Toxic Shame Vs. Guilt: Lists You Can Use

Toxic shame is the feeling that we are somehow inherently defective, that something is wrong with our being. Guilt is “I made a mistake, I did something wrong.” Shame is “I’m a mistake, something is wrong with me.” At the core of our wounding is the unbearable emotional pain resulting from having internalized the false message that we are not loved because we are personally defective and shameful. Robert Burney

The following articles break down aspects of toxic shame and aspects of guilt. Click on the links below for details.

Signs You Have Shame by Arlin Cuncic, Verywellmind.com

  • Feeling sensitive
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Uncontrollable blushing
  • Feeling used
  • Feeling rejected
  • Feeling like you have little impact
  • Being worried what others think about you
  • Worrying that you aren’t treated with respect
  • Feeling like others take advantage of you
  • Wanting to have the last word
  • Not sharing your thoughts or feelings because you are afraid to be embarrassed
  • Being afraid to look inappropriate or stupid
  • Being more worried about failure than doing something immoral
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Feeling like an outsider or that you are different or left out
  • Feeling suspicious or like you can’t trust others
  • Not wanting to be the center of attention
  • Being a wallflower or shrinking violet
  • Wanting to shut people out or withdraw
  • Feeling that you can’t be your true self
  • Trying to hide yourself or be inconspicuous
  • Losing your identity
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Feelings of regret
  • Feeling dishonorable

Finally, the behaviors below are examples of things that people do when they feel shame:

  • Looking down instead of looking people in the eye
  • Keeping your head hung low
  • Slumping your shoulders instead of standing up straight
  • Feeling frozen or unable to move
  • Not being able to act spontaneously
  • Stuttering when you try to speak
  • Talking in an overly soft voice
  • Hiding yourself from others
  • Crying if you feel shame or embarrassment

9 Things You Need to Know About Shame by Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT, Psychology Today

  1. Shame and guilt are different emotions.
  2. Shame has an evolutionary origin.
  3. Shame can begin in childhood.
  4. Shame has warning signs.
  5. There are many types of shame.
  6. Shame can lead to other negative emotions.
  7. Shame can negatively affect your relationships.
  8. Shame can harm your physical health.
  9. There is a cure for shame.

Five Things to Know About Toxic Shame by Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, Psychology Today

  1. We all have it.
  2. No one wants to talk about shame.
  3. We are not born feeling bad about ourselves. It’s a symptom of our environment.
  4. Shame is excruciatingly painful.
  5. Relief from shame is possible.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Guilt by Guy Winch, PhD, Psychology Today

  1. Guilt protects our relationships.
  2. We experience 5 hours a week of guilty feelings.
  3. Unresolved guilt is like having a snooze alarm in your head that won’t shut off.
  4. Guilty feelings make it difficult to think straight.
  5. Guilt makes us reluctant to enjoy life.
  6. Guilt can make you self-punish.
  7. Guilt can make you avoid the person you’ve wronged.
  8. Guilt trips make you feel guilty but also resentful.
  9. Guilt-prone people assume they’ve harmed others when they haven’t.
  10. Guilty feelings may make you feel literally heavier and more belabored.

5 Ways to Release Toxic Guilt by Andrea F. Polard, PsyD, Psychology Today

  1. Notice your guilt.
  2. Begin the inquiry.
  3. Tolerate the discomfort.
  4. Ask for forgiveness and/or forgive yourself.
  5. Individuate. [Related to codependency.]

8 Empowering Ways to Stop Feeling Guilty by Melanie Greenberg, PhD, Psychology Today

  1. Look for the evidence.
  2. Be direct and get more information.
  3. Appreciate yourself and all that you do.
  4. Think about how you would see things if the roles were reversed.
  5. Curb the “black and white” thinking.
  6. Look for the emotions underneath the guilt.
  7. Decide how much you’re willing and able to do.
  8. Realize it’s okay to take care of your own needs.

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