and from others. In toxic shame, we disown ourselves. And this disowning demands a cover-up. Toxic shame parades in many garbs and get-ups. It loves darkness and secretiveness. It is the dark secret aspect of shame which has evaded our study.

Because toxic shame stays in hiding and covers itself up, we have to track it down by learning to recognize its many faces and its many distracting behavioral cover-ups.

Toxic shame, the shame that binds you, is experienced as the all-pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being. Toxic shame is no longer an emotion that signals our limits, it is a state of being, a core identity.

Toxic shame gives you a sense of worthlessness, a sense of failing and falling short as a human being. Toxic shame is a rupture of the self with the self.

It is like internal bleeding. Exposure to oneself lies at the heart of toxic shame. A shame-based person will guard against exposing his inner self to others, but more significantly, he will guard against exposing himself to himself.

Toxic shame is so excruciating because it is the painful exposure of the believed failure of self to the self. In toxic shame the self becomes an object of its own contempt, an object that can’t be trusted. As an object that can’t be trusted, one experiences oneself as untrustworthy. Toxic shame is experienced as an inner torment, a sickness of the soul. If I’m an object that can’t be trusted, then I’m not in me. Toxic shame is paradoxical and self-generating.

There is shame about shame. People will readily admit guilt, hurt or fear before they will admit shame. Toxic shame is the feeling of being isolated and alone in a complete sense. A shame-based person is haunted by a sense of absence and emptiness.

Shame As An Identity — Internalization Of Shame:

Any human emotion can become internalized. When internalized, an emotion stops functioning in the manner of an emotion and becomes a characterological style.

The person doesn’t have anger or melancholy, she is angry and melancholy.

In the case of shame, internalization involves at least three processes:

1.  Identification with unreliable and shame-based models

2. The trauma of abandonment, and the binding of feelings, needs and drives with shame

3. The interconnection of memory imprints which forms collages of shame

Internalization is a gradual process and happens over a period of time. Every human being has to contend with certain aspects of this process. Internalization takes place when all three processes are consistently reinforced.”

Importance of emotional mirroring:

“Without someone to reflect our emotions, we had no way of knowing who we were. Mirroring remains important all our lives.

As shaming experiences accrue and are defended against, the images created by those experiences are recorded in a person’s memory bank.

Because the victim has no time or support to grieve the pain of the broken mutuality, his emotions are repressed and the grief is unresolved.

The shame binding of feelings, needs and natural instinctual drives, is a key factor in changing healthy shame into toxic shame. To be shame-bound means that whenever you feel any feeling any need or any drive, you immediately feel ashamed. The dynamic core of your human life is grounded in your feelings, your needs and your drives. When these are bound by shame, you are shamed to the core.

Any subsequent shame experience which even vaguely resembles that past trauma can easily trigger the words and scenes of said trauma.

There is no way you can share your inner self because you are an object of contempt to yourself.

…causes withdrawal, passivity and inaction.

The condition of inner alienation and isolation is also pervaded by a low grade chronic depression. This has to do with the sadness of losing one’s authentic self.

When one is abandoned, one is left alone. This can happen through physical absence as well as physical presence. In fact to be abandoned by someone who is physically present is much more crazymaking.

Abuse is abandonment because when children are abused, no one is there for them.

As vulnerable aspects of the self are shamed, they are disowned and separated from our felt sense of self. This self-separation process results in a split self. We are beside ourselves. When I become an object, I am no longer in me. I am absent from my own experience. What I feel is emptiness and exposure. I have no boundaries and therefore no protection.

Abuse is usually unpredictable, a sort of random shock. Abuse lowers one’s self value and induces shame. As one loses more and more self-respect, one’s world of choices and alternatives is diminished.”


“The best way to come out of hiding is to find a non-shaming intimate social network. The operative word here is intimate.

We have to get on a core gut level because shame is core gut level stuff.

Toxic shame masks our deepest secrets about ourselves; it embodies our belief that we are essentially defective. We feel so awful, we dare not look at it ourselves, much less tell anyone. The only way we can find out that we were wrong about ourselves is to risk exposing ourselves to someone else’s scrutiny. When we trust someone else and experience their love and acceptance, we begin to change our beliefs about ourselves. We learn that we are not bad; we learn that we are lovable and acceptable.

When we are loved unconditionally, i.e., accepted just as we are, we can then accept ourselves just as we are.

Self-acceptance overcomes the self-rupture of toxic shame. Self- acceptance is equivalent to personal power. Self-acceptance means we are unified; all our energy is centered and flows outward.

Guidelines For Selecting A Group:

There are certainly other intimate groups other than 12-Step groups. One might find such a group in one’s church or synagogue. Many have found non-shaming intimacy in psychotherapy groups or with individual therapists. Several things are crucial to look for:

• The group must be nonjudgmental and non-shaming. As you risk being in a group, be aware that you can leave it if you feel unduly exposed or shamed.

• The group should be democratic and non-controlling. Each person can be real in such a group. Each person can be different. This is what no shame-based person has ever experienced.

• The leader of the group needs to model healthy shame. This means he or she will not act “shameless” (controlling, perfectionistic, rigid). The leader will be a person who is walking the walk as he talks the talk. The leader will be like a guide who has gone ahead of the group and can tell them what’s in the next valley.

• Most shame-based people need a group that touches and hugs in a respectful way. What this means is that no one just comes up and hugs you. Boundaries need to be respected. If it’s too threatening to be physical, you can abstain without any explanation. You will be taught to ask if you want a hug and you will be asked before someone hugs you.

• For many of us, we were shamed in our preverbal life by not being touched and held. Before language, the interpersonal bridge is built through touch and holding. Infants who are not touched and interacted with die of a kind of stroke deprivation called “mirasmus”. Marcel Geber, who went on a UN commission to study protein deficiency in Ugandi children, found their infants and toddlers to be the most advanced children in the world. It seems that the infants were continually held by the Ugandi mothers. Their bodies were in continuous contact and movement.

• Finally the group must allow for the full expression of all emotions. This is the most crucial dynamic of the group process. One must be able to express feelings openly and freely. Shame is the master emotion because it binds all the other emotions except anger. But as we have seen, it turns anger into rage and feels overwhelming. Freely expressing our feelings is like thawing out. As shame binds all our feelings, we become psychologically numb. Getting in touch with our feelings is difficult at first. You may feel overwhelmed at times. You may also feel confused. Sometimes we feel worse before we feel better. The important thing is to feel. Our feelings are who we are at any given moment. When we are numb to our emotions, we lose contact with who we are.


He then goes on explaining the 12 step process, which, as one of the most important steps, requires a kind of inventory of what one is ashamed of and… forgiveness!

Which got me back to DeJoly’s book “What happened to you” and the page i got stuck on after the last shame attack: Forgiveness!

Then after receiving an email from [another member] which hinted in the same direction, I finally went back to do the forgiveness sheet with my dad and had a huge insight. I had never really put myself in his shoes. Once I did there was another whole level of understanding and with it of forgiveness and peace (and tears) happening.

This morning when I opened the Book of Miracles on my kindle at breakfast it would start at the “fear of healing” and then it was all about forgiveness. Wow!

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