Have you ever laid down at the end of the day and felt like your mind immediately went into a spiral? All you could think about was what you didn’t do, what you didn’t accomplish, what you forgot. Did you give your children enough love? Will your spouse be okay?
Will your partner be upset with you because you weren’t able to come through with this? Have you failed? Mom guilt, all the things come rolling in. That can be a common experience and a sign that the shame and the guilt that you’re feeling might be more toxic than healthy.
I’m Dr. Charryse Johnson, a licensed clinical mental health therapist, and the founder of Jade Integrative Counseling in Charlotte, North Carolina. I want to take a moment and really help you identify the difference between healthy shame versus toxic shame.
We all have moments where we do something or say something, speaking to myself here, that we rethink and wonder, did I make a mistake or, I feel bad about this.
This doesn’t match who I am and what I believe about myself. That’s a form of healthy shame. When you can acknowledge that there was a situation or a circumstance and you feel like I didn’t show up the way I would like to, and it may or may not have caused someone else harm.
Not always, but it’s that commonplace of, I didn’t show up in a way that matches my level of integrity and what I want to believe about myself. So healthy shame is motivating.
Oh, I feel bad that there are now 20 loads of laundry on the couch instead of the tin that I normally have, which makes it overwhelming when we want to have company. Yes, I’m trying to choose something that sounds kind of funny, but those things are real, and they can compile on us and make us feel like we’re not measuring up, healthy shame.
Getting back to the point will motivate you to go, okay, let me create a plan. Healthy shame will activate you to being able to move forward but not feeling like it’s a part of your identity and that you failed, or everything is falling apart. Then there’s toxic shame. Toxic shame is completely different.
Toxic shame, when it is in your life can lead to things such as ruminating thoughts.
So that time that you spend at the end of the evening, or any quiet moment that you get and you’re running through your list and running through what you’ve said and running through what you’ve done and all the things that make you feel guilty and afraid over and over again, that make you feel really low and sometimes even disgusted with yourself.
Another example of toxic shame being present in your life is a dysregulated mood, meaning that you find that you have lots of highs and lows within any given day and beyond.
Our normal moments of fatigue or a challenge here or challenge there, but extreme instances of fighting to stay joyful and peaceful and really noticing that you’re kind of down in the dumps and unable to get out of it. Another thing that will come out of toxic shame is you will feel like where you failed is a part of your identity, a part of your character.
Healthy shame says, I am me and I’m still a really great person, but here’s a way that I want to show up differently or better.
Toxic Shame says, I am a terrible person, a terrible mom, a terrible woman, and I have not accomplished things in the way that I want to and it’s my fault.
Take inventory of where you find yourself on any given day. I want to give you one key tip. If you see yourself moving away from healthy shame and into toxic shame, first, remind yourself that you can always work your way back in the other direction.
You can do this by asking yourself a simple question such as, how can I turn this into a plan instead of a problem that allows you to move from feeling like it’s going to spiral you and lower you down to being able to help you move from thought to action, get motivated and experience some success.
If you are in a place where you are listening to this or reading this and you’re saying, it’s me, I’m the one who has felt like I have been in a spiral of shame, I want to let you know, one, you matter. Two, all is not loss. And three, be compassionate to yourself because I unequivocally believe you are doing the very best that you can! Hang in there. Life is hard. You’re doing your best!
Dr. Charryse Johnson is an experienced licensed clinical mental health therapist offering over 20 years of experience serving as a counselor, consultant, and educator. She holds a B.A. in Human Development, an M.A. in Professional Counseling, and a PhD in Counseling Psychology. She is a strong community advocate and has been a contributor on local radio, social media, local news outlets, and documentaries and is passionate about reducing the stigma around mental health. She is founder and owner of Jade Integrative Counseling and Wellness.
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