Toxic shame is when someone is carrying shame that does not belong to them. Usually it has been forced on them by their parents or sometimes other caregivers such as a relative or a teacher.
This is not necessarily in a malicious way. It could be that the person does not know what to do with the toxic shame they are carrying and so subconsciously are pushing it into someone who is powerless.
The word “toxic” means “very harmful in an insidious way” and derives from Latin toxicum meaning “poison”. That is exactly what this type of shame is like.
A person suffering from toxic shame will always feel that there is something down in the dark. It is something that’s attempting to destroy them, like a poison.
Then once this poison is inside, it doesn’t matter where they go or what they achieve in life – the toxicity stays there.
When the snake bites, the bite is not the real problem. It is the poison it leaves behind that does the damage.
He wrote how toxic shame was behind so many mental health problems. This includes codependency, addiction, compulsion, perfectionism and a constant striving for overachievement.
Some people confuse guilt with shame. But they are not the same at all.
Bradshaw wrote and spoke about the huge difference between guilt and shame: “Guilt says what I did was not good; shame says I am not good.
“Guilt says I made a mistake; shame says I am a mistake.
“If our primary caregivers are shame-based, they’ll act shameless. They will pass their toxic shame onto us.
“There is no way to teach self-value if one does not value oneself. So toxic shame is multigenerational.”
There is a healthy level of shame. It lets us know our limits, that as people we have limits.
It reminds us that human beings will make mistakes. It keeps us grounded and lets us know that at times we need to ask for help.
“Healthy shame lets us know we are limited,” John Bradshaw wrote in Healing The Shame That Binds You. “Limitation is our essential nature. Grave problems result from refusing to accept our limits. Like all emotions, shame moves us to get our basic needs met.”
But toxic shame is completely different. Someone who has had it shoved on them so that it gets inside them will always have a flawed perception of themselves.
It most often stops them from accepting love. They will also struggle greatly to realize any self-love.
Toxic shame is an extremely deep emotion. It causes a severe feeling of inadequacy.
There is something wrong with me
Toxic shame comes from abuse in every form, especially sexual abuse. It is usually accompanied by relentless criticism and a refusal to ever say “sorry”.
It is parents (or caregivers) blaming children for their own failures and their own faults. It comes from someone continuing to blame someone who is vulnerable and defenseless for their own behavior.
Any child on the receiving end of this will feel increasingly imperfect and flawed. This shame that’s forced on them will become internalized.
They will grow up and then develop into an adult with a constant noise in their head. It is a noise that’s always saying: there is something wrong with me.
Shame-based negative beliefs will be dominant. This is often thinking such as: I’m unlovable; I’m never good enough; I’m such a loser; I’m so insignificant; I’m really stupid; I’m so ugly; I really hate myself…
“Shame drives two big tapes – ‘never good enough’. And if you can talk it out of that one – ‘who do you think you are?'”
Carrying toxic shame means it will be impossible to truly enjoy meaningful relationships and work. Life in general will seem deficient – and unless addressed that feeling will always get progressively worse.
Toxic shame ruins lives. It is not necessarily brought on by any triggers because it lives inside the sufferer.
If you are the sort of boss who has to check over everyone’s work, that might be because you are diligent. Or it could be a sign that you’re codependent.
It’s one of many signs of this emotional and behavioral condition. Originally used around alcoholism, it explained how it was not just the problem drinker who had an addiction.
It reasoned that often some of the alcoholic’s family and friends were addicted to the relationship they had with him or her.
Author Melody Beattie made codependency a familiar concept with her 1980s bestseller Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others And Start Caring For Yourself. It popularized the idea that being addicted to a person or a type of relationship was something that clearly existed.
Beattie’s definition of a codependent person is someone who has let another person’s behavior affect them. So they are obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.
Codependency is such as where someone enables another to continue in an unhealthy way of living: with an addiction, a mental health issue, or simply not acting in a mature and responsible manner.
This happens because a codependent person is using that other person to give them validation, approval, recognition and an identity.
Also known as “relationship addiction”, codependency can be learned from the family you grew up in. You may recognize in one of your parents or significant adult carers during your childhood that while they insisted they were looking after somebody, including you, it was much more about control.
This is often because as a child, they were deprived of love and approval.
Codependency is then this way passed on from generation to generation.
How can I spot codependency?
It is difficult for a codependent person to keep healthy boundaries if they even know what they are.
A codependent person frequently takes over another person’s responsibilities.
There are constant fears of abandonment, so a codependent person will do virtually anything to avoid this sort of rejection.
They are prone to over-helping.
They will see approval from others as more important than respecting themselves.
They are someone who is scared of ever being wrong.
They will fixate on mistakes.
They always feel the need to be in a relationship.
What does a codependent boss look like?
A codependent boss maybe someone who’s always over-friendly, and like they are trying to be a combination of a best friend, a counselor and a parent… They will frequently invade other people’s personal space.
They can have an unhealthy degree of enmeshment with all the staff. They are likely to be excessively keen – desperately so – to always be the rescuer and everyone’s best buddy.
In an attempt to become this confidant, a codependent boss will often share too much of their own personal life in order to set up intimacy.
It is frequently uncomfortable for the person on the receiving end of these details.
A codependent boss is usually controlling. That is in their overall manner and instructions, as well as how the office has to be kept.
Behind this action is a compulsive need to counteract the unpredictable world they likely grew up in. Being anything like out of control brings back unwelcome feelings.
Because they are seeking approval 24/7, they will work way too much. But they won’t work all these hours without everyone knowing what a great sacrifice they have made.
But because they cannot have any rejection again in their life, they will be suffering from the perpetual fear of making mistakes. The more they work the more likely they are to make a mistake. Even the slightest mistake can lead to an immense overreaction.
But a codependent boss will always find it difficult to own up. So, as well as trying to be a best buddy, they can also be the world’s worst critic.
A codependent boss loves having his staff side with them. It’s always solely about whatever helps them out the most in their search for validation.
Can a codependent person change?
Work success and the decent salaries that bosses earn help a codependent person for a while because it signifies some form of approval. But soon it will stop working because the real solution is an inside job.
With the help of a professional therapist who knows what they’re talking about, a codependent person needs to realize their tendencies for codependency.
A competent counselor will help a codependent person learn how to regain and build their own self-worth from within.
There are also techniques for establishing healthy boundaries. A counselor can show how taking breaks from work and/or a partner are beneficial.
As well, there are methods in such as how not to take things personally, and to stop critical thinking. The message is that, yes – anyone can be codependent no more.
Contact us today for more details about how our team can help you or anyone you know with codependency issues.