The excursion is almost at an end, the bus pulling up at my school to drop the other kids and I off now. A crowd of parents, waiting to pick up their children, is already there. I wait by the bus with some friends as our bags are unloaded from underneath.
She pulls up on the other side of the street, and spots me. ‘Get over here!’ she screams out the car window. ‘Now!’
Everyone - parents and all my peers - turns to look. A friend is holding one of my bags. ‘You’re stupid enough and ugly enough to carry your own bag!’ she screeches at me.
I am so ashamed. All of these people… looking at me and judging me, because I am bad. Because I’ve made an adult yell at me. Because I’m not a good person. I wish I could crawl into a hole and hide. I try to make myself small and I rush across the road and get in the car. I’m so embarrassed and ashamed of myself.
Looking at this memory with adult eyes, it’s clear that no one there that day, adult or child, was judging me. No right-minded person in that situation would place any blame on a child being treated like that.
But little me was convinced that other people’s poor behaviour was always my fault. That I was the one to blame. I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed to be me. And this internalised shame is something that I am still healing.
The normal emotion of shame is a signal that you’ve done something wrong. It helps you to learn society’s acceptable boundaries, guides you to be moral and stops you from repeating mistakes.
But when you’ve internalised shame and carry it around with you, it’s toxic and highly destructive, impacting all aspects of your life.
If you experienced toxic, dysfunctional, unloving or emotionally abusive parenting, then you were consistently made to feel ashamed. It therefore became part of your subconscious programming, and - even an as adult - your subconscious belief is that there is something fundamentally wrong with you.
Perhaps you even heard things like, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself!’, or ‘Shame on you!’
The toxic shame stays buried within you, and it becomes a part of your identity.
So, rather than seeing that you made a mistake, you believe you are a mistake.
You didn’t do something ‘bad’… you are innately bad.
You feel sorry and ashamed about who you are as a person.
You believe you are flawed, not good enough, unworthy, unloveable, undeserving.
Here are some signs of internalised shame:
Frequently apologising (even for things that aren’t actually your fault)
Reliving embarrassing memories months or even years after they happen
Thinking you have more dark secrets than ‘normal’ people, and worrying that others will find out about them
Feelings of unworthiness and a lack of self-confidence
Dysfunctional relationships with others (often involving codependency - the enabling of unhealthy behaviours due to people-pleasing, poor boundaries, excuse-making)
Self-sabotage (ruining/preventing/destroying things you say you want or things that made you happy)
Imposter Syndrome (feeling like a ‘fraud’ or a phony)
Blushing or sweating (I intentionally underachieved in school, to avoid having to receive awards at assembly; because the blushing I experienced when in front of other people made me feel even more shame)
Difficulty holding eye contact
Martyrdom (sacrificing yourself for others, while ignoring your own needs)
Settling for unfulfilling relationships, jobs, situations
Frequently feeling a sense of irrational guilt
Addictive tendencies (trying to escape and numb your feelings using alcohol, drugs, food, spending, social media, TV, computer games, gambling etc)
Toxic shame permeates all aspects of your life, affecting your relationships, finances, health, self-confidence, career and more.
If you’re ready to finally heal all the struggle in your life, let’s chat.
‘Release & Rise: Transform Your Trauma’ is an 8 week journey in which you heal the impacts your past experiences are having on your present life.
Spaces in the course are strictly limited and fill up fast. Learn more about it here.