A woman is ashamed of being naked in the bedroom. Or a man covers himself with a towel when she goes into the bathroom. I understand that we are ashamed of strangers. But the man we live with who says he loves?
Toxic shame is not about the person watching. It’s about us. We are ashamed of our own look. We can’t stand ourselves. Toxic shame engulfs the whole “I” and only looks for an excuse to ruin our life together. We may think it’s about small breasts or skinny legs. But the thing is, when we were little, we were often embarrassed. Painfully convincing in this way that we have to hide ourselves, because if someone sees what we are like, they will laugh and reject us without mercy. That’s why we hid deep inside ourselves so we wouldn’t be ashamed anymore. But also so that no one can see who we are. However, we do not associate the suffering we experienced in childhood with the fact that when a loved one wants to take a bath with us, we say: “no!”. We say no because we think we’re only loved because we’ve managed to hide from him what
Why is shaming so toxic that it stays with us for life?
As adults, we are afraid of ridicule, irony, mockery, because they violate our human dignity. And when we are shamed children, our personality cannot develop properly. Toxic shame is at the root of many emotional and personality problems. When we’re 12, we don’t go swimming because of pimples on our backs. When we’re 30, we won’t undress by the light. But we won’t sail and get tan either. Because of toxic shame, we often don’t do what we want to do. We don’t even invite friends to our house, because we are afraid of being compared to their homes. But it’s not about pimples, breasts or the square footage of the house, underneath all these shames is the shame of who we are, which is who we are. We think it’s enough to hide small breasts or skinny legs and you’ll be fine! Well, it won’t, because we hide much more.
After all, what we have breasts or legs, you can see! And if we keep separating ourselves from our partner with a towel, he will eventually feel rejected. Like friends you don’t invite home.
It can be seen, it cannot be seen, it will feel, it will not feel … The truth is not important here. For someone with toxic shame, what they see and think matters. The shameful person has a strong projection mechanism: they are sure that the partner will reject them if they see how they are. This projection mechanism also blurs reality in such a way that the person who is ashamed cannot see that the other person is with them, that they want them, that they like them… It is best in such a situation to admit that we are ashamed. And if we hear: “But you have nothing to be ashamed of, because you are beautiful”, then believe it. If this is too difficult, add that the partner should slow down, that we need time to get used to our nakedness. We also need this time to feel where our natural boundaries are in this nakedness. Maybe we don’t want to parade naked between the bathroom and the bedroom, but sleep – right? It’s important not to force yourself. Respect yourself. It will be easier when we start to feel natural, not toxic shame.
Natural shame? How is it different from toxic?
Toxic shame tells us we’re all right to fix. Natural is related to our sovereignty, to our space: I will let someone in it only after I have checked that I am safe with him. So also when I’m sure he won’t embarrass me. Natural shame sets our limits, allows us to feel that, for example, a visit to a swingers club would exceed them.
You said honesty saves love from the trap of toxic shame…
Yes, and if we hear, “I’m a little insecure today, I don’t feel up to the task”, then let’s appreciate the partner’s honesty. It is an expression of trust and closeness when a man talks to a woman about his fear of making himself look ridiculous in her eyes. It would be easier to say: “I have a lot of work!”. But we don’t say that to a loved one. Proximity is revealing. Overcoming the fear of being taunted. When we allow toxic shame to drive us, we focus on looking pretty, not on being ourselves. Love is shameless. Here I am as I am, and I see what you are, and I love you!
It happens that the partner publicly embarrasses, ridicules, mocks the partner! And then she says it’s just a joke, that her lack of distance…
Lack of distance? Only make fun of yourself! If I can’t do that, then I don’t have the distance. But if someone mocks me, it is passive aggression. What happens next depends on who I am. If she is confident and calm, she will hear: “I don’t play such games, I don’t want to kiss you anymore because you’re not cool.” Always in such a situation you have to be clear: “What you are doing hurts me. Why are you doing this? You want to humiliate me? Tell me directly what you mean.”
And what could be the reason for embarrassing a loved one?
The simplest: the partner plays “my better”, he wants to dominate you, get on your head. Use to treat your own complexes. If you lack self-esteem, you will start to be ashamed of: how you think, how you look, what is important to you, even funny… But a toxic partner will not stop himself when he sees that you are suffering. He’s using you. He must have been infected with toxic shame as a child, and now he’s dealing with it to the point of belittling others.
Ridicule others to overcome your own shame?
He could learn to embarrass and even mock those close to him at home if he was taunted there. So he had a choice: continue to be ridiculed or become an executioner. It’s a defense mechanism: to become the one who hurt me so that I’ll never be hurt again. Coming back to the personality disorder that toxic shame causes in us, perfectionism is also a shame. A perfectionist is someone who hides from himself that he is not perfect, so that no one else has the opportunity to point it out to him, i.e. make him laugh!
Perfectionist is someone who is ashamed?
Who is terrified of embarrassment. He meticulously takes care of everything and is convinced that he always does the best to eliminate possible causes of embarrassment. Panic fear of ridicule and rejection can also be hidden behind arrogance, criticism, control, moralizing, and even contempt for others. It has to be the way I want it, or not at all! These are also tools to fight your own shame. Unfortunately, they hurt loved ones.
You have to run away from such a partner!?
Say, “I don’t play that!” However, if I also have toxic shame, then instead of setting a clear boundary, I start to please my partner, I try to meet his expectations. To earn his recognition, so do everything to make him stop embarrassing me. I am then driven by the same goal as him: to avoid embarrassment. Only I hide behind the mask of someone who can please everyone, help everyone. And that’s impossible. We are both detached from reality, because every human being has limits. No one is perfect and no one has the power to make another person happy. Healthy shame is then very much needed as a lesson in humility.
Sometimes a woman is embarrassed by her partner’s mother, and in public …
I know such a situation. Mother-in-law throws parties every few months. Exquisite, for wealthy friends. The daughter-in-law is invited, although, according to the mother-in-law, she comes from such a simple family that she would never be with her if she hadn’t seduced her son. In such an atmosphere, the daughter-in-law is ironically instructed by her mother-in-law at the table that this is not how you eat oysters. Well, except in the countryside…
Daughter-in-law now wants to sink into the ground?
It depends on what the young woman is like. If he has a sense of value, knows who he is, he will defend himself against the naughty behavior of his mother-in-law by replying: “Thank you for telling me, I didn’t eat oysters at my house”, period. The fact that you haven’t eaten and that everyone already knows that she comes from the country won’t trigger toxic shame in her, because she doesn’t have it. A sane young woman who likes herself, if she finds it beneficial to her, will simply learn to eat oysters. She may feel a natural embarrassment that will show the limits of her abilities and motivate her to learn. But he won’t start thinking badly of himself because of it. On the contrary, she will feel good because she has learned something new.
What if he has this toxic shame in him?
If she was accustomed to being treated badly in her family home, for example saying about her as a joke: “And this is our less successful child”, she will swallow all the comments, poisoning herself and the relationship with her partner. After such a mother-in-law text, she will feel devastated, terribly ashamed of herself, although she can pretend that nothing happened. But she doesn’t show anything, doesn’t defend herself, doesn’t set boundaries and lets these mockery destroy her, because for her it’s another proof that she is nobody.
What about the son or partner? I know men who remain silent when their mother embarrasses their partner, or say, “Honey, she’s my mother, she won’t change!”
It’s best for the son to notice that his mother is mean to his wife and tell her in private not to do it again. If the mother does not stop, he should immediately take the wife’s side at the “scene of the crime”, embarrassing the mother: “A lady pays no attention to anyone at the table.” If that doesn’t help either, warn him that he’ll stop seeing his mother, if she doesn’t stop harassing his wife, and if that’s not enough, severely weaken his contacts with her, or even stop visiting her. As long as people are a couple, they are the most important to each other. And a healthy woman will say directly, “I expect loyalty from you. When your mother insults me, she insults your choice, and therefore you. I expect you to defend yourself from her taunts, if not even me, then your choice.”
Can he say that now he will go to her alone?
And we have an example of how toxic shame, which he cannot cope with, since he abandons his wife out of fear of his mother, begins to destroy their marriage. Well, who is he with, his mother or his wife? Doesn’t that embarrass his wife? It may even happen that the partner will take the mother’s side, saying to the partner: “I was ashamed of you today.” What does it mean? A grown man knows that he is only responsible for himself. So this man hasn’t cut the umbilical cord since he doesn’t feel like a separate entity. Or maybe poisoned by toxic shame that tells him he’s not worth loving, he thinks anyone who loves him must be a zero?! It is also extremely important for a relationship whether the partner likes to be on top. Feel better at the expense of others.
What to do when we see that we have toxic shame?
Realize what I’m ashamed of and why. Ask friends if there is a reason. Tell me what I suspect. If your partner is not toxic, ask him, “What do you like about me? And what not?” Then it may turn out that he likes what I am ashamed of! The best is sincerity: “I’m ashamed of the fact that … And you, are you ashamed of something?”. It’s important to support each other. So if your partner has toxic parents, help him appreciate himself. When he comes back from them broken, because his father told him again that it’s time for a promotion, not for another child – hug him and say: “They don’t know you and that’s why they don’t appreciate you. They wasted a chance to enjoy you when you were a boy, and they’re wasting it now that you’re a man! But I’m happy for you because you’re a super cool guy.” And if we also hear such words from a partner.