Summary of Healing the Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw

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  • Post last modified:October 11, 2023
Healing the Shame That Binds You book cover

Short Summary: 2 min

Summary: 37 min

Book reading time: 7h

Score: 10/10

Book published in: 1988

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  • Toxic shame is the belief that one is inherently flawed and unworthy of love.
  • Toxic shame is acquired in childhood from parents who are themselves shame-bound.
    • Parents are models for their kids. Shame-based parents make shame-based kids.
    • Shame-based parents cannot teach their kids to be emotionally healthy.
    • Kids feel abandoned by their parents because they cannot get their emotional needs met. They develop the feeling that they are inherently wrong.
    • Shame-based parents strive to get their inner child’s needs met through their own kids.
    • Shame-based parents shame their kids who express emotions they themselves repress.
    • Shame-based parents use shame as a way to raise and control their kids.
  • A shame-based person represses their real self and invents a fake self instead.
  • They become perfectionists, victims, scapegoats, offenders, etc.
  • The emptiness they feel inside and the repression of their own selves prevent them from connecting with other people.
  • Shame-based people are often tired because deprived of the energy of the emotions they ar repressing.
  • The three best ways to get rid of your shame are to drop your mask and show who you are, follow a 12-step group therapy program, and solve your inner child’s unmet needs.

Table of Contents

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What Healing the Shame That Binds You Talks About

Healing the Shame That Binds You is a book written by John Bradshaw. It defines and explains the role that shame plays in relationships between children and parents and how one’s identification with shame leads to feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, depression, and despair.

The book dives deep into the consequences of having been raised with toxic shame and how to solve them.

It’s a remarkable book for the rapidity with which one who grew up with shame will recognize themselves in it.

It’s also a book that brings out a lot of hope for people who have been looking for the source of their inadequacies.

I must have read over 50 self-development books. None have helped me out find the origin of my problems like this one did.

It was the final piece of the puzzle.

I can hardly think of what my life would have looked like had I found this book earlier.

I hope it can help you fix your problems like it helped me fix mine.


Get the book here.

Short Summary of Healing the Shame That Binds You

There are two types of shame.

  1. Healthy shame, which helps you realize you’re not all-powerful.
  2. Toxic shame, a state of being where the person experiences shame simply for being themselves.

Toxic shame is acquired by children at an early age in different ways, but from the same source: their shame-based parents (or caretakers).

Shame-based parents are not emotionally open which prevents the child from connecting to them. He subsequently feels emotionally abandoned by them, thinking that it is because he is inherently wrong. This feeling of internal flaws leads him to feel shame for being who he is.

Since children learn through imitation, they copy the emotional repression of their parents and inherit their shame as a result.

Shame-based parents are characterized by the fact that they did not have their needs met as children.

They are emotional children in adult bodies, still trying to get their needs fulfilled which prevents them from fulfilling the needs of their own children.

The child ends up in a situation where he needs to take emotional care of his parents, which prevents him from having his own needs met, leading to toxic shame.

Finally, a shame-based parent will repress in himself certain emotions and needs. If the child expresses them, the parent will feel shame and shame the child for expressing them, which will lead him to repress his own needs and emotions.

Living while thinking that who you are is inherently wrong is painful, so you create a false self (persona) in an attempt to decrease the pain.

These fake selves become:

  • Perfectionists
  • Slobs
  • Family hero
  • Scapegoats
  • Etc

Someone who embodies their fake selves can never truly feel whole. They overcompensate for the emptiness of their real selves which leads to:

  • Narcissistic personality disorder: seeks perfection in everything he does; driven to acquire wealth, power, beauty, etc. Seek admiration and grandiosity in relationships. Feels empty, envious, and rageful.
  • Paranoid personality: hypervigilant, expecting and waiting for the betrayal and humiliation.
  • Offender behavior: most offenders treat people the way they were treated.

The repression of their shame-bound emotions and needs prevents shame-based people from accessing the energy that accompanies these emotions, which explains why they are often so tired.

People develop shame mostly as a way of avoiding pain. If we hope to get rid of it, the only way is through the pain.

The first way to get rid of shame is to stop hiding your true self and start showing who you really are.

The second way is to follow a recovering 12-step program in group therapy.

The third way is to reach out to your abandoned inner child through meditation, therapy, etc, and take care of him yourself so that your childhood needs can finally be fulfilled and you can move on.

Summary of Healing the Shame That Binds You Written by John Bradshaw


Shame is a normal and healthy emotion. It helps you realize you’re not God. But when shame is transformed into a “state of being”, it becomes unhealthy.

To have shame as an identity is to believe that one’s being is flawed, that one is defective as a human being. Once shame is transformed into an identity, it becomes toxic and dehumanizing.

Shame as an identity is called “toxic shame”.

Toxic shame (the rejection of the self) is unbearable, so you build a false self to survive. You cease to exist psychologically as a result.

Shame is the affect which is the source of many complex and disturbing inner states: depression, alienation, self-doubt, isolating loneliness, paranoid and schizoid phenomena, compulsive disorders, splitting of the self, perfectionism, a deep sense of inferiority, inadequacy or failure, the so-called borderline conditions and disorders of narcissism.

Gershen Kaufman

In the Bible, Adam feels shame as a result of his fall.

He desired to be something he wasn’t (false self). His nakedness was his true nature, and when he sought a new identity, he became ashamed of his real identity → toxic shame makes you hide who you are behind secrets and cover-ups.

This causes lots of suffering.

Total self-love and acceptance is the only foundation for happiness and the love of others.

Without them, you create a false self(ves).

Chapter 1: The Many Faces Of Shame

There are two forms of shame:

  1. Nourishing shame
  2. Toxic shame: an excruciatingly internal experience of unexpected exposure.

It divides us from ourselves and from others. In toxic shame, we disown ourselves.

Shame As Toxic

We all have some disorders (not assuming enough responsibilities) and some neuroticism (assuming too many) in us. People with toxic shame have more of both.

Toxic shame, the shame that binds you, is experienced as the all pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being.

It’s not an emotion – it’s a state of being. It’s painful because it’s the constant exposure of the failure of the self to the self.

In toxic shame the self becomes an object of its own contempt, an object that can’t be trusted.

Toxic shame is the feeling of being isolated and alone in a complete sense. A shame-based person is haunted by a sense of absence and emptiness.

The internalization of shame makes it a label: it becomes the core of one’s identity.

This happens in three steps:

  1. Identification with shame-based models.
  2. The feeling of being abandoned + the shame of having needs, feelings, and drives.
  3. The interconnection of memory imprints which forms collages of shame.

Identification is a normal process. We all need to identify with something.

By belonging to something larger than ourselves, we feel the security and protection of the larger reality.

Problems arise when you identify with shame. This happens when your parents themselves have toxic shame and when you feel abandoned by them as a result.

Feeling abandoned does not necessarily mean being abandoned.

A kid will feel abandoned if his parents emotionally shut down to him. The impossibility of having an emotional bond with his parents leads him to fail to mimic the healthy management of emotions.

The kid feels emotionally abandoned, believing that it is because he is inherently flawed. There comes his toxic shame.

Abandonment also includes:

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

Feeling Need And Drive Shame Binds

To be shame-bound means that you’re feeling shame whenever you have any feelings, needs, or drives.

The dynamic core of your human life is grounded in your feelings, your needs and your drives. When these are bound by shame, you are shamed to the core.

The shaming experiences you suffer from remain in the brain if they’re not released. They accumulate as time passes, forming a collage of shaming memories, integrated into the core of your identity.

People who could not express certain emotions or needs in their childhood have come to feel shame when they feel or express them in their adulthood – they have alienated the emotion from themselves.

As your feelings, needs and drives are bound by toxic shame, more and more of you is alienated.

When shame has been completely internalized, nothing about you is ok.

You feel flawed and inferior; you have the sense of being a failure. There is no way you can share your inner self because you are an object of contempt to yourself.

Because you now reject your self, you need to create a new one – a false self.

  • A perfectionist
  • A slob
  • A family Hero
  • A family Scapegoat
  • etc

When the false self is created, the real self goes into hiding.

One of the paradoxes of toxic shame is that it is the motivator for super or under achievements, a way for the false self to cope with.

Neurotic shame is the root and fuel of all compulsive/addictive behaviors.

The content of the addiction, whether it be an ingestive addiction or an activity addiction (like work, buying or gambling) is an attempt at an intimate relationship.

Each one mood alters to avoid the feeling of loneliness and hurt in the underbelly of shame.

The addiction creates more shame and reinforces the need for it in a never-ending cycle.

Addictions start with the belief that no one can love you as you are, so you think you’ll be okay if you drink, eat, have sex, work, etc.

Worth is measured on the outside instead of being measured on the inside.

Shame And Guilt

Shame  guilt. Healthy guilt is the emotion on which ethics is based. It’s what we feel when we act opposite to our beliefs → guilt means one has internalized rules.

While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person.

People with shame should do group therapy because the group provides useful support.

In its ultimate essence, toxic shame has the sense of hopelessness.

Character Disorder Syndromes Of Shame

  • Narcissistic personality disorder: seeks perfection in everything he does; driven to acquire wealth, power, and beauty. Seek admiration and grandiosity in relationships. Feels empty, envious, and rageful.
  • Paranoid personality: hypervigilant, expecting and waiting for the betrayal and humiliation you expect is coming.
  • Offender behavior: most offenders treat people the way they were treated.

Why would people who were abused, abuse others in return?

Abused children identify with the abuser to possess their strength and stop the pain. They become the weak bad child and the transgressor parent simultaneously. They reenact the role later on.

  • Learned helplessness: some children feel powerless in the face of abuse and integrate the powerlessness, which means they will let themselves be abused in the future.
  • Grandiosity: the person simultaneously feels larger than life (narcissism) and smaller (complete helplessness). Their will has been disabled through the shaming of emotions. When something happens, they seek to understand the event through reason rather than emotions.

As emotions get bound by shame, their energy is frozen, which blocks the full interaction between the mind and the will.

The will is an appetite for something, it depends on the mind. When both are dissociated:

  • The will wills what can’t be willed.
  • The will tries to control everything.
  • The will experiences itself as omnipotent or when it has failed as “wormlike”.
  • The will wills for the sake of willing (impulsiveness).
  • The will wills in absolute extremes — all or nothing.

Toxic Shame As Spiritual Bankruptcy

The problem of toxic shame is ultimately a spiritual problem.

Spirituality is about being, and shame is about the negation of the self. It’s a dehumanizing process.

The demand for a false self to cover and hide the authentic self necessitates a life dominated by doing and achievement. Everything spends on performance and achievement rather than on being.

Being requires no measurement, no excuse. It’s self-standing.

Toxic shame looks outside for happiness and validation. And yet, the kingdom of heaven is within.

Chapter 2: The Sources Of Toxic Shame

Toxic shame is primarily fostered in significant relationships.

We’re shamed only by the people we value.

If our parents are shame-based, they will give this shame to us -> toxic shame is multigenerational.

Shame-based people marry other shame-based people, lack intimacy, then have shame-based children who fail to understand:

  • How to be a man or a woman
  • How to relate intimately to another person
  • How to acknowledge and express emotions
  • How to fight fairly
  • How to have physical, emotional, and intellectual boundaries
  • How to communicate
  • How to cope and survive life’s unending problems
  • How to be self-disciplined
  • How to love oneself and another

Shame-based parents struggle to spend qualitative time with their children; they struggle to listen because listening entails having had one’s needs met, which shame-based people have not.

Needy, shame-based parents cannot possibly take care of their children’s needs. The child is shamed whenever he or she is needy because the child’s needs clash with the parents’ needs.

Because the child was neglected, he can never be enough as an adult.

Dysfunctional Families

Our core identity comes first from the mirroring eyes of our primary caretakers. Our destiny depended to a large extent on the health of our caretakers.

A family is greater than its whole. It is defined by the quality of the relationship that its members have among themselves.

The main component of the family is the marriage.

If the marriage is healthy and functional, the family will be healthy and functional.

And inversely.

When the family is out of balance, the children take on rigid roles to rebalance it.

When the fear, hurt and loneliness of the shame in a dysfunctional family reaches high levels of intensity, one person, often the most sensitive, becomes the family Scapegoat. The function of this role is to lessen the pain all the members are in.

They acquire the toxic shame, give it to their children and it becomes a multi-generational problem.

The shame surrounding the toxic shame prevents families from working it out. It’s a vicious circle.

The pain of shame generates defenses:

  • Denial
  • Idealization
  • Repression
  • Dissociation

A major source of toxic shame is the family system and its multigenerational patterns of unresolved secrets.

Shame-based Family Rules

Each family has rules for a bunch of activities: holiday rules, eating rules, money rules, and…emotional rules.

Toxic shame is consciously transferred by means of shaming rules.

The emotional rules of dysfunctional families often work in the following ways:

  1. Control: one must be in control of everything all the time as control is the major defense mechanism against shame.
  2. Perfectionism: everything is always measured according to an external image, and everything must always be perfect all of the time. The fear and avoidance of the negative is the organizing principle of life. No one ever measures up to the standards.
  3. Blame: every time something doesn’t work, blame is used where control has failed.
  4. Denial of the Five Freedoms: the five freedoms are the power to:
    • Perceive
    • Think and interpret
    • Feel
    • Want and choose
    • Imagine
  5. The no-talk rule: feelings cannot be expressed.
  6. Mistakes cannot be made: they lead to scrutiny, so mistakes are covered up.
  7. Unreliable relationships: Don’t expect reliability in relationships, don’t trust anyone.

This is Alice Miller’s Poisonous Pedagogy:

  1. Adults have all control over the dependent child.
  2. They call what’s right and what’s wrong.
  3. The child is held responsible for the parents’ anger.
  4. The parents must always be shielded.
  5. The child’s life-affirming feelings pose a threat to the autocratic adult.
  6. The child’s will must be “broken” as soon as possible.
  7. All this must happen at a very early age so that the child “won’t notice” and will therefore not be able to expose the adult.

Such a worldview is a heritage of monarchs and kings when freedom wasn’t yet well known.

Healthy shame is transformed into toxic shame when the individual internalizes the false perception that they are inherently flawed.

This happens in three steps:

  1. Identification with shame-based models
  2. Feeling of being abandoned + binding of feelings, needs, and drives;
  3. Remembrance of shaming situations.

The Abandonment Trauma

Children who do not have their needs met feel abandoned by their parents even if the parents are physically present.

Shame-based parents never had their own children’s needs met and use their children to this effect → the child takes care of his parents

What the shame-based mother was unable to find in her own mother, she finds in her own children.

These children strive to become successful to fulfill the emptiness that exists inside them, developing into what others expect them to be, burying their authentic selves under layers of fake personas in the process.

The biggest consequence of abandonment is The Fantasy Bond (by Robert Firestone).

A child who has been denied the experience of connecting with his own emotions is first consciously and then unconsciously dependent on his parents. He cannot rely on his own emotions, has not come to experience them through trial and error, has no sense of his own real needs and is alienated from himself to the highest degree.

This fantasy bond will later transfer to other relationships where he will require affirmations from these people.

A fantasy-bonded person never has a real connection or a real relationship with anyone.

There is no authentic self they can relate to.

The loneliness of the parental home is replaced by isolation within the self.

As a result, the person seeks grandiosity and admiration, without which he cannot live.

If his talents fail him, it is catastrophic. He must be perfect, otherwise depression is near. Often the most gifted among us are driven in precisely this manner.

These people are depressed. Sometimes, they don’t even know it.

One is free from depression when self-esteem is based on the authenticity of one’s own feelings and not on the possession of certain qualities.

Alice Miller

Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse always lead to shame through the denial of the child’s needs.

Emotional Shame Binds

Emotions monitor our basic needs and give us the energy to act.

  • Anger compels us to fight or run.
  • We discharge sadness in order to heal. Holding sadness freezes the pain and traps the energy.
  • Fear releases the energy warning us of danger.
  • Guilt compels us to take action and change.
  • Shame signals our limitations.
  • Joy is the energy that we get as a result of meeting our needs.

Parents who are out of touch with their own emotions cannot model those emotions for their children.

Because they don’t know how to use their own emotions, many parents shame their kids when they express theirs. Shaming an emotion leads the kid to feel shame when he feels it on one hand, which means he will repress this emotion on the other.

  • When anger is shamed, it accumulates into rage.
  • When sadness is shamed, it transforms into grief and despair.
  • When fear is shamed, it transforms into terror and paranoia.

The most shamed emotion is (by far) sex.

To have our sex drive shamed is to be shamed to the core.

Many parents shame their children’s sexuality because theirs was shamed as well.

Children learn to cope with the pain of shame in different ways: food, money, attention, sex, etc.

Internal Shame Spiral

The internal shame spiral is a strong feeling of shame and self-negation that kicks in after a shame trigger.

After shame is internalized, the fear of exposure is magnified intensely.

The person makes the shame less conscious as a result of the fear of being exposed.

Chapter 3: The Hiding Places Of Toxic Shame

Toxic shame results from the unexpected exposure of vulnerable aspects of a child’s self.

The ego helps adults to protect themselves, but children don’t have a developed ego. When the child is shamed, his ego is not yet developed enough.

The felt experience of shame is the feeling of being exposed and seen when one is not ready to be seen.

The child stops trusting his own judgment regarding himself which leads to a feeling of powerlessness.

The shamed parts are disowned from the self; they are repressed. You become an object to your self and feel empty.

Because the state of shame is painful, you create layers of defense (three of them) against the toxic shame.

The deepest layers are automatic and unconscious.

Primary Ego Defenses (First Layer)

Freud was the first to identify the primary ego defense system (a series of automatic mechanisms) that children use more than adults because they haven’t yet learned to develop boundaries.

Shame-based parents cannot teach this because they don’t have any boundaries themselves.

These mechanisms are:

  1. Denial: when children are shamed, they develop a fantasy bond with their primary caregiver to compensate.
  2. Repression: children repress their emotions because their expression makes their parents shame them.
  3. Dissociation: used for the most terrible traumas (sexual and physical).
  4. Displacement: similar to dissociation, but you get angry at someone else rather than the one shaming you.
  5. Depersonalization: The feeling that one’s identity as a human being is being violated.
  6. Identification: the victim identifies with his aggressor not to feel helpless.
  7. Conversion: when frustrations are converted to other types of frustration (Eg: addiction to resolve love problems), or a shame is converted into a less-painful shame (Eg: anger converted into shame or guilt).
    • Feeling racket: the feeling racket is when a shame-based parent cannot handle certain feelings and shames their kids for expressing them.
    • Somatic conversion: Needs and desires are transformed into a bodily reaction (sickness) as these enable the victim to get attention. Conversion of feelings into sickness is the basis of psychosomatic illness.
  8. Projection: projecting is attributing to others what we feel. When we disown our shame-based feelings, we attribute them to other people. Projection is used when repression fails. Basis for children who consider their parents omnipotent.

Secondary Ego Defenses (First Layer: Second Part)

These are used when the primary defense mechanism is not enough.

  1. Inhibition: inhibition is the impossibility of doing something for which you were shamed in the past.
  2. Reactive Formation: keeping a feeling that would trigger shame unconscious. Used when repression weakens. Eg: developing kindness to counteract cruelty.
  3. Undoing: behavior aimed at canceling out a feeling, thought, or behavior that one fears may cause shame.
  4. Isolation of Affect: converting a shame-engendering feeling into a thought.
  5. Turning Against Self: deflecting aggression at somebody onto the self. Eg: an abandoned child will deflect aggression at his parents onto himself. Eg: nail-biting, self-mutilation, etc.

The False Self (Second Layer)

The rupture of the self is the deepest cut of internalized shame.

Once internalized, we no longer feel shame – we are shame. To avoid the pain of being a shameful self, we create a false self (what Jung calls Persona).

The author divides false selves into three categories:

  1. The Cultural False Self: we learn from copying “perfect” models that shame us because we’re not perfect. When we perform them, society rewards us, which enables us to hide our real shame self.
  2. Life Scripts: invented by Eric Berne, he developed the idea that most people did not live according to who they were, but acted out personalities. These are:
    • The no mind: those who play those who don’t know.
    • The no love: kill someone or yourself.
    • The no feel: leading to addictions.
  3. Family system roles: all families have roles that people take on because they must, but this is a false self.

Women are often given the magical belief that if they wait long enough, their prince will come. Magic plays a part in many shame-based people’s lives.

The Characterological Styles Of Shamelessness (Third Layer)

The third layer is acting in a shameless way to transfer shame onto somebody else. Eg:

  • Perfectionism: no sense of healthy shame or limits. Perfectionist learned that their value depended on the quality of their output.
  • Striving for power and control: those who need to control everything fear being vulnerable because it’s an open door to being shamed. Achieving power is a direct attempt to compensate for the sense of being defective.
  • Rage: The most prevalent cover-up of shame. It protects by keeping people away or transferring the shame to others. Can evolve into hatred.
  • Arrogance
  • Criticism and blame: the most common way to transfer shame.
  • Judgmentalness and moralizing: offshoots of perfectionism.
  • Contempt
  • Patronization: supporting somebody who is not as “great” as you but who did not ask for your support. Transfers shame.
  • Caretaking and helping: helpers are always helping themselves.
  • Envy: discomfort at the excellence or good fortune of another. Greed and admiration are forms of envy. Envy as greed is based on the idea that you can only be okay by means of something outside of you.
  • People-pleasing and Being Nice: the official cultural cover-up for toxic shame. It’s used to pass shame onto other people and appear nice to oneself and others. Nice guys:
    • Create an atmosphere never to receive negative feedback.
    • Never give honest feedback which stifles the growth of others.
    • Puts limitations on relationships because niceness is unreal.

Each behavior focuses on another person and takes the heat off oneself.

Compulsive/Addictive Behaviors And Reenactments

An addiction is any process used to avoid or take away intolerable reality.

Pia Mellody

One of the most clearly identifiable aspects of shame is addictive behavior.

Fossum and Mason

Because shame never stops, you need something external to you to alleviate the pain – you need a mood alterer.

  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Food
  • Feelings:
    • Rage: rage is shamed anger and it provides control.
    • Shame: you’re addicted to it as your life is organized around protecting yourself.
    • Guilt: toxic guilt keeps you endlessly working on yourself and analyzing every event and transaction. There is never a time for rest because there is always more you need to do. Guilt puts you in your head a lot.
    • Thought addiction: obsession or intellectualization are great ways to avoid internal shame.
  • Activity addictions: activities are said to be addictive when they have life-damaging consequences.
    • Working
    • Buying
    • Hoarding
    • Sexing
    • Reading
    • Gambling
    • Exercising
    • Watching sports or TV
    • Having and taking care of pets
  • Will addiction: basis of all addictions. Your intellect loses your relationship with your will because of the shame. Purely will-based actions become addictive as you feel whole when you take them. The will becomes a self. This is the core of all addictions. I want what I want when I want it.
  • Reenactments: voluntarily reenacting the traumas that gave shame; doing to your kids what was done to you; panic attacks.

When we are raging, we feel unified within (…) our rage becomes our mood alterer of choice.

Part II: The Solution

Introduction — The Externalization Process

To heal our toxic shame we must “come out of hiding”. As long as our shame is hidden, there is nothing we can do about it. In order to change our toxic shame we must embrace it.

The only way out is through, even if it’s painful. Most of our shame is due to pain avoidance, so getting rid of shame necessarily means to stop avoiding the pain.

You can externalize shame by:

  1. Coming out and sharing how you really feel with people.
  2. Building a relationship with at least one non-shaming person.
  3. Working a 12-step program.
  4. “Legitimizing” your abandonment trauma by writing and talking about it.
  5. Externalizing your lost inner child. You do this by making conscious contact with the vulnerable child inside yourself.
  6. Recognize which parts are split off from you and integrate them.
  7. Accepting all parts of yourself with unconditional positive regard.
  8. Learning to externalize your needs and wants by becoming more self-assertive.
  9. Healing old traumatizing memories from the past.
  10. Changing and externalizing your self-image.
  11. Replacing the shaming inner voices with positive ones.
  12. Recognizing certain social situations likely to start shame spirals.
  13. Dealing with people that shame you.
  14. Having the courage to be imperfect.
  15. Learning through prayer and meditation to create an inner place of silence wherein you are centered and grounded in a personal Higher Power.

Chapter 4: Coming Out Of Hiding And Isolation

In order to be healed we must come out of isolation and hiding.

This means being your true self with a group of people you trust.

The only way out of toxic shame is to embrace the shame.

Finding A Social Network

The best way to come out of hiding is to find a nonshaming intimate social network.

The only way to expose your beliefs that you are wrong is to put yourself out in the open.

When we trust someone else and experience their love and acceptance, we begin to change our beliefs about ourselves. We learn that we are not bad; we learn that we are lovable and acceptable.

When we’re loved, we experience the five freedoms:

  1. The power to perceive
  2. The power to love (choose and want)
  3. The power to emote
  4. The power to think and express
  5. The power to envision or imagine

Self-acceptance overcomes the self-rupture of toxic shame. Self-acceptance is equivalent to personal power. Self-acceptance means we are unified; all our energy is centered and flows outward.

Since relationships gave us our shame, relationships will help us get it out. There is no other way.

Hence the importance of finding a 12-step program group (can also be groups from a church, synagogue, or psychotherapist groups.)


  • The group must be non-judgmental and non-shaming. Leave the group if you feel judged.
  • The leader of the group needs to have healthy shame.
  • The group must allow for the full expression of all emotions.

We are not functioning in a fully human fashion until we have true friendship and are living in community.

Robert Firestone

Only in the life of dialogue and community can we truly live and grow.

Chapter 5: 12 Steps For Transforming Toxic Shame Into Healthy Shame

The 12-step program was developed for alcoholics, but it works well for any type of psychological problem.

Here are the steps:

  1. Admit you have lost control over your addiction and that it is wreaking havoc in your life. Surrender to the pain of the shame, and embrace it.
  2. Reach out to something greater than yourself.
  3. Turn your will and life over to something greater than yourself. Realize it’s okay to depend on other people. Trust. Healthy shame is the permission to be human. To be human is to be essentially limited. It is to be finite, needy and prone to mistakes.
  4. Restore the relationship with yourself. Go beyond the shame.
  5. Admit to yourself, someone else, and a higher power the exact nature of your wrongs.
  6. Be ready to have the higher power remove all of these defects.
  7. Humbly asked the higher power to remove these defects.
  8. Make a list of the people you have hurt and be willing to apologize.
  9. Apologize to them except if doing so will hurt them or others.
  10. Continue to be responsible and when you’re wrong, admit it.
  11. Improve your contact with the higher power with prayer and meditation.
  12. Carry this message to others and practice these principles.

Perhaps the greatest wound a shame-based person carries is the inability to be intimate in a relationship.

Chapter 6: Liberating Your Lost Inner Child

You liberate your inner child in two phases:

  1. The recovery phase: come out of hiding and recover your sense of worth.
  2. Leaving home: make contact with the hurt and lonely inner child that was abandoned long ago.

The child is trapping emotional energy in abuse-created traumas.

To reconnect with the wounded child, we need to go back and re-experience the emotion that was blocked.

When we form emotional energy blocks, they seriously affect our ability to think and reason.

So we need to revisit, reenact, and process these traumas.

It’s not the trauma that causes the child’s problem, but the inability to express and process it.

Expression leads to processing.

This requires:

  1. Validation: you can be validated to the extent you know about your own shame. But few people know how much shame they really have.
  2. Support: you cannot grieve alone. Support is enough for that to be fixed.
  3. Feelings: Experience the feelings that were not allowed.
  4. Corrective Experience: the purpose is to feel the love we didn’t receive when the trauma happened.

Meditation: Embracing Your Lost Inner Child

  • You’re walking down a long flight of stairs.
  • When you get to the bottom, turn left.
  • Walk down a long corridor with doors on your right and doors on your left.
  • As you look toward the end of the corridor there is a force field of light.
  • Walk through it and go back in time to a street where you lived before you were seven years old.
  • Walk down that street to the house you lived in. Look at the house. Notice the roof, the color of the house, and the windows and doors.
  • See a small child come out the front door.
  • How is the child dressed? What color are the child’s shoes? Walk over to the child
  • Tell him that you are from his future. Tell him that you know better than anyone what he has been through. His suffering, his abandonment, his shame.
  • Tell him that of all the people he will ever know, you are the only one he will never lose.
  • Now ask him if he is willing to go home with you.
  • If not, tell him you will visit him tomorrow. If he is willing to go with you, take him by the hand and start walking away. As you walk away see your mom and dad come out on the porch. Wave goodbye to them.
  • Look over your shoulder as you continue walking away and see them getting smaller and smaller until they are completely gone.
  • Turn the corner and see your Higher Power and your most cherished friends waiting for you. Embrace all your friends and allow your Higher Power to come into your heart.
  • Now walk away and promise your child you will meet him for five minutes each day.
  • Pick an exact time. Commit to that time. Hold your child in your hand and let him shrink to the size of your hand. Place him in your heart.
  • Now walk to some beautiful outdoor place.
  • Stand in the middle of that place and reflect on the experience you just had.
  • Get a sense of communion within yourself, with your Higher Power and with all things.
  • Now look up in the sky; see the purple-white clouds form the number five.
  • See the five become a four and be aware of your feet and legs. See the four become a three. Feel the life in your stomach and in your arms.
  • See the three become a two; feel the life in your hands, your face, your whole body. Know that you are about to be fully awake — able to do all things with your fully awake mind — see the two become a one and fully awake, remembering this experience.

Chapter 7: Integrating Your Disowned Parts

Part of the work of self-acceptance involves the integration of our shame-bound feelings, needs and wants. Most shame-based people feel ashamed when they need help; when they feel angry, sad, fearful or joyous; and when they are sexual or assertive.

These aspects are part of what Jung calls the Shadow, a part of the subconscious that welcomes everything we repress in ourselves.

The Voice Dialogue Work Of Hal Stone And Sidra Winkelman

Your personality is constituted by an array of selves that split from one another because each of these parts was preferred by different caretakers.

These selves call out to us constantly like in dreams, for example, or just as inner voices.

Shame-based people tend to be exhausted all the time. They spend a lot of energy holding on to their false self-masks and hiding their disowned parts.

Here’s an exercise you can do entitled Making Peace With All Your Villagers.

  1. Think of people you dislike. Rank order them according to the intensity of your feelings. The number one person is the most reprehensible and the most worthy of contempt. Write a line or two under each person specifically outlining the character and moral defects that repel you.
  2. Read over each name on your list. Pause and reflect on the reprehensible aspects of that person. Be aware of your own feelings as you do this. Which one trait brings out your feeling of righteousness and goodness most intensely?
  3. Reduce the people to their one most reprehensible character trait. For example:
    • John Smith: disrespectful and unempathetic
  4. Each of these personality traits represents one of your disowned parts — an energy pattern that you do not want to integrate into your life under any circumstances. You have now externalized a personality trait that you disown.
  5. Every disowned part has an opposite energy with which your Protector/Controller is identified. It takes lots of energy to keep this part disowned. This explains the intense energy we feel about our enemies. Hal Stone compares this energy to a dam that has been built to stop the flow of this energy. Behind the dam, there is an accumulation of dirty water and all kinds of debris. It is important to integrate this energy and use it more creatively. Ask yourself the following question for everyone on this list? How is this person my teacher? In the case of John Smith, he’s helping us understand that we are overidentified with a respectful and empathetic person.
  6. As you go through your list — talk to the disowned part directly. Ask it what it thinks. Ask it how it would change your life if you owned it. Let this part talk to you. Listen to what it has to say. See the world through its perspective. Feel any new energy that it brings you. It’s bound to be a source of new ideas. Maybe it can offer new solutions to old problems.

The Parts Party Meditation

  • Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing.
  • See the number 7 appearing on a screen. Then 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
  • Let 1 slowly turn into a stage door. Walk through it. You’re on a stage.
  • Go sit in the front-row seat.
  • The curtain opens with a large sign covering the wall of the stage. It reads The your name Parts Review.
  • Think of some part of yourself that you really like and see some famous person or someone you know well who represents that part walk out on the stage.
  • People applause. See another part of you that you really like and repeat the process, until there are five people on the stage.
  • Think of a part of yourself you don’t like and see that part walk onto the stage as personified by a famous person or someone you know. Hear people booing. Repeat five times.
  • Imagine that a wise and beautiful person walks to the center of the stage. That person invites you to stand up and join them on stage and review your many parts.
  • Walk around each person who represents a part of you; look them in the face. How does each part help you? How does each part hinder or limit you, especially your undesirable parts?
  • What can you learn from your undesirable parts? What can they teach you?
  • Now imagine they are all interacting. How would you like to change the part you want to reject? Modify that part in the way it would be more beneficial.
  • Repeat that procedure with every other part.
  • Walk up to each part and imagine that part melting into you.
  • Hear the wise person tell you that this is the theater of your life. This is the place you can come and review your many selves from time to time.
  • Make a decision to embrace your selves; to love and accept and learn from all your parts…See your wise person walk away.
  • Walk through the theater doors.
  • Turn around and see the number 1 on the screen, then 2…up to 7.
  • Fully restore to your present waking consciousness.

Chapter 8: On Loving Yourself

Toxic shame’s greatest enemy is the statement “I love myself”.

Choosing To Love Yourself

Love is a decision – it’s an act of the will.

Make the decision to accept yourself unconditionally.

Say it out loud and often.

You’re not lovable because, you are lovable – period.

So start giving yourself some time and attention. It’s hard, but it’s normal because love is hard.

Do you take time to rest, or do you kill yourself working? You know what to do now.

Become more assertive.

That includes holding true that:

  • You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, emotions, and to take responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.
  • You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior.
  • You have the right to judge if you are responsible for judging other people’s problems.
  • You have the right to change your mind.
  • You have the right to make mistakes and be responsible for them.
  • You have the right to say, “I don’t know.”
  • You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.
  • You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
  • You have the right to say, “I don’t understand.”
  • You have the right to say, “I don’t care.”

Reframing Mistakes

Shame-based people are performing roles to show people that they are perfect, or “the worst”.

To be more than human is to never make a mistake. To be less than human is to believe that you are a mistake.

Shame makes you see mistakes as moral indictments.

Treat them as a warning instead.

When you tolerate your mistakes:

  • Your life will be more spontaneous: the fear of mistakes kills your creativity and spontaneity.
  • You will learn more: making a mistake enables you to learn about what not to do.

Mistakes are a matter of interpretation and perception – they have nothing to do with your worth.

Chapter 9: Healing Your Memories And Changing Your Self-Image

Changing Your Personal History

This technique is very powerful and uses anchoring, a technique from NLP (neuro-language programming).

An anchor is like a button that triggers a memory.

When we talk about toxic shame, many memories are elicited unconsciously. These shame memories are often enmeshed in collages of imagery.

When these images are triggered, you get sent into a shame spiral (can also be triggered by self-talk).

When someone shames you, they are discharging their shame onto you. We take the criticism for us while it was about them.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Think about a memory when someone shamed you. When you relive the memory, let your thumb touch one of your fingers.
  2. If the shame memory is about, let’s say, being fearful, think about a memory where you were courageous. Let your thumb touch another finger when you relive the memory.
  3. Choose another good memory if you wish, and use a third finger.
  4. Now go back to the shaming memory. But instead of reliving it, change it. Use your finger where you encoded a positive memory, and change in your mind the memory. Give back the shame to the person who gave it to you. What does shame look like in your mind? Give it back.

Repeat until the shame memory has disappeared (this can be done up to ten times).

It may take some time too before setting up the good anchors. You can test how powerful the shaming memory has remained (or not) by revisiting it. If you still feel shame out of it, repeat the exercise.

Changing Your Self-image

Your self-image conditions how you interact with the world. If you change it, you can change your life.

You can do so with visualization.

  1. Relax.
  2. Put yourself in front of a mirror. Look at yourself extremely carefully. Become an expert on your own body. Practice smiling and looking serious.
  3. Do the following exercise each morning for a week before getting out of bed: visualize yourself waking up, taking a shower, eating, and everything else you do in the morning. Do it for one week. Then do it in real life and compare the two. This exercise enables you to create a Central Self-Image (CSI). Now, we are going to be able to change it.
  4. Visualize your CSI. Look at something you’d like to change. Eg: smile. Think of someone who has the smile you want. Anchor it, and put it on your face. You can do it with any physical feature.
  5. Now we will fix relationships. Good identity demands the mirroring eyes of at least one significant other. Visualize yourself, a warm, nice, confident self. Then move toward your own body and get into it. Look at your hands, feet, etc. Imagine someone you like and trust is walking toward you. Listen to them giving you feedback on your smile (in this example).
  6. Now you can change a behavior you want to get rid of. Eg: people-pleasing. Imagine your friend inviting you to a concert. You have the rush to say yes. But you tell him no.
  7. Now do the same thing, with a behavior you’d like to develop.
  8. Finally, future pace. Visualize the end goal and all of the steps you will have done to get there.

Chapter 10: Confronting And Changing Your Inner Voices

Shame-based people have negative self-talk.

The voice basically tells a shame based person that they are unlovable, worthless, and bad. The voice supports the bad child image.

Let’s change it.

NB: if you are overwhelmed during the following exercise, stop it immediately and consult a licensed professional.

  1. Keep a diary where you write about your daily defensive over-reaction. What did the voice say? The purpose is to express it.
  2. Answer the voice: if it said you were an unlovable dumb person, go against it. I am lovable because x, y, z and I am smart because x, y, z.
  3. Track down the voice: close your eyes and imagine yourself in the third person. You are looking at yourself. Criticize yourself. Then answer every critique you have made. This trains you to answer your own negative voice.
  4. Interrupt the thought: write down your 5 most obsessive thoughts. Choose one. Set up an alarm for 2 min. Imagine the thought, and fully immerse yourself in it. When the alarm rings, stop thinking about the thought. Repeat.

The following are things shame-based people do followed by ways to stop doing them:

  • Catastrophizing: results from having no boundaries or sense of worth → make an honest assessment.
  • Making assumptions about what people think of you: when you imagine people feel as bad about you as you feel about yourself → treat it as a hallucination.
  • Comparing yourself to other people: caused by perfectionism, itself caused by poor sense of self → force yourself to find evidence about the thought.
  • Overgeneralization: Eg: “nobody loves me”. Caused by shame grandiosity → find evidence for and against.
  • Manichean thinking (either/or) → understand that there is no absolute situation.
  • The need to be right all the time: consequence of perfectionism → understand that being wrong opens the door to learning and improving.
  • Control thinking: you see yourself as either helpless or omnipotent. Consequence of grandiosity → understand that you are responsible for yourself only.
  • Filtering: you obsess over the 1% you did wrong rather than see the 99% you did right → focus on coping rather than the problem.
  • Blaming and labeling: blaming serves to pass shame on to others; it distracts you from your own pain realize that you are trying to avoid something. Focus on yourself, not on others.

Chapter 11: Dealing With Toxic Shame In Relationships

Intimacy is the number one problem resulting from internalized shame.

Intimacy asks for vulnerability, which asks for authenticity, which shame-based people fear as they don’t want to be seen as they are due to their internalized shame.

Because they were abandoned, shame-based adults have remained with their children’s needs. Their relationships are dominated by the fear of abandonment, which is why they are prone to be co-dependent.

Shame-based people cannot let anything go, neither physically (they cannot throw stuff away) nor emotionally (they don’t forgive or forget).

Their relationships are characterized by:

  • Control: the great enemy of intimacy is control, caused by your disabled will.
  • Enmeshment: your false self seeks a relationship with its corollary: if you are a victim, you will seek a relationship with an abuser reenactment of the fantasy bond. You do this to have another shot at resolution. Each new partner represents aspects of one or both of your parents. You try to make your partner into your parent(s) so that you can resolve the conflict and move on (Oedipus’ story). This won’t work, the only way out is through the original pain and inner child work.
  • Overinvestment of Power, Esteem, and Expectation: because it’s technically “one child being in a relationship with his parent”, the shame-based person invests way too much into it and ends up being disappointed.

Projection of Disowned Parts of Selves Onto Relational Partners

Shame-based people in relationships most of the time relate through their disowned parts.

Generous men often marry selfish women; perfectionistic women many sloppy men; nurturing women fall in love with emotionally unavailable men.

Eg: Generous men disown their selfishness but relate through it, so they choose selfish women which subsequently frustrate them.

Dangerous Relational Situations

Criticism and rejection are painful for anyone. They are excruciating for shame-based people.

The following situations are likely to trigger shame spirals.

  • Talking to parents: most of our shame comes from our relationship with our parents. If you were shamed in the past, be careful when you’re casually talking to them.
  • Authority figures: one of the most common problems with children of alcoholics. People who have been shamed by authority figures no longer handle them.
  • New relationship: shame is triggered usually after your new lover left (to go home, after the date, etc) in the form of negative self-talk.
  • When you or they are angry: most shame-based people don’t know how to express anger and are easily manipulated by it.
  • When you are hurt or hurt someone: because we’ve been hurt, we fear hurting others.
  • Successes: shame-based people don’t believe they are entitled to success or to be happy. When it happens to them, they may go up to committing suicide.
  • Receiving affection: like above.

Shame-based people hate criticism but are also attracted to it as a way of transferring shame.

There’s no value in “constructive criticism”, but there is value in feedback.

The main way shame-based people should handle criticism is by never defending themselves.

There are other ways to do so:

  • Clouding: accept whatever the person says and move on. “You’re right”.
  • Clarifying: ask questions about the critic until the critic’s energy is diffused.
  • Confronting: say what the critic makes you feel like.
  • Columboing: play dumb and ask lots of questions.
  • Confessing: if you have done something wrong, admit it right away.
  • Confirming: think or say “whatever you say or do to me, I am still a worthy person”.
  • Comforting: when the critic is justified, confirm someone’s criticism of you.
  • Confusing: only use it with people you don’t want to have a relationship (friend or otherwise) with. Just answer something weird and utterly confusing to the critic. Great to get someone off your back.


There is no greater potential for painful shame than rejection (…) for shame-based people, rejection is akin to death.

Rejection means for the shame-based person that they are, indeed, unwanted.

The only way to lessen the pain of rejection is to do the inner child and grief work.

Also, remember that your “internalized shame” resulted from your childhood abandonments. Your fear (being abandoned as a child) has already happened…and you’re okay.


Every couple goes through different journeys:

  • Romantic stage
  • Power struggle: rules (about money, sex, socializing, children, etc) must be established. It takes 10 years.
  • Owning projections and accepting personal responsibility: soul-searching journey and quest for individuation.
  • Plateau intimacy: now that each individual is complete, they’re both free to love the other.

Chapter 12: Spiritual Awakening

The work of transforming toxic shame into healthy shame leads directly to spirituality.

It’s essential you work toward wholeness; it won’t happen otherwise.

Your work will necessarily lead you to spirituality as you request the help of something greater than yourself.

As you integrate all of the repressed parts of yourself, you reach a higher level of consciousness.

Spiritual Awakening

You must unify the lower ego before expanding your consciousness.

This process is symbolized by Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the desert.

If you’re still compulsive, still experiencing “holes” in yourself, your integration process has not yet finished.

You will not seek truth, beauty or God when your ego has unfinished business.

You can achieve higher consciousness with meditation.

Meditation is a search for immediate intimacy with God.

Three Ways To Higher Consciousness

The Magical Child emerges once the Wounded Child is healed, embraced, and nourished.

It’s the healthy part of you that survived. Once it is restored, you can go back onto the path of beingness.

Unity Consciousness — Bliss

It is at this point that you’ve arrived at unitive consciousness. In this state, there is no division or separation.

You arrive at ego integrity, the total acceptance of yourself.

You no longer see opposites, “us” VS “them”, but unity.

The ego boundaries you worked so hard to establish have been transcended.

It also comes down to realizing that “even between the closest individuals exists an infinite amount of distance”. We are alone and need to let go of the fear of separation.

The fear of being alone and separated is why you stay with your fantasy bond.

The fantasy bond is an illusion; the illusion that you will always be protected by your parents.

Fear of exposure lies at the heart of shame – exposure to others, but also to ourselves.

Exposure to oneself lies at the heart of shame: we discover, in experiences of shame, the most sensitive, intimate, and vulnerable parts of ourself.

When you embrace the shame, you begin to find out who you really are.

Being human requires courage. It requires courage because being human is being imperfect.

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