Toxic shame is a serious problem among those who have survived narcissistic abuse. This type of shame goes far beyond thinking things like, “I shouldn’t have done that”. Toxic shame thinking things like, “I’m a terrible person because I did that.” In other words, toxic shame judges the person rather than the act.
The reason toxic shame is so common in those who have survived narcissistic abuse is because of the way narcissists abuse their victims. Overt & covert narcissists may be quite different in many ways, but both types will not hesitate to use shame as a weapon. They harshly judge & criticize their victims about everything. Nothing is off limits! The victim’s religious beliefs, morals, hobbies, likes, dislikes, taste in clothing, taste in cars, career choice, significant other, children, extended family, friends…. You name it. Anything can be used. They criticize the victim for caring about what they care about & not caring about the things they don’t care about incredibly harshly. They imply or even say outright that something is very wrong with their victim for feeling as they do. They must be stupid or even crazy. My mother gave me a very good example of this a few years before she died. I don’t like donuts, & apparently she was unaware of that. One day she mentioned liking them & asked which kind I liked. I said none. She said, “You don’t like donuts? What’s wrong with you? You can’t be my daughter!” At the time I was thinking, “I wish!” but I also realized what was happening. I didn’t feel the same way she did, & rather than simply accepting we felt differently about something, she tried to shame me for being different.
The underlying message that narcissists give when shaming their victim is this: “You must not make mistakes, have your own feelings, thoughts, needs or interests because that makes you unacceptable, unlovable, intolerable, stupid &/or crazy.”
Toxic shame is a very effective weapon for narcissists, especially when their victims are unaware of what exactly is happening. Over time, the shame takes a deep root in a person. At that point, it annihilates one’s self esteem because they believe they are seriously broken, flawed & unlovable. It also destroys a person’s identity because the shaming made this person think they shouldn’t feel or believe as they do. It can make them doubt that they really feel or believe that way. Or, more commonly, they may purposely try to change because it seems better than dealing with the narcissist’s cruel shaming.
This toxic shame also can create false beliefs in a person, such as the person isn’t entitled to have any needs, wants or feelings. When married to my ex husband, I repeatedly told myself I needed to ignore my needs, wants & feelings & focus on him. I truly felt that I wasn’t entitled to have such things, only he was.
An overdeveloped sense of responsibility can come from toxic shame as well. A person can come to believe that they are responsible for others, including their emotional state. This is especially true of the narcissist in their life. If someone they know is sad, they should cheer that person up. They should fix all of the problems in that person’s life. They come to believe that their own life isn’t as important as this other person’s is.
There are ways to heal from toxic shame. Prayer is always the best place to start, in my opinion. Ask God to speak his truth to you & to heal you.
Study about who you are as a child of God. There is plenty in the Bible that proves you are worthy & wonderful. I created a pretty long list of these Scriptures. It’s available on my website at www.CynthiaBaileyRug.com on the Positive Affirmation link at the top of the page.
If you do these things, you won’t be set free of the bonds of toxic shame overnight but it will happen. Don’t give up! You deserve to be set free!