Friday, September 8, 2023

Toxic Shame and PTSD


In the 1960s, psychologist Silvan Tomkins coined the term “toxic shame” to refer to a deep and debilitating pathology that results from traumatic experiences of being repeatedly humiliated, rejected, despised, and treated as worthless. 

In 1988, counselor, speaker, and author John Bradshaw brought Toxic Shame into public awareness in his self-help book, Healing The Shame That Binds You. 

Shame is a feeling of diminished self-worth that is not related to any particular action.

Guilt is a negative feeling related to a particular action. 

A personal favorite of mine, BrenĂ© Brown, who has spent decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, describes shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging - something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” 

Toxic Shame has its roots in criticism. Most criticism is intended to correct a behavior, however, when the focus of that criticism is that you, rather than your behavior choices, are the problem the seed of shame is planted. 

The aggressor in this situation is not trying to correct choices. They are focusing their negativity on the survivor, selecting things that are out of the survivor’s control to use for a personal attack. Toxic shame is prevalent in family situations. Parents who may have endured treatment like this when they were children often replicate the behavior with their own children. It is not always easy to see the intent of criticism when it is delivered, and that is why this cycle of shame can go unnoticed, becoming toxic.

While it is more commonly seen in the parent/child relationship, Toxic Shame can show up in any close relationship with another person. 

When shame is used intentionally, it is emotional abuse. It is done with the intent of keeping their survivor powerless and at the mercy of the abuser. If the survivor’s sense of personal value has been diminished by toxic shame, they feel worthless. And because they feel that they are worthless, they also do not feel they deserve the help they need.

Let’s stop right here. Take a moment and read the following statement: 

You are not worthless.

You deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin.

You deserve to heal. 

Read it again. Keep reading that statement until you believe it, because, friend, you do deserve to heal. And until you believe it, you cannot begin to heal.

What is your experience with toxic shame? We value your feedback and ideas! Reach out on our Community Facebook Page!


If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”

Get your copy of The Soldier's Guide to PTSDThe Soldier's Workbook

or Acknowledge & Heal, A Women's-Focused Guide to PTSD

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