One of the most crucial pieces of recovery from mental illness, addiction, or deeply rooted shame is to learn to love yourself. Not in a Narcissistic, self-absorbed way. But in a healthy, “I give myself the same love that I give my children, spouse, and/or sibling” way.
Authentic love of a human being, whether it be someone else or ourselves, is based on WHO the person is. Not WHAT they do.
In my early recovery (starting in 1993), I latched onto the work of John Bradshaw, and his books became a bible of sorts to me, as hopelessly lost and immersed in suffering as I was. His book that really saved my life was “Healing the Shame that Binds You,” as shame had me bound, gagged, and mired in a deep and vast emotional tar pit.
One of my favorite Bradshaw metaphors was that you become a “human doing” instead of a “human being” if you base your self-love on performance rather than who you are.
And one of my favorite thought exercises that he suggested was to imagine someone you loved doing something”undeserving” of love, recognizing you still love them, and then putting yourself in their place. And repeat.
These were some of my favorite quotes from “Healing the Shame”:
“Giving and receiving unconditional love is the most effective and powerful way to personal wholeness and happiness.”
“A person with internalized shame believes he is inherently flawed, inferior and defective.Such a feeling is so painful that defending scripts (or strategies) are developed to cover it up. These scripts are the roots of violence, criminality, war and all forms of addiction.”
“When our instinctual life is shamed, the natural core of our life is bound up. It’s like an acorn going through excruciating agony for becoming an oak, or a flower feeling ashamed for blossoming.”
“What I discovered was that shame as a healthy human emotion can be transformed into shame as a state of being. As a state of being shame takes over one’s whole identity. 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.”
There is no magic elixir to root out toxic shame. I am 25 years into recovery and have tried everything but an exorcisism. Yet toxic shame still lurks in the shadows of my psyche, poised to strike at my most vulnerable moments. By God’s grace, today I have the experience, tools, resources, and support to chase it back into the shadows before it consumes and immiserates me. Still, it’s one day at a time. No guarantee.
So if you suffer from toxic shame, please use therapy, reading recovery books, healthy relationships, self-affirmations, prayer, exercise, Cognitive Behavioral, Twelve Step work, peer support, or whatever modality that you can find and afford to learn to love yourself.
Even when you talk too much, say the wrong thing, fuck up, are “unpresentable,” over-indulge, don’t exercise, or fall into old self-defeating patterns.