How to stop shame

Toxic Shame: Causes, Symptoms, and More

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

In this Article

  • What’s the Difference Between Shame and Guilt?
  • How Does Shame Become Toxic?
  • The Dangers of Toxic Shame
  • How to Recover From Toxic Shame

Toxic shame is a feeling that you’re worthless. It happens when other people treat you poorly and you turn that treatment into a belief about yourself. You’re most vulnerable to this type of poor treatment during childhood or as a teen. When you feel toxic shame, you see yourself as useless or, at best, not as good as others. 

What’s the Difference Between Shame and Guilt?

These two emotions are often confused with one another. You feel guilt when you know that you did something wrong. It can be a helpful emotion when maintaining relationships. Guilt can keep you on track when you’ve drifted from your moral standards.

But you feel shame when you believe you’re not enough, usually because parents or peers keep telling you so. Your confidence suffers from this deep-seated emotion that affects the way you see yourself. 

Guilt tells you, “That thing you did was wrong.” Shame tells you, “Because you did that thing, you’re a bad person.”

How Does Shame Become Toxic?

You probably have felt and will continue to feel shame at various times in your life. Shame can last a few hours or even a few days.

Toxic shame, though, comes from constantly being told you’re not enough. It results in negative self-talk that stays with you.

Toxic shame can start in the way you were given feedback for certain incidents as a child, usually by a parent. For example, if you wet the bed, your parent might have reacted in one of two ways:‌

  • They reassured you that it was all right and cleaned up without making a fuss.
  • They lashed out at you and said things like, “Why do you always do this? What’s wrong with you?"

The second reaction would probably have led you to believe that there was something wrong with you. Your feeling of shame can turn into toxic shame when the second scene keeps repeating. Other repeated phrases that can cause toxic shame, depending on the incident, are:

  • “Why are you doing it like that? You’re wrong.”
  • “What were you thinking?”
  • “You’ll never be as good as them.”

If you’re told these things often enough, you might start to tell yourself, for example, “I’m not worthy of love.” And holding onto feelings of unworthiness can be very damaging to your mental and physical health.

The Dangers of Toxic Shame

Shame is behind these two common symptoms:

  • Withdrawal. You might want to curl up in a ball and disappear when you feel shame. Shame makes us feel like we’re not good enough, and all we want to do is hide away.
  • Anger. Because you feel emotional pain, you become angry to try to aim your pain away from yourself.

Toxic shame has also been linked to substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm.  

These unhealthy coping mechanisms can serve as an escape from your emotional pain or inability to face yourself. ‌

You may also become a perfectionist or have unrealistic expectations in your attempt to avoid being shamed again.

How to Recover From Toxic Shame

It’s possible to overcome toxic shame and change the way you think. Self-compassion is key to the process. You also need self-awareness, mindfulness, and patience. Try these tips to overcome toxic shame.

Face the root of your shame. It’s important to understand and examine your feelings. Find the cause of your shame in order to move forward.

Become aware of how you talk to yourself. Try to observe your own thoughts but not react to them.

Have compassion for yourself. Everyone has flaws and makes mistakes. Even if it seems like your mistakes were huge, accept that you’re only human. Learn from the past, but don’t get stuck in it.

Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation can work wonders as you learn to observe your thoughts. Feeling shame forces you to react, so it can be very powerful to just notice your thoughts and question them.

Recognize when you’re feeling shame. Mindfulness can help alert you to when you’re feeling shame. If you are, mention it to a friend or partner. Shame thrives in dark places, so shine a light on it and watch its power fade away.

‌Seek support. A support network can give you an outlet to talk things out when necessary and boost your sense of belonging.

3 Therapist-Approved Steps to Stop the ‘Self-Shame Spiral’

By Rachel Otis — Updated on July 23, 2019

Self-compassion is a skill — and it’s one we all can learn.

More often than not when in “therapist mode,” I often remind my clients that while we’re working hard to unlearn behaviors that no longer serve us, we’re also working on fostering self-compassion. It’s an essential ingredient to the work!

While it can be easy for some of us to be able to feel and express compassion to others, it’s often difficult to extend that same sense of compassion toward our own selves (instead, I see a lot of self-shaming, blaming, and feelings of guilt — all opportunities to practice self-compassion).

But what do I mean by self-compassion? Compassion more broadly is about an awareness of the distress that other people are experiencing and a desire to help. So, to me, self-compassion is taking that same sentiment and applying it to oneself.

Everyone needs support through their journey in healing and growth. And why shouldn’t that support also come from within?

Think of self-compassion, then, not as a destination, but as a tool in your journey.

For example, even in my own self-love journey, I still get moments of anxiety when I don’t do something “perfectly,” or I make a mistake that can start up a shame spiral.

Recently, I wrote down the wrong start time to a first session with a client that caused me to start 30 minutes later than they expected. Yikes.

Upon realizing this, I could feel my heart sink in my chest with a pump of adrenaline and a deep flush of hotness in my cheeks. I totally effed up… and on top of that, I did it in front of a client!

But being aware of these sensations then allowed me to breathe into them to slow them down. I invited myself (silently, of course) to release the feelings of shame and ground into the stability of the session. I reminded myself that I’m human — and it’s more than OK for things to not go according to plan all the time.

From there, I allowed myself to learn from this snafu, too. I was able to create a better system for myself. I also checked in with my client to make sure I could support them, rather than freezing up or shrinking away in shame.

Turns out, they were totally fine, because they could see me first and foremost as a human being, too.

So, how did I learn to slow down in these moments? It helped to start by imagining my experiences being told to me in third person.

That’s because, for most of us, we can imagine offering compassion to someone else a whole lot better than we can ourselves (usually because we’ve practiced the former a whole lot more).

From there, I can then ask myself, “How would I offer compassion to this person?”

And it turns out that being seen, acknowledged, and supported were key parts of the equation. I allowed myself a moment to step back and reflect on what I was seeing in myself, acknowledged the anxiety and guilt coming up, and then I supported myself in taking actionable steps to improve the situation.

With that being said, fostering self-compassion is no small feat. So, before we move forward, I totally want to honor that. The fact that you’re willing and open to even explore what this might mean for you is the most important part.

That’s the part I’m going to invite you to engage with further now with three simple steps.

Many of us who struggle with self-compassion also struggle with what I often call the shame or self-doubt monster, whose voice can pop up at the most unexpected moments.

With that in mind, I’ve named some very common phrases of the shame monster:

  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
  • “Why can’t I do things like other people?”
  • “I’m too old to be struggling with these issues.”
  • “I should have [fill in the blank]; I could have [fill in the

Just like flexing a muscle or practicing a new skill, cultivating self-compassion requires that we practice “talking back” to this shame monster. With time, the hope is that your internal voice becomes stronger and louder than the voice of self-doubt.

Some examples to try:

  • “I’m absolutely worthy and divinely deserving.”
  • “I’m allowed to feel however I effing feel — my feelings are valid.”
  • “I’m unique in my own wonderful ways while still sharing sacred
    interconnected human experiences with many.”
  • “I’ll never ever be too old (or too much of anything, for that
    matter) to continue cultivating curiosities about my own behaviors and spaces
    for growth.”
  • “In this moment I am [fill in the blank]; in this moment I feel [fill
    in the blank].”

If these don’t feel natural to you, that’s OK! Try opening up a journal and writing some affirmations of your own.

As a somatic therapist who focuses on the mind-body connection, you’ll find that I always invite people to return to their bodies. It’s kind of my thing.

Oftentimes, utilizing drawing or movement as tools for processing can be quite helpful. That’s because they’re allowing us to express ourselves from a space we aren’t always fully conscious of.

With this in mind, gently invite yourself to draw how it felt to feel into the affirmations I offered — perhaps focusing on one that spoke to you deeply. Allow yourself to use any colors that are resonating with you and any medium of creation that’s resonating with you. As you’re doing so, also allow yourself to notice and be curious about how it feels in your body to draw.

Do you notice any areas of tension in your body? Can you try releasing them through your art? How hard or soft are you pressing down with your marker as you’re creating? Can you notice how that feels in your body, and then what it feels like to invite different variations of pressure on the paper?

All of this is information that your body is kind enough to share with you, if you’ll listen. (Yes, I know it sounds a little woo-woo, but you might be surprised by what you find.)

Of course, if creating art isn’t resonating with you, then I’d also invite you to feel into a movement or movements that want or need to be more fully expressed.

For example, when I’m needing to process emotions, I have some go-to yoga poses that titrate between opening and closing that help me feel unstuck. One of them is switching for a few rounds between Happy Baby and Child’s Pose. The other is Cat-Cow, which also allows me to sync my slowing down to my breath.

Compassion for self isn’t always the easiest to cultivate, especially when we can often be our own worst critic. So, finding other ways to access our emotions that take us out of the verbal realm can really help.

When we’re engaging in art therapeutically, it’s about the process, not the result. The same goes for yoga and movement. Allowing yourself to focus on how the process is feeling for you, and detach from how it looks to others, is a part of how we shift into self-compassion.

Whatever it is you’re feeling, no need to judge it. Simply meet yourself wherever you are.

Working toward releasing the judgements and expectations placed upon us by others isn’t easy work, but it’s sacred work. With time it can be a real source of empowerment. You’re healing a wound that many aren’t even aware of; you deserve to celebrate yourself through it all.

With time, as you flex this new muscle, you’ll find that self-compassion is a ready torch, there to lead you through whatever comes your way.

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Rachel Otis is a somatic therapist, queer intersectional feminist, body activist, Crohn’s disease survivor, and writer who graduated from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco with her master’s degree in counseling psychology. Rachel believes in providing one the opportunity to continue shifting social paradigms, while celebrating the body in all of its glory. Sessions are available on a sliding scale and via tele-therapy. Reach out to her via email.

How to stop being ashamed of your body

January 24, 2018 Life

Change your attitude to your appearance, and you will see how beautiful you really are.

Iya Zorina

Author of Lifehacker, athlete, Candidate Master of Sports



The tragedy does not happen to the artist or the train driver, but in the mind of the artist or the train driver.

Viktor Pelevin

"Chapaev and the Void"

What is the essence of the problem

In human society there is a subconsciously perceived standard of beauty, which, perhaps, is associated with an evolutionary advantage. The symmetry of the face and body speaks of good genes and health in general, large eyes and childish facial features evoke sympathy due to parental instinct, a certain ratio of hips and waist in women shows the ability to endure and give birth to healthy offspring. So the problem is getting a partner? Here is what the psychologist Oleg Ivanov says about this.

Oleg Ivanov

psychologist, conflictologist, head of the Center for Settlement of Social Conflicts

Often lonely people are dissatisfied with their appearance. And in this they most often see the reason for failures on the personal front. Unfortunately, these are the most common and most misleading judgments. We forget a simple truth: attractiveness is illusory.

There are many ugly people around, from the point of view of the standard, and they live happily, fall in love, create families and give birth to children. Moreover, in the modern world, a sense of humor, caring, understanding and common interests can be much more valuable qualities than a symmetrical face and large eyes.

Appearance matters when looking for a partner, but does not determine success. Perhaps it's not about finding a mate, but about fear of social disapproval.

We are embarrassed because we are afraid of negative statements addressed to us by those around us, relatives, colleagues. In this case, any, even the most innocent injection from the side causes resentment and tears. And this is due to low self-esteem and self-criticism.

Oleg Ivanov


Understand that the thought that you are ugly is just a thought. Let it arise from day to day and be felt already as truth. The problem is not in your figure, the shape of your face or the structure of your legs, the problem is in this thought, and it is with it that you need to fight.

We will show a way to change the attitude towards yourself, broken down into several stages. Each stage takes about a week, but if you feel that you have not made much progress in the allotted time, then spend as much as you need in one stage.

How to solve a problem

1. Be aware of it

Usually people consider their shortcomings obvious, but their behavior is not entirely conscious. This week is dedicated to becoming aware of negative thoughts about your body.

Go to the mirror, look at your reflection and note the negative thoughts about your appearance that arise in your head. Also pay attention to non-verbal habits that reflect body shame that you unconsciously repeat every day: pulling in your stomach, lowering your shoulders to appear lower, or tucking your cheeks in before taking a photo.

Notice the thoughts that arise, for example, when you start comparing yourself to other people, forbid yourself to wear what you like, or eat what you want. You can memorize thoughts or write them down in a notebook.

This is only preparation for the real work, but it is important. To solve a problem, you must first fully understand it.

Whenever an offensive thought about your appearance comes to mind, ask yourself, would you be able to say this to your best friend or child? This exercise will help you understand how cruel you are to yourself.

2. Change your mental patterns to neutral ones.

It is difficult to suddenly change your mind from "I'm terribly ugly" to "I'm beautiful." If you've hated your body for a long time and are already in the habit of berating yourself, try being neutral first. For example, instead of "I look fat in this dress" or "I'm skinny," you could say, "I don't feel confident in these clothes."

During this time, do not participate in any conversations about appearance - yours or someone else's. If everyone in the company starts talking about how they want to lose weight, pump up, get plastic surgery, just don't participate or try to change the subject.

Often the problem lies not in ourselves, but in the people around us. Toxic relationships with loved ones who like to casually point out figure flaws at every meeting bring pain. Try to minimize such communication, at least for a while, until you learn how to calmly respond to unpleasant statements addressed to you.

Oleg Ivanov


You can replace negative thoughts about appearance with positive thoughts about other qualities. For example, if you are not yet ready to say: “I look great”, you can replace the negative thought with “I draw well”, “I can listen to people”, “I am pleasant to communicate with”.

Focus on your successes, not your failures. Praise yourself for achievements at work, for a new contract signed, for successful negotiations. It may be difficult and difficult at first to pull yourself out of the “worthless person” state. But gradually it will become a habit, self-confidence will increase.

Oleg Ivanov


Stay at this stage until you feel that you have stopped automatically judging people by their appearance and caustically commenting on your appearance.

3. Change your neutral thoughts to positive ones

When you have already realized that you are a wonderful person and have stopped judging yourself for your appearance flaws, it's time to admit that these are not flaws at all. Compliment yourself every time you look in the mirror or take a selfie. Praise yourself for everything that seems beautiful to you, and in the end you will see this beauty.

Complimenting yourself is like buying new glasses. At first they feel strange, but then you get used to them and generally stop noticing them.

An interesting feature: even the most ugly person by general standards will seem beautiful to you if you fall in love with him. This also works for yourself. Moreover, other people are very sensitive to such changes. We subconsciously read the self-perception of the interlocutor, we are happy to communicate with those who are confident in themselves, and we avoid those who are closed and secretly hate themselves.
Therefore, by changing your attitude towards yourself, you will change the attitude of other people towards you.

Work not on the body, but on happiness

If you are happy, you look and feel great. Everyone around you notices this. Therefore, do not work on your body, work on becoming happy.

People who are ashamed of their appearance could be given the most common advice: accept yourself as you are. But I won't do it. If a person is dissatisfied with his appearance, then he is dissatisfied with his life, therefore, the lifestyle needs to be changed.

Oleg Ivanov


Go to the gym if it makes you happy and gives you pleasure. 2009 proved that playing sports improves the perception of your body. Even if you do not have external results (and they will not come immediately), after a few workouts you will like your body more.

Go to workouts that you enjoy, that make you feel better, and don't be afraid: you can start exercising at any age.

Try to eliminate from your life everything that upsets, angers or depresses you. If you don't like your job, leave it. Work takes half of life, and you can always find something better, if not in terms of salary, then certainly in terms of peace and pleasure.

Move away from people who are boring, who do not appreciate you and do not understand you. Among the millions you will definitely find real friends with whom you want to share your life.

You are beautiful when you are happy. Work on it.

Read also 🧐

  • Plus size people: how to deal with criticism and even make money from it
  • What is body shaming and why is it bad
  • Why so few women consider themselves beautiful

“How to stop being ashamed of your opinion?”

Know YourselfQuestion to the Expert

It often happens that my opinion does not coincide with what others think. I feel very ashamed, I feel stupid and begin to make excuses, apologize, or vice versa - I rush to the attack out of the blue and have a useless argument, but in the end everyone remains the same. It happens that I change my point of view, but the previous one has already been expressed somewhere: on the Internet, in correspondence, in a conversation. And I feel unbearably ashamed again. For example, a film was recently released, and I spoke about it on social networks. But then she changed her mind and began to delete old comments, to make excuses to those with whom she discussed this movie. I think this reaction is due to the fact that as a child I was an outcast, I was constantly humiliated at school, and I could not complain to my parents - they would consider me a sneak. My first partner treated my opinion with contempt and irony, although he himself had a very clearly expressed worldview. What can I do to accept myself for who I am without feeling ashamed of my point of view?

Alina, 18 years old

When a person develops, learns something new, he changes, which means that his opinion also changes. This is a sign that the person is alive. But it is also very natural to worry that the point of view has changed.

I think your observation that shame is connected to your school background is accurate. Shame is an important feeling that helps to integrate into society. But in the case of bullying and humiliation in childhood, shame or fear can be excessive. When you were rejected, shame increased - it seemed that in this way you would still be able to integrate into the class community. Shame grew and eventually ceased to be useful and adaptive.

You are asking how to accept yourself as you are without feeling ashamed of your point of view. It happens that a person is even more upset because of the fact that he is ashamed. If this is your case, the first step is to accept yourself and your shame. This feeling protected you as a child - otherwise you could have been further humiliated and finally rejected.

Your shame is like the clothes you grew out of. Which once warmed, and now presses. Or like an old guard dog who used to guard the house, but now he has lost his hearing and barks for nothing. When you feel shame, try to treat it kindly, with understanding. He is your battle scar.

The fear of rejection is ancient and strong: for our ancestors expulsion from society meant death

Behind shame are fears — in your case, rejection and humiliation. You can fight humiliation by stopping its manifestations in your life. You have the right to ask and demand to behave respectfully towards you. It is best to do this in the form of "I"-messages. They consist of three parts:

  1. When you do… (specific action),
  2. I feel… (specific feeling),
  3. I would like you to… (specific desired action, sometimes this part can be omitted).

Try to avoid generalizations (“you always”, “you always”), as well as accusations and personal attacks. Talk only about the actions and words of the other and about your feelings.

Learn more