Are you carrying the burden of shame that doesn’t belong to you?
Were you Sexually abused as a child? Were those who were suppose to protect you choose to turn a blind eye, choosing to not see what they see or know what they know– we take on their shame.
As they grow up, children who are abused, who have alcoholic parents or parents with a substance abuse, an eating disorder, a mental disorder a history of infidelity— anything than engenders shame and secrecy—learn to abide by the spoken or unspoken family rules about keeping the family’s secret.
Were you afraid to bring your friends home, afraid you were going to be found out, that the family secret will be found out, did you take on a shame that rightfully belongs to the other person?
Children learn to pretend that things are “normal” and to cover for others’ behaviors. They are often afraid to bring their friends home, lest their friends discover the family’s secrets. This secrecy, this strict adherence to “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” creates a sense of shame in children, and that shame, once internalized, travels with the children into adulthood. The fact that the children did nothing wrong in no way diminishes these feelings of shame, and this shame erodes their sense of self. The shame they bear is really toxic shame.
Healthy shame, that is, the feeling that arises when we acknowledge having wronged someone or having done wrong, is both normal and essential. It comes with having a conscience.
Toxic shame, however, is the pervasive feeling that who we are, rather than what we have done, is condemnable, and therefore we are unworthy, unlovable, and defective. Toxic shame sufferers have taken on the shame that rightfully belongs to another. People who suffer from toxic shame experience some degree of self-loathing, which in turn makes it difficult for them to reveal, even to their partner, their authentic self. Thus having and sustaining intimate relationships can be really challenging for them.
Toxic shame needn’t come from something as clear-cut as having an alcoholic parent or being sexually abused.There are many other family secrets, such as those related to poverty, depression, a particular religious affiliation, or even a particular ethnicity— anything that would make you feel like you had to hide this aspect of yourself from the world, lest you be judged or rejected. And what’s so important is being able to see that you aren’t responsible for these things. This toxic shame doesn’t rightfully belong to you. This shame belongs to the abusive parent or to the kids at school who bullied you for not being dressed the right way.
If you identify with being shame based and have had difficulty creating and maintaining an intimate and loving relationship the first step, is to get in touch with those times when you felt toxic shame—when you didn’t want to be “found out,” as if there was an unspoken rule to keep a secret—then you can work to let go of this shame, which doesn’t belong to you.