John Bradshaw, a brilliant clinician, healer of souls, speaker, and widely read author, coined the term, “toxic shame” to describe the perpetual state of “feeling like you’re not good enough.”
Brene’ Brown, whom I like to call Bradshaw 2.0, has studied the plague of shame relentlessly for years, and has shared her amazing findings and insights in several fantastic books, myriad public speaking engagements, and at least two Ted Talks.
Bradshaw appeared on my radar screen very early in my recovery from Bipolar Disorder, dual addictions, and unresolved trauma. At that time (25 years ago), the Internet was nascent and Ted Talks was light years away. I had to do things the old-fashioned way: read his books, though I did have the privilege of seeing him speak live in 1995.
Both Bradshaw and Brown conclude that shame is a cultural epidemic, resulting from a society that places an absolute premium on wealth accumulation, career, achievement, status, awards, and being productive.
Play, leisure, pursuing passions, utilizing our gifts, being true to ourselves, love, helping others, community, compassion, family time, intimacy, and many other healthy, necessary, spiritual aspects are framed by our society as frivolous luxuries at best, and pastimes for losers at worst.
In our “winner take all, dog-eat-dog” paradigm, those who aren’t “stellar performers,” as my father used to say, are written off as worthless dregs of society. At least that was the message that was drilled into me as a child. And many of my friends in recovery share a similar experience.
Being conditioned to believe to your core that you are not good enough is the root of shame -a pervasive, persistent state of being that keeps one mired in self-hatred, fear of failure, fear of rejection, and an overwhelming compulsion to achieve and compete in order to “become good enough.” As if we aren’t good enough, just for being who we are.
Advertisers and marketers recognize that tapping into and perpetuating shame creates an endless demand for goods and services to fill that sick void and to “become good enough.” Employers and authority figures tap into our indoctrinated shame to manufacture obedience. Same with religious institutions.
Despite years of countering my shame with Cognitive Behavioral, therapy, reading books by authors like Bradshaw and Brown, prayer, fellowship in AA, 12 Step work, pursuing my passion, service to others, leading a counter-cultural lifestyle that contradicts what I am “supposed to be,” and more, shame still resides in my psyche as a very unwelcome guest. A guest that makes increasingly rare, but unbidden and still too frequent appearances.
Thank God that today I am blessed with multiple modalities to keep toxic shame at bay, and continue to strive to diminish its presence in my life!
In closing, in my experience, love does make the world go round. But, sadly, shame gives it a run for it’s money.
And despite what you or others tell you, you are enough!