March 23, 2024

Understanding Toxic Shame: Embracing Resilience and Self-Worth

"If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive."

Brené Brown

Toxic shame encompasses a profound sense of unworthiness and self-loathing, often leading to pervasive feelings of inadequacy and a fear of criticism. When individuals experience toxic shame, they may grapple with emotions such as anger, self-loathing, worry, anxiety, sadness, and embarrassment.


Understanding the impacts of toxic shame is crucial, as it goes beyond healthy levels of shame associated with specific actions. It can prompt self-sabotage and hinder happiness.

Toxic Shame Vs. Healthy Shame

Healthy Shame

Healthy shame involves a sense of self-awareness and personal accountability. It acknowledges areas for improvement without condemning one’s entire being. It encourages introspection and positive change, fostering personal development and growth.

Unhealthy Shame

In contrast, toxic shame is an intense and prolonged feeling of worthlessness, failure, and self-disgust that isn’t necessarily tied to specific actions or behaviors. It can lead to a persistent and intense feeling of inadequacy, unworthiness, or defectiveness, often permeating one’s sense of self.

What does toxic shame look like?

Let’s imagine a situation where you receive constructive feedback about a project you poured your heart into. Rather than viewing the feedback as an opportunity for growth, you immediately feel overwhelmed with inadequacy and self-loathing. You might say to yourself:


  • I knew I couldn’t do this job. 
  • I am not cut out for this project. 
  • I am so stupid. 
  • What is wrong with me? 

You start to believe that you’re fundamentally flawed and not good enough, leading to a sense of paralysis and a fear of being exposed as unworthy in the eyes of others.


What we need to keep in mind is that this intense emotional response goes beyond healthy self-reflection and becomes a deeply ingrained belief that affects our confidence and well-being.


Toxic shame can cause us to engage in self-criticism and invite a host of self-doubt for future opportunities. Toxic shame also makes it impossible for others to help you become better at something.

self criticism and shame

How do I know if I am experiencing toxic shame?

Recognizing toxic shame can be a deeply personal and challenging process, often requiring introspection and self-awareness. Here are some signs that may indicate the presence of toxic shame in your life:


  1. Persistent Self-Criticism: If you engage in relentless self-criticism and harbor an enduring belief that you are fundamentally flawed or unworthy, it could be a sign of toxic shame.
  2. Inhibited Self-Expression: Feeling hesitant to express your thoughts, emotions, or needs due to fear of judgment or rejection can indicate internalized shame.
  3. Perfectionism: Striving for unattainable levels of perfection to avoid feelings of inadequacy or exposure is a typical response to toxic shame
  4. Chronic Feelings of Unworthiness: It may be linked to toxic shame if you frequently experience deep unworthiness, irrespective of external validation or accomplishments.
  5. Avoidance of Vulnerability: A reluctance to be vulnerable or authentic in relationships out of fear of being seen as flawed can point to underlying toxic shame.
  6. Difficulty Accepting Praise or Recognition: If you struggle to accept praise or positive feedback, dismissing it as undeserved, toxic shame may be at play.
Experiencing Shame

What is the cause of toxic shame?

The causes of toxic shame are rooted in various experiences and factors that can profoundly impact an individual’s sense of self-worth and emotional well-being.


Toxic shame can develop because of chronic, intense experiences during childhood, such as emotional neglect, insecure attachment style, abuse, or exposure to highly critical or shaming environments.


 These early experiences may imprint deep-seated beliefs of unworthiness and inadequacy, forming the foundation for toxic shame to take root and persist into adulthood.


Additionally, social and cultural factors can contribute to the development of toxic shame. For instance, societal norms, unrealistic expectations, and the perpetuation of shame-inducing messages can further exacerbate an individual’s susceptibility to toxic shame.


Also, experiences of trauma and post-traumatic states can lead to shame or embarrassment, intensifying the impact of toxic shame on an individual’s psychological well-being.

Childhood experience

How do you heal from toxic shame?

Healing from toxic shame involves self-compassion, emotional resilience, and seeking professional help. Here are some practical ways to begin the healing journey:

  • Cultivate Self-Compassion: Practicing self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness and understanding, especially during distress or self-criticism. Acknowledge that everyone experiences vulnerability and imperfection and extend the same empathy to yourself that you would offer to a friend facing similar struggles.

  • Therapeutic Support: Seeking guidance from a qualified therapist and counselor can provide valuable tools for addressing toxic shame. Therapists can help individuals explore the root causes of shame, develop coping strategies, and foster a more profound sense of self-worth and acceptance.

  • Emotional Resilience Building: Engage in activities that help build emotional resilience, such as mindfulness practices, journaling, or hobbies that bring joy and fulfillment. Building emotional resilience can help counteract the impact of shame-triggering events and promote a more balanced emotional state.

  • Challenge Negative Beliefs: Actively challenge negative beliefs associated with toxic shame. By reframing negative self-talk and replacing it with affirming realistic perspectives, individuals can begin to dismantle the foundation of toxic shame.

  • Community and Support: Seek out supportive communities or networks where individuals can share their experiences and find solidarity. Connecting with others who have navigated similar struggles can reduce feelings of isolation and reinforce the understanding that healing from toxic shame is a shared journey.
seeking therapy for depression

Please understand that self-compassion and self-awareness are crucial to the healing process. Learning to be patient with yourself, and being aware of what you are feeling can help uncover a host of knowledge about your circumstances. Consider listening to this mindfulness meditation on “Feeling Your Feelings”. Journal your thoughts, and if you can, reach out to a therapist in your area to explore your journey to healing and peace. 

Share Post:

Start your therapy journey today.

Schedule a 15-Minute Free Consultation With Our Intake Coordinator.

Our Recent blogs.

Call us
Our Staff