Recognizing Toxic Shame

Recognizing Toxic Shame is possibly the first and most critical step in learning how to work with the experience of shame. But, in order to do so, we must be able to identify it’s presence and effects.

recognizing toxic shame

recognizing toxic shame

The following is a selection of items from the Personal Shame Inventory (PSI) which was presented in its entirety in the fourth chapter of the book, “How To Lose Control”.  The primary reason that I developed this inventory, is to help people to be better able to identify the manner in which toxic shame might manifest in their lives as well as an appreciation of the various types of factors/situations that may serve to elicit the experience of shame. As I have stated elsewhere, shame is not directly discernable, as are certain other emotions such as fear, in that shame does not have a distinct psychophysiological manifestation. For that reason, I have metaphorically likened shame to to a ninja or vampire, since it tends to be secretive and stealthy and thus evades direct detection. Shame is an experience that more likely needs some training and experience to learn to observe by recognizing its impact upon our thinking and actions.

In the book, I presented a scoring guide to help people to better understand the magnitude of shame that they are experiencing. In retrospect, I regret doing that for a couple of reasons. First, this scale has not undergone the necessary analyses to determine its validity or reliability. Psychological measures, to be of value, need to undergo a variety of investigations to determine its functional utility. So, for example, it is unknown how or if this measure can discriminate normative levels of shame from those levels that may truly impair adaptive functioning. I do hope such analyses are undertaken utilizing this or other scales.  But more importantly, I do not want people to use this as a “test” or something that they can possibly see as failing, or even doing well. That is not it’s purpose. The true purpose is simply to provide some self understanding and awareness.

The ultimate idea is to train ourselves to become more mindful of the presence of shame and to be more cognizant of its presence. The critical element here is to be able to label and name shame, calling it out, so to speak, and to fix our attention upon it. Remember, in keeping with the vampire metaphor, they cannot endure in the light of the sun (attention). And so, the best way to deeal with shame is not to try to conquer or control it. That only serves to feed the beast. Rather we must watch it, and open up to the experience and endeavor not to retreat from the experience of shame. Shame itself is not the problem. It is only when our reactive mind takes over causing us to succumb to its influence by reflexively engaging in many of the thoughts or behaviors listed below. To the extent that we can remain conscious and open to the experience, its influence upon us will gradually diminish.

 Personal Shame Inventory (PSI)

Instructionjs: Please respond by circling the number that best corresponds to how you feel at this point in time for each item.

0 – very seldom or never

1 – sometimes

2 – often

1)     Do you have difficulty accepting compliments from others?        0 1 2

2)     Do you often apologize to others?      0 1 2

3)     Do you have difficulty openly asserting your feelings, needs, and preferences?   0 1 2

4)     Is it difficult to look at your naked body in a mirror?  0 1 2

5)     Do you often berate yourself? For example call yourself “stupid” for making a mistake? Are you excessively hard on yourself?  0 1 2

6)     Do you often feel as though you are not good enough? 0 1 2

7)     Do you frequently compare yourself to others?  0 1 2

8) Do you often feel that you have to prove yourself to others to gain acceptance?  0 1 2

9) Do you dismiss or trivialize your accomplishments?  0 1 2

10) Do you often feel as though something is missing inside of you?  0 1 2

11) Do you often feel that you are not OK as you are?  0 1 2

12) Do you frequently wish that you were someone else?  0 1 2

13) Is it difficult to look people in the eyes when speaking to them?  0 1 2

14) I feel guilty when I am relaxing 0 1 2

15) It is difficult to believe that anyone, even God, can love me as I am   0 1 2

16) No matter what I do, it doesn’t feel good enough. 0 1 2

17) I often feel I should be punished. 0 1 2

18) I often feel that I should be doing more or working harder.          0 1 2

19) Do you have difficulty making decisions? Do you often second guess yourself?  0 1 2

20) Are you self-conscious in public?   0 1 2


Everyone is invited to post comments, questions, insights, or objections!


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