“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” ― Brené Brown,
Shame is the most distressing and lethal of all human emotions. Childhood shame, also referred to as toxic shame, can last a lifetime, and permeate every aspect of a person’s life. Parents often shame their children unintentionally because they too were shamed as children. Therefore, shame is a poison that is passed from generation to generation.
Shame has been called the “hiding” emotion since it causes us to cower, avoid, and shrink.
Parents shame their children when they resort to name-calling, threats, verbal abuse, invalidation, humiliation, and public punishment. While some parents would argue that these are effective forms of discipline, the damage inflicted, both in the short-term and the long-term, can be significant.
Shame causes a person to feel bad about themselves as opposed to feeling bad or regretful over something they may have done. The result is a person left with feelings of unworthiness, inadequacy, undeserving, and feeling unlovable.
Shaming a child has been linked to numerous dysfunctional behaviors and disorders in adults and include substance abuse and addiction, depression, anxiety, self-injury, eating disorders, and even personality disorders.
Borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder are the two most prominent shame-based personality disorders. These two personality disorders are both referred to as disorders of the Self and have a significant rate of comorbidity and symptom overlap.
Clinical psychologist and best-selling author, Jane Middelton-Moz, identified twenty-one common characteristics in adults who were shamed as children. These characteristics are discussed in her 1990 bestselling book Shame & Guilt: Masters of Disguise. Below are ten of the twenty-one characteristics identified by Moz.
Ten characteristics of adults shamed in childhood as identified by Jane Middelton-Moz:
- Adults shamed as children are afraid of vulnerability and fear exposure of self.
- Adults shamed as children may suffer extreme shyness, embarrassment, and feelings of being inferior to others. They don’t believe they make mistakes. Instead, they believe they are mistakes.
- Adults shamed as children fear intimacy and tend to avoid real commitment in relationships. These adults frequently express the feeling that one foot is out of the door, prepared to run.
- Adults shamed as children may appear either grandiose or self-centered or seem selfless.
- Adults shamed as children feel that, “No matter what I do, it won’t make a difference; I am and always will be worthless and unlovable.”
- Adults shamed as children frequently feel defensive when even minor negative feedback is given. They suffer feelings of severe humiliation if forced to look at mistakes or imperfections.
- Adults shamed as children frequently blame others before they can be blamed.
- Adults shamed as children may suffer from debilitating guilt. These individuals apologize constantly. They assume responsibility for the behavior of those around them.
- Adults shamed as children feel like outsiders. They feel a pervasive sense of loneliness throughout their lives, even when surrounded with those who love and care.
- Adults shamed as children project their beliefs about themselves onto others. They engage in mind reading that is not in their favor, consistently feeling judged by others.
The devastating effects of toxic shame are difficult to overcome but certainly not impossible. Moreover, for the courageous determined individual healing from shame or shame based disorders involves patience, empathy, and a program of self-compassion.
“Shame is always easier to handle if you have someone to share it with.” ― Craig Thompson
For more information on shame, its long-term effects, and childhood wounds, please refer to the EBook, Wounded Personalities by the Author (G. Pacana)
Source material: John Bradshaw, “Shame & Guilt: Masters of Disguise,” Jane Middelton-Moz