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toxic shame: a very simple description
November 12, 2005
4:15 pm
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exoticflower
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I found this while I was just peeking around for info on toxic shame. It is written for children and young adults to help them understand what parents healing from toxic shame are doing and what they go through, and I thought it was REALLY good. The language is simple, but it covers all the bases really well and directly and easily, so I thought I would post it here.

*******

To understand what people do when bad things happen to them when they are little, you have to know what shame is. Shame is kind of like guilt. Guilt is what we feel when we do something wrong. Shame feels kind of like guilt but has more to do with who we are. And we can feel shame about things that are not wrong, but just are about not being perfect. Shame is a feeling that comes in different sizes. A little bit of shame feels like embarrassment, like when you fall down and maybe your classmates giggle because you're clumsy. This is a good shame because it makes us want to try to be less clumsy so we won't be so embarrassed (and we also don't fall down and hurt ourselves as much). Shame can be good for us, like guilt is good for us, but it is very, very uncomfortable. When we feel it we want to get rid of it as fast as we can. So another example of shame is when we recognize that we are a sinner needing God's forgiveness. This is another example of a good feeling of shame because it makes us want to come to God and ask Him to forgive our sins and we want Jesus to come into our heart to help make us a better person one day at a time.

There is another kind of shame that isn't healthy. We call that kind of shame toxic shame. This is a special kind of shame that children sometimes feel when bad things happen. The bad things can be stuff like earthquakes and tornadoes, or it can be someone doing something bad to the child. A little child wants to think that everyone around them is good and that the world is a safe and happy place, so when bad things happen to a child, the child sometimes thinks it happened because she was bad. The child will sometimes sit and try to figure out how she can make herself perfect so that bad things won't happen any more. When a child has bad things happen to her and she doesn't get to see a therapist (a therapist or counselor is like a doctor for healing feelings and memories) then the toxic shame hangs around and gives her problems as an adult. Some of those problems are things like thinking you don't deserve to have good things, being afraid of things or people, thinking you are stupid when you're really smart, and so on.

Sometimes the bad things are so bad, or so many, that the child will make herself forget they happen. She does this by walling off the bad memories and feelings in a part of her mind where she can't get to them. She doesn't always do this on purpose; it just happens. The problem is, the bad feelings that go with the memories don't always get walled off with the memories. So then when the child grows up she can be very confused and feel crazy because there are all these bad feelings and no reason (that she remembers) for them.

Sometimes when bad things happen a child will pretend to be somewhere else. This is like "spacing out" during class where you don't hear what the teacher is saying any more and maybe get in trouble for it.

Another thing that a little child will do when bad things happen is she will sometimes pretend that the bad things are happening to someone else. So she will make up other people like characters in a play and pretend that the bad things happened to them instead.

Now all these things that a child does when bad things happen, like forgetting, spacing out and pretending it happened to someone else are called "coping" and they are normal. The problem is, if the child doesn't get to see a counselor these things she does to cope become habits. When she grows up to become a woman and maybe a mother, she still does these things and she can't stop without the help of a counselor.

The woman might keep on blaming all bad things that happen on herself because of the toxic shame. She might not remember that bad things happened to her when she was a child. She might forget stuff a lot. She might "space out" a lot. And she might act like the different characters too. And she may get in these weird moods where she thinks the bad things are still happening today. Sometimes when she feels a lot of toxic shame she may "punish herself" for the toxic shame that she still feels. So she might hurt herself in some way. Some people will whip themselves with a belt. Other people will make little cuts on their arms, things like that.

Some people do all of these things: blame themselves for bad things, forget things, space out, act like different characters and punish themselves.

All these things might look like she's crazy, but she isn't! She may look psychotic or schizophrenic or manic-depressive or any of those fancy names for crazy, but she isn't. She is just a very complicated person who had some bad things happen to her when she was a child. It is normal to grow up kind of complicated when bad things happen to a child.

The good news is, people can and do get over it so they don't have to do those odd things to cope any more. But the bad news is, when someone gets complicated like this, it takes a long time to heal from it, usually several years of counseling.

How does someone heal then?

Well, she has to see a therapist who helps her remember what happened and understand that it wasn't her fault. The therapist also helps her let out all the feelings of fear, hurt, anger, and toxic shame that have been bottled up inside her all these years.

To heal she also has to spend a lot of time with girlfriends who are willing to learn and understand what she is going through. She needs a lot of time to talk alone with her friends. She also has to spend a lot of time alone in her room writing in her journal or diary. And because the toxic shame feeling makes her think she will get in trouble for telling the truth about what happened or for writing about her characters, it is really, really important that she know that no one else, not even her husband if she's married, is going to read what she writes in her journal. It's also really important that you not talk to anyone about the odd things that she does except with people she tells you that you can. The reason for this is that other people may become frightened and think that she is crazy when she isn't no matter how hard you try to explain it to them. Some people are just plain thick headed, and unfortunately, some people like to gossip. (It's called gossip when people repeat things without permission, whether or not it's true. It's called slander when people lie about people.) There is one very important exception to talking about someone else without their permission, and that's when someone does something to you that hurts or makes you feel funny. You are supposed to tell someone you can trust about those things so they can help make those things stop happening. A good person to talk to about those things is a counselor.

P.S. Bad things sometimes happen to little boys too and they usually react the same way

November 12, 2005
4:17 pm
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exoticflower
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I got it from a religious site, just saw the religious refrences about shame: not my personal opinion and don't want to push it on anyone else either, just to make clear. Not knocking it either, mind you, 100% neutral!

November 12, 2005
4:38 pm
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thank you exoticflower. I feel like this is talking directly to me. One problem Is that i only have one friend and she is always bussey so i dont have people to talk to unless its online

November 12, 2005
4:56 pm
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exoticflower
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RW< I put it here for you too! When I read it it seemed to so well describe every last detail of what I go through, and I guess you too when I read your other post. Are you still at your church? What about your sister in law? Also, you could try a womans support group... where are you at? I'd be happy to look around and see what I can find!4

November 12, 2005
5:01 pm
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I still go to church every sunday my sister in law works a lot and when she is not at work she is to bussy for me. And the only thing Im worried about with a support group is childcare. But i live in salem oregon. maybe there is one that childcare is provided or one i can take my kids too

November 12, 2005
5:19 pm
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exoticflower
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found these, don't know if they can help, but it would be worth calling...

DBSA of Clackamas County
Clackamas County Mental Health Stewart Hilltop Center, 998 Library Court
Oregon City, OR 97045

Phone Number: (503) 722-6500
Secondary Phone Number:

Fax:
URL:

A support group for individuals with depression, manic depression or bipolar disorder, and other affective illnesses that meets each Tuesday from 5:30 to 7pm. This group is NOT open to family and friends.
************************************

DMDA - Portland/Tri Counties
PO Box 4287
Portland, OR 97208-

Phone Number: (503) 643-4384
Secondary Phone Number: (503) 644-6800

Fax:
URL:

Educate patients, families, and professionals, and the public concerning the nature of depressive and manic-depressive illness as treatable medical diseases; to foster self-help for patients and families; to eliminate discrimination and stigma; to improve access to care; and to advocate for research toward the elimination of these illnesses; to connect people with mood disorders with each other.

******************************

NAMI Oregon
2620 Greenway Drive, NE
Salem, OR 97301-

Phone Number: (800) 343-6264
Secondary Phone Number: (503) 370-7774

Fax: (503) 370-9452
URL: http://www.namioregon.org

NAMI Oregon is a support and advocacy organization. They sponsor local support groups and offer education and information about community services for people with mental illness and their families.

November 12, 2005
5:22 pm
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thank you I will check out the NAMI one on monday

November 12, 2005
5:31 pm
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sdesigns
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Here's some more on shame from "Rage, Shame and Death of Love' website.

************************************

Shame can best be described as an emotional wound to the self for which one blames oneself as if one's person is the reason. Something like "the reason that I get yelled at is because I am bad." When personal shame is stimulated by an event that is similar to the original shaming experience, the pain energy converts to rage as it becomes conscious. The shame system operates on its own because we are not in contact with the pain and therefore it appears spontaneously. This pain is organized around sets of values, beliefs, defenses and wishes which translate messages to this private world holding it in or when it cannot be controlled, suddenly releasing it. These vigorous wounds are capable of generating massive shifts of unprocessed pain that can flood the body with fierce rage. As the person matures the force of this energetic rage is often so intense that it blasts out of the unconscious into the world of others.

Shame-wounding from parents and significant others most often begins during infancy and continues throughout life. Because this inner world of shame operates in obscurity it can be characterized as a jungle, wild and primitive. The shift from a shameful stimulation to a rage response is a means of avoiding agony and voiding it at the same time. This constantly expanding jungle of the unconscious produces an enormous amount of negative energy. Rage energy is particularly intense because it is combined with a deep-rooted fear of retaliation and abandonment. The expression of rage mixed with terror is indicative of major emotional breaks occurring at a time when the infant was utterly dependent on the parents for survival. A neglected infant or child cannot risk expressing rage because it may lead to even further loss or abuse. If the suffering from abuse continues for extended periods during childhood the pain will intensify and further develop the shame/rage system.

While growing in secrecy, the child's shame increases in proportion to the intensity of abuse experienced from the world around him. As the child matures, the rage that has been generated from previous abuse cannot be restrained, and inevitably explodes either toward himself or others.

The four main categories of child abuse are:

Sexual abuse, such as rape, incest, and/or sexual relations between children and adults;
Emotional abuse, such as intense criticism or humiliation and the effects of shaming experiences from parents or others;
Neglect, such as abandonment or long periods of emotional or physical absence;
Physical violence such as beating, or inflicting physical injury throughout childhood.
Shame and rage are effects of these causes, or emotional responses to these experiences.

The basis for what is referred to in our society as "evil behavior" originates from the shame and rage that developed from experiences of childhood abuse. Case histories of serial killers invariably reveal innumerable instances of intense child abuse from close relatives. The cause and effect of intense abuse causing deep shame resulting in the formation of profound rage is illustrated in the film "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" where the killer describes the horrors of a childhood filled with rage, sexuality and violence. The viewer traces Henry's violence and rage to his early years through evocative scenes. In one such scene Henry's mother arrives home with two men for a drunken orgy, while her children and wheel-chair-bound husband look on from the other room. After numerous such experiences the father shoots himself in the head in an act of impotent rage toward his adulterous wife. This experience resounds in the head of Henry. The abuse here is evident in the observing of his mother openly engaging in sex and watching the effect on his father. His love for his father fueled his rage toward his mother and tied it to his sexuality. The identification with the impotence of his father and his urge to retaliate toward his mother was acted out again and again in episodes with women, who he ritually murdered. Thus, Henry's extreme expression of rage is linked not only with his childhood pain, but also to a disturbed relationship with sexuality.

Rage then is the messenger of shame, the communicator of this inner world to others. Upon closer examination, one of the intentions of rage is to create a kind of empathy in order to manifest in the "other" how we feel. Rage becomes a primal or primitive attempt to reconstruct a broken emotional bond. Rage operates as a mechanism to empty out "bad self" or shameful feelings from within the psyche. Rage, while conceived from an effort to connect, to correct an injustice or insult, causes great emotional consequences, namely that it is alienating, destructive, and inflicts pain on others. If this negative energy is directed inward, it is experienced as masochistic self-criticism and self-loathing. If it is directed outward, it is manifested as sadistic onslaughts that resemble primitive revenge. Rage is ultimately a formula for failure often taking on ritualistic or compulsive patterns of behavior that the person is unable to control. The problems that it may aim to correct may never be resolved.

To fully understand the concept of shame and its complexity, some specific definitions will be offered throughout the text.

Shame

The word "shame" originates from the Teutonic root word "skem" which means "to cover oneself." Shame is an intense reaction to the pain of humiliation and necessitates deception to keep it concealed. For shame to be exposed could mean more humiliation and that would feel intolerable. For example, if a child grows up in a home where he feels unloved, neglected and worthless, he would feel ashamed of his own shame and would need to hide this knowledge from others and even himself. The pain he feels about his worth would create massive fear and anxiety about being abandoned by his parents. In order to keep the hope of being worthy of his parents love he may try to be perfect as an attempt at redemption. In this way he would need to form a public perfect self and live a private hell that would operate quite contrary to one another. Many of us live in varying degrees of this kind of secrecy, both within and toward the world. An example of this behavior would be characterized in a child who was raised by parents who were alcoholic and depressed. The abusive alcoholic parent may be critical or physically abusive and the other parent being depressed would not protect the child from the abuse. The child would then feel helpless, weak, worthless and inadequate. He would also be incredibly rageful but have no one to direct it toward but himself. This circumstance would create massive shame and intense defenses to ward off the dangerous rage that he felt toward his parents.

Shame wounds that occur as a result of child abuse whether from neglect, violence, sexual abuse, humiliation, betrayal or abandonment are often subsumed into a child's self image. These experiences produce "bad self" feelings and are felt as self-loathing, inadequacy, powerlessness, weakness, and worthlessness. Shame is so often experienced as a sinking feeling, a wish to disappear or hide. Shame is metaphorically the fear of being caught with one's pants down. We protect ourselves from feeling shame through defense mechanisms that oppose the original shame feeling. These defenses can be observed in behavior such as self-righteousness, grandiosity, perfectionism, devaluing of others or as a defense against shame by acting need-less, selfless, or disingenuous. We may also observe some people whose behavior seems directly opposed to the true nature of their shame or insecurities. This seeming confidence is observed in: exhibitionists, grandstanders, posers, and those who need to constantly be the center of attention.

To better understand what causes shame, Maurice J. Barry Jr., most eloquently describes what kinds of experience creates these emotional wounds.

In the genesis of the shame reaction, the parent's attitude toward the child is one of angry rejection of the child himself. The parent fears and rejects the child's dependency and masks the fear with anger. Punishment is used in the form of humiliation and the parent takes the transgression as evidence of the innate badness on the part of the child. The "badness" on dispassionate examination turns out to be a common human impulse (such as needs). But the parent attacks the child's right to such an impulse and thus degrades the child's self concept. This includes threats of abandonment and is followed by an angry separation of the parent and child. The child, through repetitive similar onslaughts, is forced into the humiliating attitude of being worth less than the parent is worth. He fears abandonment, fears his own resentment, and suffers a decrease in confidence in his own capacities. All this is most painful, but since the child is held at a distance and finally left alone by the still angry parent, the child must resolve the tensions by himself and with himself in painful solitude.

Sylvan Tompkins, a neurologist proposes a physiological explanation for shame. He describes a neural pathway in the brain for shame. He believes that shame is a universal condition shared by all human beings. He further asserts that these shame neural pathways are also linked to joy and pleasure. Tomkins' theory concludes that people are most acutely sensitive or "shame prone" when they are joyous and vulnerable. There is comfort in knowing that we are not alone.

Shame causes positive side effects as well. One of the beneficial elements appears to be a byproduct of the fear of being cast out of our family, group or culture. We endeavor to avoid the shame of exclusion by conforming to our cultural values and behaving in a manner that engenders culturally sanctioned approval. The urge to belong, not shamed, to want our family to be proud of our achievements is a positive component of shame. This desire to avoid shame encourages people to make efforts toward being accepted into the larger culture even to strive toward greatness. Herein lies an element of human nature; avoiding pain is often an incentive in directing our lives toward more positive goals that are difficult and sometimes fearful.

November 12, 2005
9:00 pm
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exoticflower
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SD, thanks so much for this! It is important for me to remember where my pain and frustrations are coming from constantly so I don't go off course and end up with that hurricane going through myself as before...every bit of insight keeps fresh in my mind what my issues are, which obviously makes them easier to focus/work on.

November 12, 2005
10:14 pm
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exoticflower
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SD, where did you find this, by the way?

November 12, 2005
10:39 pm
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sdesigns
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Hi EF: I found it on "Rage, Shame, and Death of Love". Just enter that in a web search and it should come up. There is a lot of info on this website.

November 12, 2005
10:49 pm
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Thanks for that! Here is another little something from that site (perhaps no one here knew this, I am a speed reader). This deals a bit more with the "how to deal" as apposed to the "why it is". Just a very little something, mind you, but something none the less.

*******************************

Important steps must be taken to discover what lies hidden inside us, to look into the origins of our pain, and to explore how, where, when and why the original wounding occurred. Then, and most important, we must learn to embrace our wounds. This embrace means that we keep the wound close to our hearts, and neutralize the poison. The antidote to shame is to become a support toward ourselves. To be an advocate toward the harsh voices from within will lead to a cure for shame. To actualize such a revolution takes time. We must learn to sense the hurt child inside, accept that something did happen to us, and respect our good intentions to process our pain, even if some of those methods do not seem to work at first. The secret to the cure for shame lies in our ability to relate to ourselves and others with compassion, respect, understanding, empathy and acceptance.

As long as we are unable to see or understand how our shame shape, shades our reality, distorting what we see, we will never be free of it. If we are able to reveal the beast within and expose ourselves to our deepest shame, we will ultimately come to understand how it affects what we see. Charles Van Den Berg writes that psychology is the "science of loneliness," and surely what grows in the heart of the lonely child is shame and rage.

Finally, we must conclude that we need each other, not just for solace, companionship, love and caring, but for the insight that we share with one another. We cannot eliminate what we cannot see. It is through honest, accepting and nonjudgmental relationships that we are able to behold ourselves clearly and to lead each other from darkness. Only then can we allow the child to flow naturally into a fully actualized adult.

November 13, 2005
3:50 am
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Wow. Healing is learning to love and accept ourselves and others, others doing the same thing back, and us all letting love in.

LL

November 13, 2005
5:09 am
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WOWWWW!!!

I'm so happy,shocked and more understanding towards my husbands actions over the 8 years we have been together.

He very rarely expresses his thoughts and feelings to me in regards to "who" he really is. He comes across to be the (Aussie slang) "the best bloke you will ever meet". And yes he is the most kindest and the most giving not just to me but to EVERYONE. That has been my problem, I so badly just want to be the apple of his eye and seek his undivided attention yet for example if he had a chocolate that i absolutley loved and we had people around us, he would actually divide it and share it out. I'm not greedy or anything but i would love it if he had just given it to me secretly on the side rather than share my favourite chocolate with everyone. Don't get me wrong i'm also a very fair and giving person but i if my husband loved something then it would be known to all that "this is my husbands".But that is just me.

Anyway over the 6 years he have been married, my husband very rarely talks about his past. I know there is something deeply dark and hidden. He has mentioned that he was bullied alot by the kids at school, and he has mentioned the "respect" thing he has for his father, but to me the "respect" thing is more like a "fear". When the dad enters the room the whole family shuts up and is afraid to talk. The vibe in the house changes. My husband mentioned one such incident he recalls as a child and he has mentioned this a few times. When he was 11yro he woke one morning to find their house had been robbed, and i mean robbed like everything,jewllery, electrical,money. Anyway to his surprise he walked around the house dazed to find one of the theives still in the house, not knowing this at the time the theif acted as if he was a an innocent man going for an early morning walk.he said to my hubby "hey man, i think your house was just robbed and i'm just checking to see if you guys are o.k". My husband said "yes, we have been all asleep". The theif then pushed my husband and he ran for his life. My father in law woke up and my husband being an innocent 11 year old told his daddy what happened and his dad filled with anger reached over and apparently whipped the living daylights out of my husband. He said he was hit so bad that he couldn;t go to school for a week.

Alot more also happened but anyway from living a wonderful,happy marriage my husband suddenly changed. I found out he was gambling and confronted him. I was o.k with it since i knew his mum is an all night every night gambler. I told my hubby just to lay everything out on the table about our debts etc but he wouldn't so he promised he would get us out of shit and never do it again. a few years went by and i realised he had a driking problem as well, and now he has an addiction to everything including drugs. His behaviour is now ugly,when he gambled he was guilty and tried so hard to make it up to me but with the drugs his behaviour has gone from an introverted,shy,giving protective husband to an extroverted self centered,lying,maniupulative,selfish husband. I thought he may have had addictive behaviour, but reading the above, he may have toxic shame.

I threatened to tell my dad everything because his dad ripped us off 2 years ago and sold us the house next door to them for $150k more than what it is worth,(his dad said it was the responsibilty of the sone to look after his elderly parents) and now i live next door to my inlaws. he has lied about me to cover up for his habits, he has all the allies in the world fooled about his attitude and everyone now hates me. When i threatened to tell my dad so i can have my own allies (it's a long storey, i have threads about all this) he dissapeared...yep he has runaway and no-one can get hold of him.

So is this some of the stuff people in "toxic shame" would go through. I shouldn't really try to analyze him because i'm not a doctor but i'm desperate for answers and i'm seeking closure to all this. I thought he may have had "narcisstic behaviour" or "addictive behaviour" but since reading the above i don't know anymore. I need to be sure because i'm ready to move on. He has done too much to me now in every possible way and all i want to do is help and be sincere.

Thanks Mystie

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