Toxic Shame




Abraham Maslow, the pioneering Third Force Psychologist, once wrote,

"The spiritual life is...part of the human essence. It is a defining characteristic of human nature....without which human nature is not full human nature"

From--"The Farther Reaches of Human Nature"

"What is spirituality? I believe it has to do with our lifestyle. I believe that life is ever unfolding and growing. So spirituality is about expansion and growth. It is about love, truth, goodness, beauty, giving and caring. Spirituality is about wholeness and completion. Spirituality is our ultimate human need. It pushes us to transcend ourselves, and to become grounded in the ultimate source of reality. Most call that source God.

Our healthy shame is essential as the ground of our spirituality. By signaling us of our essential limitations, our healthy shame lets us know that we are not God. Our healthy shame points us in the direction of some larger meaning. It lets us know that there is something or someone greater than ourselves. Our healthy shame is the psychological ground of our humility."

Abandonment and Borderline Personality Disorder

The Shame of Abandonment in Borderline Personality Disorder

Breaking Free From the BPD Maze - Recovery For Loved Ones


Scott Peck describes both neuroses and character disorders as disorders of responsibility, Peck writes;

"The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough. When neurotics are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume that they are at fault. When those with character disorders are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume the world is at fault."

From his book--"The Road Less Traveled"

"All of us have a smattering of neurotic and character disordered personality traits. THe major problem in all of our lives is to decide and clarify our reponsibilities. To truly be committed to a life of honesty, love and discipline, we must be willing to commit ourselves to reality. This committment, according to Peck, 'requires the willingness and the capacity to suffer continual self-examination.' Such an ability requires a good relationship with oneself. This is precisely what no shame-based person has. In fact a toxically shamed person has an adversarial relationship with him/herself. Toxic shame--the shame that binds us--is the basis for both neurotic and character disordered syndromes of behaviour."


"What is the shame that binds you? How did it get set up in your life? What happens to healthy shame in the process?

Toxic shame, the shame that binds you, is experienced as teh all pervasive sense that I am flawed adn defective as a human being. Toxic shame is no longer an emotion that signals our limits, it is a state of being, a core identity. Toxic shame gives you a sense of worthlessness, a sense of failing and falling short as a human being. Toxic shame is a rupture of the self with the self.

It is like internal bleeding. Exposure to oneself lies at the heart of toxic shame. A shame based person will guard against exposing his inner self to others, but more significantly, he will guard against exposing himself to himself.

Toxic shame is so excruciating because it is the painful exposure of the believed failure of self to the self. [selves to selves too we believe] In toxic shame the self becomes an object that can't be trusted, one exeriences oneself [selves] as untrustworthy. Toxic shame is experienced as inner torment, a sickness of the soul. If I'm an object that can't be trusted, then I'm not in me. Toxic shame is paradoxical and self-generating. There is shame about shame. People will readily admit guilt, hurt or fear before they will admit shame. Toxic shame is ghe feeling of being isolated and alone in a complete sense. A shame-based person is haunted by a sense of absence and emptiness..."


"Any human emotion can become internalized. When internalized, an emotions stops functioning in the manner of an emotion and becomes a characterological style. You probably know of someone who could be labeled 'an angry person', or someone you'd call a 'sad sack'. In both cases the emotion has become the core of the person's character, her identity. The person doesn't have anger or melancholy, she is angry and melancholy.

In the case of shame, internalization involves at least three processes:

  • 1)Identification with unreliable and shame based models
  • 2)The trauma of abandonment, and the binding of feelings, needs and drives with shame
  • 3)The interconnection of memory imprints which forms collages of shame

Internalization is a gradual process and happens over a period of time. Every human being has to contend with certain aspects of this process. Internalization takes place when all three processes are consistently reinforced."

Learn To Be Alone and Cope


"Identification is one of our normal human processes. We always have the need to identify. Identification gives one a sense of security. By belonging to something larger than ourselves, we feel security and protection of the larger reality.

The need to identify with someone, to feel a part of something, to belong somewhere, is one of our most basic needs. With the exception of self-preservation, no other striving is as compelling as this need, which begins with our caregivers or significant others and extends to family, peer group, culture, nation and world. It is seen in lesser forms in our allegiance to a political party or our rooting for a sports team.

This need to belong explains the loyal and often fanatic adherence people display to a group...their group.

When children have shame based parents, they identify with them. This is the first step in the child's internalizing shame."

Learn To Be Alone and Cope


"Shame is internalized when one is abandoned. Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one's authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically. Children cannot know who they are without reflective mirrors. Mirroring is done by one's primary caretakers and is crucial in the first years of life. Abandonment includes the loss of mirroring. Parent who are shut down emotionally (all shame based parents) cannot mirror and affirm their child's emotions.

Since the earliest period of our life was preverbal, everything depended on emotional interaction. Without someone to reflect our emotions, we had no way of knowing who we were. Mirroring remains important all our lives. Think of the frustrating experience which most of us have had, of talking to someone who is not looking at us. While you are speaking, they are fidgeting around or reading something. Our identity demands a significant other whose eyes se us pretty much as we see ourselves.

In fact, Erik Erikson defines identity as interpersonal. He writes:

'The sense of ego identity is the accrued confidence that the inner sameness and continuity...are matched by the sameness and continuity of one's meaning for others.'

From --"Childhood and Society"

Besides lack of mirroring, abandonment includes the following:

  • Neglect of developmental dependency needs
  • Abuse of any kind
  • Enmeshment into the covert or overt needs of the parents or
  • the family system needs"

The Legacy of Abandonment, The Abandoned Pain, and The Shadows and Echoes of Self (the False Self) in Borderline Personality Disorder Ebook Bundle

Abandonment and Borderline Personality Disorder

The Shame of Abandonment in Borderline Personality Disorder

Breaking Free From the BPD Maze - Recovery For Loved Ones


"The shame binding of feelings, needs and natural instinctual drives, is a key factor in changing healthy shame into toxic shame. To be *shame-bound* means that whenever you feel any feeling, and need or any drive, you immediately feel ashamed. The dynamic core of your human life is grounded in your feelings, your needs and your drives. When these are bound by shame, your are shamed to the core."

Learn To Be Alone and Cope


"As shaming experiences accrue and are defended against, the images created by those experiences are recorded in a person's memory bank. Because the victim has no time or support to grieve the pain of the broken mutuality, his emotions are repressed and the grief is unresolved. The verbal (auditory) imprints remain in the memory as do the visual images of the shaming scenes. As each new shaming experience takes place, a new verbal imprint and visual image attach to the already existing ones forming collages of shaming memories.

Children also record their parent's actions at their worst. When Mom and Dad, stepparent or whoever the caretaker, are most out of control, they are the most threatening to the child's survival. The child's survival alarm registers these behaviors the most deeply. Any subsequent shame experience which even vaguely resembles that past trauma can easily trigger the words and scenes of said trauma. What are then recorded are the new experience and the old. Over time an accumulation of shame scenes are attached together. Each new scene potentiates the old, sort of like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting larger and larger as it picks up snow. As the years go on, very little is needed to trigger these collages of shame memories. A word, a similar facial expression or scene, can set it off. Sometimes an external stimulus is not even necessary. Just going back to an old memory can trigger an enormously painful experience. Shame as an emotion has now become frozen and embedded into the core of the person's identity. Shame is deeply internalized."

Learn To Be Alone and Cope


"When one suffers from alienation, it means that one experiences parts of one's self as alien to one's self.

For example, if you were never allowed to express anger in your family, your anger becomes an alienated part of yourself. You experience toxic shame when you feel angry. This part of you must be disowned or severed. There is no way to get rid of your emotional power of anger. Anger is the self- preserving and self-protecting energy. Without this energy you become a doormat and a people-pleaser. As your feelings, needs and drives are bound by toxic shame, more and more of you is alienated.

Finally, when shame has been completely internalized, nothing about you is okay. You feel flawed and inferior; you have a sense of being a failure. There is no way you can share your inner self because you are an object of contempt to yourself. When you are contemptible to yourself, you are no longer in you. To feel shame is to feel seen in an exposed and diminished way. When you're an object to yourself, you turn your eyes inward, watching and scrutinizing every minute detail of behavior. This internal critical observation is excruciating. It generates a tormenting self-consciousness which Kaufman describes as, 'creating a binding and paralyzing effect upon the self.' This paralyzing internal monitoring causes withdrawl, passivity and inaction.

The severed parts of self are projected in relationships. They are often the basis of hatred and prejudice. The severed parts of the self may be experienced as a split personality or even multiple personalities. This happens often with victims who have been through physical and sexual violation.

To be severed and alienated within oneself also creates a sense of unreality. One may have an all-pervasive sense of never quite belonging, of being on the outside looking in. The condition of inner alienation and isolation is also pervaded by a low grade chronic depression. This has to do with the sadness of losing one's authentic self. Perhaps the deepest and most devastating aspect of neurotic shame is the rejection of the self by the self."


"Because the exposure of self to self lies at the heart of neurotic shame, escape from the self is necessary. The escape from self is accomplished by creating a false self. The false self is always more or less than human. The false self may be a perfectionist or a slob, a family hero or a family scapegoat. As the false self is formed, the authentic self goes into hiding. Years later the layers of defense and pretense are so intense that one loses all awareness of who one really is.

It is crucial to see that the false self may be as polar opposite as a superachieving perfectionist or an addict in an alley. Both are driven to cover up their deep sense of self- rupture, the hole in their soul. They may cover up in ways that look polar opposite, but each is still driven by neurotic shame. In fact, the most paradoxical aspect of neurotic shame is that it is the core motivator of the superachieved and the underachieved, the Star and the Scapegoat, the 'Righteous' and the wretched, the powerful and the pathetic."

Learn To Be Alone and Cope


"Much has been written about co-dependency. All agree that it is about the loss of selfhood. Co-dependency is an condition wherein one has no inner life. Happiness is on the outside. Good feelings and self-validation lie on the outside. They can never be generated from within. [until one begins to recover] Pia Mellody's definition of co-dependency is a 'state of dis-ease whereby the authentic self is unknown or kept hidden, so that a sense of self...of mattering... of esteem and connectedness to others is distorted, creating pain and distorted relationships.' There is no significant difference in that definition and the way I have described internalized shame. It is my belief that internalized shame is the essence of co-dependency."

The Legacy of Abandonment, The Abandoned Pain and The Shadows and Echoes of Self (the False Self) in Borderline Personality Disorder Ebook Bundle

The Other Side of BPD, The Dilemma - Love and BPD? and Full-Circle Ebook Bundle for Non Borderlines


"Kaufman sees many of the categories of emotional illness which are defined as DSM III as rooted in neurotic shame. It seems obvious that some of these types of disorders are related to symptoms of shame. These include: dependent personality, clinical depression, schizoid phenomena and borderline personality. My own belief is that toxic shame is a unfying concept for what is often a maze of psychological definitions and distinctions. While I realize that there is clinical and psychotheraputic value in the kinds of detailed etiological distinctions offered by accurate and precise conceptualizing. I also think some of it is counterproductive.

My own study of James Masterson's work on borderline personalities, as well as my experience with watching his working films, convinces me that there is minimal difference in the treatment of some toxically shame-based people and his treatment of the Borderline Personality. I'm convinced that Masterson's Borderline Personality is a syndrome of neurotic shame. It is described as follows:

  • 1)Self-Image disturbance
  • 2)Difficulty identifying and expressing one's own individuated thoughts, wishes and feelings and autonomously regulating self-esteem
  • 3)Difficulty with self-assertion Borderline Adolescent to Functioning Adult: The Test of Time

The Legacy of Abandonment, The Abandoned Pain, and The Shadows and Echoes of Self (the False Self) in Borderline Personality Disorder Ebook Bundle

Abandonment and Borderline Personality Disorder

The Shame of Abandonment in Borderline Personality Disorder

Breaking Free From the BPD Maze - Recovery For Loved Ones

Audio Programs about Borderline Personality Disorder

Audio Programs for For Loved Ones of BPD


"Toxic shame has the quality of being irremedial. If I am flawed, defective and a mistake, then there is nothing that can be done about me. Such a belief leads to impotence. How can I change who I am? Toxic shame also has the quality of circularity. Shame begets shame."

Learn To Be Alone and Cope


"Once internalized, toxic shame is functionally autonomous, which means that it can be triggered internally without any attending stimulus. One can imagine a situation and feel deep shame. One can be alone and trigger a shaming spiral through internal self- talk. The more one experiences shame, the more one is ashamed and the beat goes on.

It is this dead-end quality of shame that makes it so hopeless. The possibility for repair seems foreclosed if one is essentially flawed as a human being. Add to that the self-generating quality of shame, and one can see the devastating, soul-murdering power of neurotic shame.

The reader can begin to see how dramatic it was for me to discover the dynamics of shame. By being aware of the dynamics of shame, by naming it, we gain some power over it."

"The excruciating loneliness fostered by toxic shame is dehumanizing. As a person isolates more and more, he loses the benefit of human feedback. He loses the mirroring eyes of others. Erik Erikson has demonstrated clearly that identity formation is always a social process. He defines identity as 'an inner sense of sameness and continuity which is matched by the mirroring eyes of at least one significant other'. Remember, it was the contaminated mirroring by our significant relationships that fostered our toxic shame.

In order to be healed we must come out of isolation and hiding. This means finding a group of significant others that we are willing to trust. This is tough for shame-based people.

Shame becomes toxic shame because of premature exposure. We are exposed either unexpectedly or before we are ready to be exposed. We feel helpless and powerless. No wonder then that we fear the scrutinizing eyes of others. However the only way out of toxic shame is to embrace the shame...we must come out of hiding."

Learn To Be Alone and Cope

  • General Self Help Information
  • Back to Dr. M on BPD
  • Shame and Guilt
  • Borderline Personality From The Inside Out A.J. Mahari
  • Other Side of BPD - Non Borderlines
  • A.J. Mahari's BPD Blog
  • Return To Dr. M on Shame
  • BPD Message Forum
  • Home

  • A.J.'s Life/Mental Health BPD & Emotional Mastery Coaching

    A.J. Mahari is a Life Coach Mental Health Coach Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Coach who also coaches loved ones of those with BPD and an Emotional Mastery Coach

    What does all of this mean? It means that A.J. Mahari coaches people in these specific areas as well as general life coaching as well. The only reason for the different "titles" in front of coach, is to denote the population of clients that I work with. If I am coaching clients with mental health issues and challenges I am in those sessions a Mental Health Coach. The same for the other areas of my coaching expertise. All of my work as a coach, in the areas I coach clients in, focuses on similar aspects of people's lives, concerns, and journeys but with different approaches on my part. I work with clients to help them create healthy positive life-affirming change in their lives - to help them identify and achieve their goals and dreams. Part of that process involves education and a lot of this sacred process involves listening to my clients and asking questions that help my clients to open new avenues of thought and self-exploration. The cornerstones or touchstones of my coaching involve actively listening to you through the compassion, understanding, validation and non-judgmental and eclectic approaches I employ to help you to find what it is that you most want and need in your own life.

    A.J. Mahari's Life Coaching Services

    Last up-dated March 2, 2010