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Healthy Shame versus Toxic Shame

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

.We explore the differences of healthy (yes - it can be) and toxic shame


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Shame is an emotion that is often experienced as a result of negative self-evaluation or a belief that one has failed to meet social standards or expectations. It can be a powerful tool for personal growth when used in healthy ways, but it can also be toxic and destructive. Understanding the difference between healthy and toxic shame is important for promoting well-being and self-compassion.


What is healthy shame?


Healthy shame is a normal and adaptive emotion that can serve as a moral compass, helping us to recognize when we have done something wrong and to make amends. Here are some examples of healthy shame:

  1. Lying: Feeling guilty and ashamed after telling a lie is an example of healthy shame. It can motivate us to be more honest in the future and to repair any harm that was caused.

  2. Breaking the law: Feeling ashamed after breaking a law, even if it was an accident, is a sign of healthy shame. This type of shame can help us to understand the seriousness of our actions and to be more mindful in the future.

  3. Hurting someone's feelings: If we accidentally say something hurtful to someone, feeling ashamed and apologizing can be an example of healthy shame. It can help us to be more mindful of others' feelings in the future.

  4. Not meeting expectations: If we fail to meet our own or others' expectations, feeling ashamed can help us to reflect on our actions and to work harder in the future to meet those expectations.

  5. Making a mistake: Feeling ashamed after making a mistake is a sign of healthy shame. It can help us to learn from our mistakes and to prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future.

Healthy shame is a necessary component of moral development and can motivate us to change our behavior for the better.


It is important to remember that healthy shame is focused on specific actions and is accompanied by feelings of regret and a desire to make things right.


What are some examples of toxic shame?

Toxic shame is an intense and prolonged feeling of worthlessness, failure, and self-disgust that is not based on specific actions or behaviors but rather on a pervasive sense of being inherently flawed or inadequate. Here are some examples of toxic shame:


  1. Cultural and societal messages: Societal messages that promote perfectionism or glorify certain body types and appearances can result in toxic shame. This type of shame can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-disgust.

  2. Childhood trauma: Childhood abuse or neglect can lead to feelings of toxic shame that persist into adulthood. This type of shame can result in feelings of self-loathing, low self-esteem, and a distorted sense of identity.

  3. Internalized negative self-talk: Negative self-talk and self-criticism can result in feelings of toxic shame. This type of shame can result in patterns of negative thinking and behavior.

  4. Substance abuse: Substance abuse can result in feelings of toxic shame, leading to a vicious cycle of self-disgust and substance abuse.

  5. Eating disorders: Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, can result in feelings of toxic shame, leading to a distorted body image and self-loathing.

Toxic shame is damaging to our mental and emotional well-being, leading to feelings of self-loathing, low self-esteem, and a distorted sense of identity. It can result in patterns of negative thinking and behavior, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm. It is important to address toxic shame in order to promote self-compassion and well-being.


Can therapy help men struggling with toxic shame?


Therapy can help men with toxic shame by providing a safe and non-judgmental space to process and work through their experiences of shame. A therapist can help men understand the source and origin of their toxic shame and work with them to develop new coping strategies, challenge negative self-beliefs, and build a more positive self-image. Therapy can also help men develop healthy relationships, improved emotional regulation and resilience, and a stronger sense of self-worth and identity. Additionally, therapy can provide men with the support and guidance they need to overcome their toxic shame and live a more fulfilling life.


Want to learn more?


Check out our blog post on what it means to live according to one's true self: Click here First Step Men's Therapy offers therapy to men across Ontario using our secure telehealth platform. We work with men on a wide range of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, sex therapy, sex addiction therapy, porn addiction therapy, grief therapy, first responders, trauma and PTSD, and anger therapy among others. We work with men in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, Ottawa, London, Kingston, Barrie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Belleville, Windsor, Niagara Falls, Welland, Burlington, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and everywhere in between!




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