What’s the Difference Between Healthy Shame and Toxic Shame?

Shame is an emotion that is hardwired In mammals, including humans, from the time of birth.  

But not all pity is alike, and being able to distinguish healthy shame from poisonous shame is valuable to your general well-being (see my posts: Healing Shame in Remedy  and Knowing the Difference Between Guilt and Shame).

What is the Difference Between Healthy Shame and Hazardous Shame?

What’s Shame Hardwired in All Mammals?
Being able to experience healthy shame can help us from making errors that could otherwise frees us from our family, friends and communities.   This was true even when an individual couldn’t survive outside of the community, when people lived in tribes or tiny communities.

The ability to feel wholesome shame when we have made a mistake, especially a mistake that was damaging to another, enables us to sense remorse so we can make amends to the person who was hurt by our error.

A Good Illustration of Healthful Shame
For instance, if Bob says something that is unkind to his buddy, Joe, also can observe that the Joe looks hurt, Bob feels a sense of healthy shame for damaging his friend.   After he sees the hurt look on the face of Joe, Bob blushes and feels like a pang in his stomach he would never hurt him and because he really cares for Joe.   Bob’s sense of empathy is the thing that allows Bob to place himself in Joe’s location to sense just how Joe feels.

Additionally, these physiological cues (e.g., blushing and the pang in his stomach) and the sense of pity are indications to Bob that he Wants to apologize to Joe to repair their connection.   Bob realizes he took it out on Joe and that he was in a bad mood, therefore he provides him a heartfelt apology and clarifies this to Joe.   Recognizing that Bob’s remark is uncharacteristic of Bob, Joe takes the apology of Bob and they proceed to dinner.   After the apology, their friendship remains intact as they had before and they move on.

But imagine if Bob didn’t feel healthy shame, and he made cruel remarks to Joe without any sense of guilt.   You can imagine that sooner or later Bob wouldn’t have Joe or other friends left because he would have alienated them with his unkindness.   And, worst of all, because he had no sense of remorse he would not attempt to mend things with his buddies.

There are some individuals, who’ve narcissistic tendencies, who lack compassion for others, and this makes it difficult for them to feel what others are feeling.   As a result, they don’t have a healthy sense of shame, and this disrupts their relationships.

A Good Example of Hazardous (or Unhealthy) Shame
Ida is an artist, and she loves painting. Her friends invite her to have a gallery showing and often compliment her art.   A gallery is, owned by one of her friends, Marie and she has been urging her work to be shown by Ida .

Whenever Ida gets compliments from her friends, she feels ashamed, particularly when Marie invites her to show her work from the gallery.   Ida blushes and her tummy feels queasy, when she hears those compliments.   Sometimes, she feels numb.   Her first idea whenever she gets compliments on her work is,”I am really not a good artist.   I wish they would stop complimenting me since it makes me feel so uncomfortable, and also my work feels so unimportant.”

One day, Marie brought an art dealer to Ida’s art studio with no telling Ida beforehand.   After the art trader offered to represent her and praised Ida’s job, Ida’s shame was so intense that she felt like she was going to faint.

In an intellectual level, Ida knew that the art dealer wouldn’t be making this offer unless she really thought Ida’s job was superior.   But on an emotional level, Ida felt so ashamed that she wanted to conceal.   She was able to pull herself together enough to take the business card of the art dealer and tell her that she would call her .

Later, when Ida and Marie were lonely, Marie told Ida she could not understand why Ida was so hesitant to take the art trader up on her offer,”Ida, I know you want to sell your work, and Susan is among the top art dealers in Nyc.   Why are not you jumping on this?”

Ida wasn’t sure how to respond because she felt confused about her own emotions.   Marie implied that Ida seek assistance from a psychotherapist to learn what was blocking her emotionally, when she clarified to Marie.

A week after, Ida started therapy with an experiential therapist, who was recommended for her.

With Time, when Ida and her therapist tracked Ida’s awareness of shame to Ida’s childhood history, Ida remembered her mother’s reactions whenever Ida attempted to show her mum her artwork,”My mother would scold me every time, and she would inform me there were much more important things in life than performing artwork.   She would tell me my sense of pride in my art was shameful in the face of the suffering that kids had to survive and who had been starving in other countries.   She explained that I had been a showoff.”

As Ida talked about this with her psychotherapist, she remembered feeling mortified she had been excited about her art.   She continued to do artwork, but she stopped showing it to her mother and she never felt it for the feeling of pride or joy. For working with her art, she felt shame.   And whenever someone complimented her art got triggered.

Ida was relieved to know there was a coherent explanation to her toxic pity and that her and her therapist Could follow it back to its roots.   But she knew that this poisonous shame was so emotionally debilitating to her, and she wanted to understand how to overcome it.

As an experiential psychotherapist, Ida’s therapist utilized many different treatment modalities, such as AEDP, which stands for Accelerated Experiential Developmental Psychotherapy and EMDR treatment , which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

As part of the AEDP modality, the therapist explained that everyone has a multiplicity of selves, such as a here-and-now adult self and the several selves throughout a lifetime, such as a young child part, a teenaged part, etc (see my article: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself).

Subsequently her therapist asked Ida to focus on her inner emotional world and get her grownup self so as to speak to her mother from an adult perspective, as opposed to talking from the fearful child self (see my article: Considering Your Childhood Trauma From an Adult Perspective).   She invited Ida to envision her mother and asked Ida what she wanted to convey about how Ida shamed.

Ida was able to get her adult self and felt righteous anger about the way her mother shamed her.   From that standpoint, Ida pictured her mum in the seat next to her at the therapist’s office and she told her mum,”How dare you shame a kid like this!   I was only five years old when you began telling me these things.   I wanted you also to encourage me and to be proud of my job.   But my artwork turned into something ugly, as if I was selfish. I accept your words of pity .”

In AEDP, this is imaginal work is called a portrayal, similar to”chair work” in Gestalt therapy or other types of experiential treatment.   At first, a customer may feel awkward about speaking to an figure in the room.   But customers feel a sense of relief after they do a portrayal and become comfortable.   Pent up feelings that have been saved from body and the mind for many years are released.

Often it takes more than one portrayal to finish this job, and at our example, Ida did a range of portrayals over time in therapy by speaking to her mother and addressing her anger and sadness about how her mom shamed her.

Her therapist also helped Ida to do”parts function ”   She explained to Ida that, whereas portrayals are inter-relational work involving the client and somebody else, parts work is intrapsychic work.

In Ida’s situation, she remained grounded in her mature thoughts and feelings and she pictured her five year old self sitting next to her at the therapy session.   She brought at age five in a picture of herself to show her therapist until they started doing the components function.

Her therapist explained to Ida the Ida’s five year old self was the”container” for its toxic shame, which this younger self needed the help of her adult self to heal.   Ida pictured herself soothing her with a hug and talking to her younger self.   She and her therapist replicated this work quite a few instances in their therapy session.

Then they did EMDR treatment to work through the traumatic emotions that were stored in the five year old self (see my posts: What is EMDR Therapy? How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain and Overcoming Trauma With EMDR Treatment Whenever the Past is at the Current ).

After Ida worked through her poisonous shame, she had been able to feel happiness and exuberance again about her artwork.   She felt ashamed.   She felt that a sense of pride.   This allowed her to reveal her work and contact the artwork dealer.

Whereas wholesome shame is hardwired and also a necessary part of working well in society, toxic shame is traumatic.   Shame has its roots in childhood when a child was dependent upon their parents to endure and needed little in the way of defenses that are healthy to ward off the shame.

Although poisonous shame can be emotionally and physically debilitating, experiential treatment can help individuals with toxic shame to conquer the trauma which caused the growth of this unhealthy pity.

Getting Assist in Therapy
Regular talk therapy helps customers to develop intellectual insight as to why their shame is poisonous, but it is often unhelpful in terms of enabling these customers to change within an psychological level (see my post: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Chat Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Experiential treatment, such as AEDP, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, parts function, and clinical hypnosis, are modalities which help clients to change from toxic shame.

If you are experiencing poisonous shame, rather than continuing to endure, you owe it to yourself to work using an abysmal psychotherapist, who can allow you to work through your issues so you’re free of toxic shame.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused treatment (EFT for couples)  See my article: The Healing Advantages of Integrative Psychotherapy.

I work with individual adults and couples.

I’ve helped many customers to conquer toxic shame in order that they could live happier, more fulfilling lives.

To discover more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW – NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at -LRB-212-RRB- 726-1006 or email me.

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