...Unravelling the Web of Internalization
Contributed: NP Medical Correspondent
Belize City: 21st May 2023
In the intricate landscape of human emotions, the power of toxic shame transcends its original purpose as a signal of our limits. Instead, it transforms into a pervasive state of being, shaping our character and identity. When internalized, shame no longer functions as an emotion but rather becomes a characterological style, dictating our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. This article delves into the profound effects of toxic shame, exploring its gradual process of internalization and the factors that reinforce its stronghold. By shedding light on this complex phenomenon, we aim to provide a clearer understanding for individuals grappling with its debilitating impact.
Internalization is a gradual process that occurs over time, wherein shame evolves from an external experience to an integral part of one's character. John Bradshaw, in his book "The Many Faces of Shame: Healing the Shame that Binds You," outlines four key processes that contribute to the internalization of shame:
Identification with shame-based models: Individuals who consistently associate with shame-prone individuals or role models can internalize shame as a core aspect of their identity.
The trauma of abandonment: Experiences of abandonment, whether emotional or physical, can profoundly impact the internalization of shame. The fear and pain associated with abandonment become intertwined with feelings of shame, solidifying its presence.
Binding of feelings, needs, and drives with shame: Shame becomes ingrained when one's emotions, needs, and desires are consistently met with shame-based responses. This binding reinforces shame as a response to one's authentic self-expression.
Interconnection of memory imprints forming collages of shame: Memories of shame become entangled in collages of imagery, triggering shame spirals and perpetuating the internalized shame experience.
Internalized shame can lead to the emergence of shame spirals, self-perpetuating cycles of shame-triggered emotions and thoughts. These spirals operate independently and seem to have a life of their own. They are often triggered by sensory images or auditory self-talk associated with past shame memories. Additionally, shame spirals can be fueled by internal self-talk influenced by beliefs instilled by shame-based caretakers. When caretakers engage in shameless behaviors such as rage, condemnation, or judgment, shame is transferred onto the individual, who internalizes it as their own. This process can lead to a distorted self-perception and a negative self-image.
Toxic shame severely obstructs our awareness of our own strengths and resources. Those burdened by shame often develop a negative self-image, viewing themselves as defective or inherently flawed. Paradoxically, shame-based individuals may not be conscious of their negative self-image due to the protective mechanisms of their false selves. Their identification with roles or scripts blinds them to their true feelings about themselves, perpetuating the cycle of shame.
The reenactment of childhood abandonment experiences can trigger emotional flashbacks, where individuals find themselves isolated and overwhelmed by feelings of humiliation. During such episodes, self-perception may become distorted, leading to self-hate, self-criticism, and a deep sense of worthlessness. These emotional flashbacks can be an indication of the profound impact of toxic shame, further entrenching the individual in a cycle of self-destructive thoughts and emotions.
Toxic shame, when internalized, transforms from a mere emotion into a characterological style, dictating one's identity and self-perception. The processes of identification, abandonment trauma, binding of feelings, and memory imprints intertwine to create a web of shame that affects individuals on a profound level. by shedding light on the intricate nature of toxic shame and its far-reaching consequences, this article strives to enhance understanding and provide a path towards healing and breaking free from the suffocating grip of internalized shame.
Remember, overcoming toxic shame takes time and patience. It is a process of unlearning deeply ingrained beliefs and healing emotional wounds. Be gentle with yourself and celebrate every step forward, no matter how small. With support and dedication, it is possible to break free from the grip of toxic shame and cultivate a healthier, more compassionate relationship with yourself.