Shame is the Emotion of the Week

Shame is a tough one. It definitely FEELS like a “negative” emotion. But, as with all the emotions, shame is very valid for our emotional wellness and learning.

Ugh. Shame is so tricky - there are misconceptions of what shame is and why we feel it. I’m going to say it again - I’m not a mental health professional. I am a woman living with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder. I come from a childhood background of abuse and so shame is an emotion I CONSTANTLY deal with and continue to work on even now at 46.

There’s a difference between the emotion called Shame and Toxic Shame. I’m going to break it down the way I understand it. So let me know what you think.

Shame is a necessary emotion because it teaches us what is accepted in the society that we are surrounded by. For example - a child runs up to another on the playground - takes their bucket and hits them right before running away. An adult (hopefully a parent or teacher who is known to the child) tells the child - “we don’t hit” or “it’s not nice to take away toys others are playing with.” In that moment of being told that they did something that hurt the other child, they will feel one of two (or both) emotions. They may feel Guilty - because they knew that what they did was hurtful. Or they may feel Shame - because they were told it is not acceptable to hit and take things away from others. In the case of Shame, the child is learning that, in our society, it is not acceptable to do what they did.

When shame becomes toxic, the child is told on a regular basis that what they do is bad. That the way they act and the person they are is wrong. Toxic shame turns from “what I did was bad” into “I’m a bad person.”

Although we can learn to not hit or steal or bully, it becomes very difficult to help someone understand that they are’t a bad person. When it is pressed on them constantly that they are bad, they just assume their whole being is bad.

It’s important that we understand the difference between normal shame as a learning emotion and toxic shame.

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