Core Shame Identity vs Toxic Shame
(the following is extracted, in part, from the forthcoming 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 has 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 so much more.
Until recently, academic psychology has almost completely ignored this important emotional state. Fortunately, this has begun to change, but nonetheless we are standing at the frontier of an emerging arena of scientific and clinical inquiry. We as yet do not know the prevalence of shame. It is less directly observable than its sister emotions and does not leave an obvious or unique psychophysiological arousal pattern as say, anxiety or anger. However, it is becoming increasingly recognized that toxic forms of shame are extremely widespread and leave a pronounced wake of dis-ease and destruction. It is like a silent pandemic, but so stealthy in action as to almost avoid detection.
The forthcoming book, Perfect Pain/Perfect Shame: Embracing Shame Through Integrative Mindful Exposure, will explore the nature and origins of this pervasive experience. The vast array of harmful effects that it imposes on mental and physical health, behavior, relationships, and overall well-being will be described. Specific ways to identify the manners in which shame is operating in one’s life will be offered. Finally, techniques and approaches to minimize the toxic impact of this experience will be presented by combining approaches from modern behavioral psychology and Eastern mindfulness philosophies and practices. Self-assessments, case examples, worksheets and other guide material will be provided.