I believe that most emotional issues can be boiled down to shame. Shame involves the core of who we are, who we see ourselves to be, and who we think others think we are. When we know how shame works, we are on our way to fighting through what is called the toxic shame cycle. Depending on your story you may have started off in life as “superhuman”. We get acknowledgment for the things we do and attach our worth to how perfect we can be. For a while, this works. Maybe you were able to get good grades in school, impress those around you, and perform well at work and please your boss. But, eventually, life becomes too much to reach perfection in every area. Instead of simply recognizing that you are human and can’t meet this expectation for perfection you, instead, start to see yourself as subhuman. Because your worth was wrapped up in how well you could perform you now believe you aren’t worth anything. You may think things like, “I don’t have what it takes”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I’m unlovable”. Eventually, you’re able to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, out of the pit of self-pity and start performing, perfecting, and producing again. Round and round the cycle goes until you can’t take it anymore and reach out for help.
The only way out of this cycle is to learn that you are human and begin to set human expectations for yourself. This means you have responsibilities but it’s okay to make mistakes, have emotions, express needs, and fail sometimes. You must also learn to expose your shame. The thoughts we have about ourselves, what our failure says about who we are, and all those things we think make us less than, all grow in the dark. Once you’ve said it out loud in the presence of a safe person, shame starts to dissipate. But the work doesn’t stop there. When shame has made its mark it can take years to erase those thoughts that come naturally. With the help of a therapist and supportive friends or family, it is possible to rewrite the script and put an end to the toxic shame cycle.
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