As discussed in cause #13 of depression, shame is one part of our
self evaluating the other parts of our self and concluding that we have
serious faults, so bad we should be ashamed. You judge yourself to be
inadequate or unworthy or defective. You feel defective in a way you
wouldn't want anyone to know about, so you hide your defects by
pretending to be different; you create a false self to show the world in
place of the embarrassing true self. Alice Miller calls it "soul murder"
because you kill or disown a real part of you and start hiding behind a
mask, fearful your faults will be "found out." If we can not accept what
we really are, we are driven into a lifetime of deception, self-rejection,
and suffering. Many serious psychological problems are caused by this
kind of self-destructive, unhealthy shame.
Toxic shame screams at us that we are worthless; healthy shame
gently reminds us of our limitations and faults. With healthy shame we
aren't happy to have these embarrassing weaknesses and defects but
this awareness is healthy. It keeps us in touch with reality--and it
keeps us humble. A modicum of self-doubt also keeps us open-minded
and searching for better understanding. In this section, we are
concerned with the more serious unhealthy or toxic shame.
Toxic shame comes from toxic parents, according to Forward
(1989). For instance, if a child is forcefully told that his/her anger is
bad, a terrible way to behave, really shameful, disapproved of by God,
etc., that child is going to learn to inhibit anger because toxic shame is
felt every time he/she gets mad. Eventually the anger is disowned and
denied; the child doesn't even reveal the angry feelings to him/herself;
it is repressed. Yet, the child, like everyone else, is still frustrated and
disappointed. The anger still exists within the alienated or hidden parts
of the self and generates energy. This loss of part of the self and the
presence of denied (unconscious) emotions must create a very
confusing experience for the child, no wonder he/she feels helplessly
out of control. More and more of the self (needs, emotions, actions,
thoughts) become shame ridden, even contemptible. You feel more
and more flawed. The self feels it must escape from itself, this is done
by creating a false self.
A guilty person fears punishment and wants to make amends. A shame-based person
wants to be punished.
John Bradshaw (1988) points out that the false self will be different
from the true self but in either a positive or a negative direction, e.g.
you may begin to develop a self that is very neat and tidy