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Codependency and Toxic Shame



As I have continued to work through my own codependent behaviors through the years, I've realized more and more the root of the issue is primarily toxic shame. In fact, one therapist I worked with said that in 9 out of 10 cases, when an individual is seeking therapeutic or psychological help for mental illness (anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, relationship issues, etc.), the root cause is inadequate coping mechanisms to process toxic shame. The symptoms of this can show up as codependency and a myriad of associated behaviors for some.


It's important to understand the different between shame, toxic shame, and guilt.


Guilt: A feeling of remorse for wrong-doing. Guilt is an external-facing feeling, focused on feeling badly for how your behaviors have impacted others.

Example: I feel guilty that I said something mean to my friend and hurt her feelings.


Shame: A natural, healthy response to wrong-doing, resulting in internal-facing pain or discomfort. Shame is focused on how we feel about ourselves due to our behavior. It is an indicator we have a conscience and can be a strong motivator for change.


Example: I feel ashamed for treating my friend badly as I do not want to be the type of person that loses control of my emotions and hurts others.


Toxic Shame: Shame that erodes our self-concept, resulting in feelings of worthlessness. A feeling that the whole self is bad, unworthy, unlovable, etc.


Example: I believe I am a bad person for hurting my friend's feelings and undeserving of forgiveness or love.

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Toxic Shame often results from traumatic experiences in childhood in which our wants and needs were not met and we were made to feel badly for those wants and needs. A common example that many children experience is hearing phrases like "suck it up", "no crying", or simply being ignored. In moments like these, children are internalizing that their emotional needs are not important, or worse, that they themselves are unimportant. Toxic Shame may show up in your life in the following ways:

  • Feelings of Worthlessness

  • Difficulty in Relationships

  • Anxiety/Depression

  • Feelings of Less Than/Not Good Enough

  • Perfectionism

  • Strong Internal Critic

  • Avoidance Behavior

  • Procrastination

So, how do Toxic Shame and Codependency relate? Toxic Shame is often underlying our codependent behaviors, especially the need to control our external environments to feel loved and worthy. If we can work to release our Toxic Shame, we have a much better chance of recovery. The most rewarding aspect of releasing toxic shame is reclaiming your internal sense of self-worth. This is also absolutely critical to the process of healing from codependency, as we must learn to see and value ourselves through our own eyes, rather than through the eyes of others.


If you are in need of support or coaching, please book a discovery call with me. I would be happy to partner with you on your journey!



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