toxic shame

(term previously coined by Dr. Silvan Tomkins)

  1. feelings of shame that lead someone to conclude they are bad, less than, unworthy, undeserving or unlovable. These feeling may be deep set, long-lasting and negatively affect someone’s core beliefs, automatic thoughts and overall identity.

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Toxic shame, in a sense, is us being a bully to ourselves.

With toxic shame we may find ourselves having strong, lasting and reoccurring feelings of inadequacy or of being less then. We may start to form our identity around this shame; or our current identity may already be formed around toxic shame. Toxic shame can be a result of occurrences in childhood or us not being taught how to effectively recognize and work through our feelings.

Related Article: Example of Toxic Shame in the US Version of “The Office”

Toxic shame has the ability to negatively affect someones entire life. It can lead to anxiety and depression and an inability to let go of the past. Toxic shame can place someone in a vicious circle by leading them to allow themselves to be treated poorly which may lead to more shame and guilt. It is important for us to recognize and work through toxic shame so we can free ourselves from negative feelings and allow ourselves to work towards living a fulfilling life.


If our internal/automatic thought process is influenced by toxic shame, or if we are overcome and hold on to toxic shame, we may experience negative emotional states, including but not limited to, the following:

  • We may incorrectly tell ourselves that we cannot do something or that we are not deserving.
  • We are susceptible to being shamed or guilted into doing something we do not want to do.
  • We may automatically elevating others, put ourselves in positions of being less than others and allow ourselves to be treated poorly.
  • We may think others are better than us and ignore our needs for theirs, or we may be manipulated by others who take advantage of our shame.
  • We may unfairly tell ourselves we deserved something (like being treated poorly or being the victim of abuse) because we feel shame.


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