Core Shame Identity vs Toxic Shame
(the following is extracted, in part, from the book’s introduction)
The notion of shame to which most people refer is an emotional experience or state that waxes and wanes in response to specific triggers and cues, not unlike any other emotion. But there is also what can be considered the trait of shame, a more durable, unyielding and chronic manifestation of shame. It is as stealthy as it is insidious. Popular psychology has referred to this as Toxic Shame. However, I believe the term Core Shame Identity may be a more accurate representation of this state. Core Shame Identity operates in the periphery of consciousness, like a shadow self, serving as a distorting filter through which the world is viewed. When this filter is firmly established, great suffering is likely to ensue, both as a direct manifestation of the pain of the experience, but moreover, as a result of the behaviors and strategies one engages in to distance oneself or otherwise subjugate the experience of shame. Close to thirty years of conducting psychotherapy have created the inescapable realization that it is this core identity that often underlies many other symptoms and syndromes including anxiety, social phobias, depression, substance abuse, obsessions and compulsions, relationship difficulties, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders, self-harm behaviors and much more.
One of the great challenges posed by Core Shame Identity is that those afflicted are mostly blind to its presence. We are so closely identified with it that we can’t even view it…like a fish that cannot know that it is wet. And so shame is something one is as opposed to something one feels. And thus one blindly reacts on the basis of shame on a near constant basis.
Thus, the first challenge in working with shame is to learn to detect its presence and by effect, bringing it into full conscious view. Without the power of attention and mindful presence, we are destined to remain stuck in the realm of emotional reactivity. This is true for shame or any other emotion. Viewed from this perspective, this becomes a spiritual journey since it involves a measure of awakening to our momentary experience. And by awakening to the experience and remaining fully open to it, we have the opportunity to leave the “hell realms” of blind reactivity as metaphorically stated in Buddhist cosmology. More on that another time.
Some future posts will be devoted to helping the reader to more specific approaches to form an ability to wake up to the experience of shame as well as other emotions.