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It’s normal to feel guilty after doing something wrong, but what about feeling guilty for simply being who you are? Toxic shame is a type of guilt that goes beyond typical feelings of regret or remorse. Instead, it’s a deeply-rooted belief that you are inherently bad or defective as a person. This type of guilt can be very damaging and can lead to a substance use disorder and other mental health issues. This blog post will discuss the difference between guilt and shame and look at ways to overcome toxic shame. We will also discuss how toxic shame affects women differently than men.

What is toxic shame?

Toxic shame is different from guilt in that it is not based on anything you have actually done. Instead, it is a negative feeling about yourself that has been internalized over time. Guilt is usually the result of a specific action, such as lying or cheating. On the other hand, shame is a general feeling of worthlessness or inadequacy. Guilt is temporary and can be resolved by making amends or apologizing. Shame, however, is a more lasting emotion that can linger long after the original event has passed.

Toxic shame can be caused by many different things, such as abuse, neglect, or trauma. It can also be passed down from generation to generation. If you grew up in a household where shame was prevalent, you might have internalized those messages and come to believe them yourself.

In childhood, toxic shame may arise from how parents give feedback for certain incidents. For example, if you broke a glass, your parent might have reacted in one of two ways:‌

  • They assured you that everything would be fine and cleaned up the mess without fuss.
  • They lashed out and said, “Why do you always do things like this? What is wrong with you?”

The second reaction would likely have led you to believe that something was wrong with you as a person. When this second scene keeps repeating, your feeling of shame can turn into toxic shame.

What are the dangers of toxic shame?

Shame can be behind these two common behaviors:

  • Withdrawal: When you feel shame, you might want to just disappear. Shame makes us feel not good enough, and our natural tendency may be to run away.
  • Anger: As a result of emotional pain, you become angry to try and direct your pain away from yourself.

Toxic shame is also associated with substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm. When you are in pain or unable to face yourself, you may use these unhealthy coping mechanisms to escape. In an attempt to avoid being shamed again, you may also become a perfectionist or have unrealistic expectations.

How does toxic shame affect women differently? 

While both men and women can experience toxic shame, it is important to understand how it affects women differently. For women, shame is often rooted in the belief that we are not good enough. We compare ourselves to others and feel like we fall short. This can lead to a feeling of worthlessness and powerlessness. Toxic shame can also be triggered by our appearance, weight, or sexuality. It can make us feel like we are not worthy of love or respect.

How can you overcome toxic shame?

The first step to overcoming toxic shame is recognizing it for what it is. Shame is not an accurate reflection of who you are as a person. It is simply a harmful belief that you have internalized over time. 

The next step is to start challenging those negative thoughts. Talk back to the voice of shame and remind yourself that you are not defective or unworthy. Fill your mind with positive affirmations and surround yourself with people who love and support you.

Lastly, if toxic shame is paired with substance abuse, it is essential to seek help through treatment. Facilities that specialize in treating both addiction and other mental health disorders can offer help for both afflictions. Toxic shame is difficult to deal with, but recovery is possible. With time and effort, you can learn to love yourself and live a fulfilling life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with toxic shame and a substance use disorder, we can help. Contact us today to learn more about our recovery programs. We are here to support you on your journey to wellness and recovery.


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