Shame is a normal feeling that everyone experiences–even trained therapists like myself. However, if you asked me on any given day if I struggle with shame, I would probably say, “I don’t struggle with toxic shame. I feel really good about myself and the accomplishments I’ve made in my life. I’m confident and feel good in my own skin–hence, I don’t have these issues.” I have been saying this out loud to my closest friends, even to myself. The truth is, over the years I have become pretty adept at covering the shame of my woundedness. The even deeper truth is, I still struggle with believing I am valuable or worth very much.
I define toxic shame as the voices inside our head that tell us lies about ourself (I’ll discuss healthy shame in a future post). Toxic shame stems from the deepest wounds our soul has endured. In The Voice of the Heart, Chip Dodd says that toxic shame “denies our humanity…We reject our hearts through the belief that the way we are made is defective.” It’s the voice that says,
- “You are not enough.”
- “You are dumb.”
- “You feel too much.”
- “Your story is more than anyone can handle.”
- “You don’t deserve to be loved”
- “You are not valuable”.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on with more of these lies that I hear in my head. I feel so much sadness that I would say those unkind, abusive words to myself, much less believe them. Toxic shame is truly self-harm. You can imagine my surprise when these voices resurfaced over the past couple of weeks, which have been tough. My efforts to be a “good person” sometimes fail, and when they do, I’m left alone with these penetrating lies.
I have learned a hard lesson from years of covering my toxic shame by my own actions. No matter how well I’m doing in my practice or at home, no matter how authentic and caring my friends think I am, and no matter how great I think I look in the mirror–having “worldly” accomplishments is not the same as believing I have inherent, God-given value. Once you lose something like your job, a relationship, or your ability to pay the bills–does your worth decrease in value? Or because you’ve been abused and mistreated in your life–does that mean you deserve less? Absolutely not! I have caught myself in the trap of measuring my value based on how other people see me instead of how the one, true God sees me. He longs for us to be loved and enjoyed. He longs for me to see myself as He sees me–His beautiful, perfect child. He longs for our freedom from toxic shame.
What would it look like if we stopped trying to cover our shame with working harder? How would our lives be different if we took the time to really believe we are worth loving? I believe it would have huge implications on how we see ourselves, choose for ourselves, and experience God’s love for us. I hope that naming the toxic shame voices and learning where they come from will lead us to more authentic relationship with ourselves. But know this: nobody can convince you to believe you have worth except yourself. And trust me, you are worth it.