Understanding Shame

Shame is the essence of codependence and the basis of all addiction. When you are feeling bad, embarrassed, or inadequate, the emotion you are experiencing is shame. Healthy amount of shame keep us within appropriate boundaries, but too much or too little shame can be damaging. Too much shame leaves us feeling defective and unspeakably bad. Not having enough shame causes people to behave shamelessly—to act out or penetrate offenses against others. Some of the characteristics of a shame-based identity are as follows:

  1. Low self-esteem

  2. Being highly performance conscious

  3. Being out of touch with your own needs and wants

  4. Being unaware of your feelings

  5. Tendency to look outside yourself for meaning, identity, and value

  6. High levels of anxiety

  7. Control issues

  8. Weariness

  9. Lack of boundaries

  10. Hypervigilence and hypersensitivity

  11. Feeling “apart from” rather than “a part of”

  12. Difficulty trusting

  13. Profound fear of abandonment

  14. Absolutely no concept of what normal behavior is

  15. Passing your own shame along to your mate, children, and others—criticizing and judging them at every opportunity

Toxic Shame

Healthy Shame

A state of being

Who I am

Belief that I am flawed, defective, limited

Feeling that I am subhuman

Creation of a false self

Conviction that I don’t deserve help

Feeling that I’m on my own

Grandiosity or groveling

A transient emotion

How I feel

Realization that I am human

Awareness that I am not omnipotent

Acceptance of fallibility

Recognition that I need help

Belief that I’m not alone

Humility, teachability

Is it guilt, or is it shame?

What is the difference between guilt and toxic shame? Guilt is associated with a specific behavior, a violation of one’s own value system or another person’s boundaries. Guilt is connected with inappropriate action. When I feel guilty, I regret my behavior, but I still respect myself. I know that I did something wrong or bad, but I don not identify with the deed and consider myself wrong or bad. To make amends for my mistake is to repair the breech and reaffirm my value. Throughout the process, I continue to esteem myself.

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