Thursday, July 31, 2008

Detoxifying Toxic Friendships

This is a picture of one of my beautiful non toxic friends, Mariclaire. I just got out of one of these relationships-I put up with ridiculous bullshit for 2 years. I do not want anyone else to put themselves through that to try and savesomeone from themselves. People have to want to heal, period.

Detoxifying Toxic Friendships as seen on Divine Caroline dot com.

Detoxing is not just for rehabbed celebutantes, no no no. Now, no relationship is perfect. Relationships are indeed complex and dynamic. But toxic friendships exist whether we like it or not. Toxic friends engage in a pattern of sliming us with their toxicity. Toxic people are very adept. You know the ones of which I speak—she is the one who doesn’t do anything too blatant and egregious. That way, you can’t actually call them out on it. Most of the time that is. Sometimes they do, and you take them to task, asserting yourself, only to watch as nothing changes.
If you find yourself in a relationship that begins to feel, or has always felt, too intense, too draining, too yucky, it maybe time to cut the cord. “‘Toxic friend’ is pop psychology,” says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. “I would say it’s someone who, after spending time with them, makes you feel bad about yourself instead of good; someone who tends to be critical of you—sometimes in a subtle way and sometimes not so subtle; a friend who drains you emotionally, financially, or mentally, and they’re not very good for you.” They are psychic vampires. Toxic friendships wreak havoc on one’s personal sense of well being and peace. A toxic person can be described in many ways: that “friend” who is always negative, always critical, the one who after you have spent any amount of time with leaves you feeling drained. She thrives on drama. She talks about others, how stupid they are, and she giddily expresses happiness at other’s misfortune. She talks at great length about how much money she and her spouse make … every single time you talk. You have problems—which she claims to want to hear about—but it always magically ends up being about her problems. She accuses you of not caring when she is the one behaving in an uncaring manner. In other words, she projects her flaws on to you. She tries to manipulate you.
Toxic people always have a complaint about something, with the world; they carry a grudge about everything. Toxic friends can constantly disappoint you or break promises. This is usually the result of childhood wounding. We usually put up with this crap for the same reason. Enough. It is time to emancipate ourselves from the need to fix or rescue people. This can be incredibly difficult for those of us who were brought up in unstable homes with parents we had to parent rather than us being parented. The real question is—why do we put up with this nonsense, especially as women?

Why do we allow people to exist in our lives when they do nothing but bring us down? We feel we have to, we do not want to make others angry, and we do not want to be judged. If we no longer “play the game,” the toxic friend will seek out others to prop themselves upon. Love yourself and put your needs first. This friend will find another target in order to prop up her own fragile ego.
Friends should lift us up, leaving us feeling happy and at peace after interacting with them. Their care feels evident and sincere. A primary element in a healthy, positive friendship is that both friends can feel that they can be themselves; they don’t have to put on masks or impress one another. One key in healthy relationships is reciprocity. Reciprocity is about balance. Are you always the giver and never given to? We need to exchange the right amount of affection, attention, and care for relationship harmony to prevail. Does your friend reciprocate in your friendship? I have a wonderful friend, Mariclaire, who never fails to complement me on things, whether it be my mothering, my creativity, my marriage, or my ass in a new pair of Seven jeans. I have never sensed one iota of competition with her. I reciprocate with her as well. Even on the ass compliments! She has a great one! All joking aside, Mariclaire, or MC as I call her, is also a fantastic mother, wife, and friend.
Setting boundaries is essential. Don’t answer the phone. Sometimes we need to talk it out. Try asking “And why do you think that?” or “Do I really need this from you?” This may make them stop and think, and it shores up your self respect. Sometimes it seems we try to no end to express our feelings only to see no results. That’s because people must change themselves; nothing we say or do can alter another person. Just because you have a history with someone, that doesn’t mean you have to repeat it. If you feel as if you can not share your joy with a “friend,” ask yourself why. Are you afraid it will make them jealous? Angry? Is it visibly obvious? Do they get defensive or pseudo-excited? This is not friendship, but an attachment, a fantasy, an illusion of bonding. It is not healthy.

Many women have an excruciating time extricating ourselves from these relationships. These include: women who like to feel needed, people who feel like they do not deserve a healthier, saner, more balanced relationship, women who are stuck—either feeling angry, guilty, or sorry for their distressing “friend.” Detoxing is the way to clean ourselves out. Think of it as relationship Feng Shui—the idea is to purge the clutter. We do not have to fix or rescue or tolerate the shenanigans of these desperate people. Have compassion, but also for yourself, and with some people, have all compassion you want, from afar. Do not become enmeshed. Declare your independence.Take a Toxicity Inventory about your friend. Is her life full of chaos and negativity and even at times downright maliciousness toward others? Suggest professional help. A toxic friend might need a professional. If she comes from an abusive background, she definitely does. Her toxicity will affect her career, emotions, and family, though she’ll most likely never admit it. How can you approach this touchy subject? Point out to your friend how she is treating you and ask her to stop, and if she continues, take it to the next level. Say to her, “I know you are a good person, but maybe you want to seek help.” If you have tried this to no avail, throw in the towel.
If we have a friend who is always in need, always in crisis, always attempting to one up us, who is toxic, it is time to detox. You can say, simply, “I have changed and wish to end this friendship as it has become painful and draining to me.” By standing up to pseudo-friends, in reality you are losing nothing and gaining self-esteem, self respect. Once we get past the illusion of this friendship, we can see that we are losing, yes. What we are losing a whole lot of pain. Decide to surround yourself with positive feminine energy; you will be much happier for it.
My mantra for this issue is this: Alice Walker says:

No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended. Amen, Awomen.

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, has written fiction about African American women's experience. Alice Walker has also been an activist on environmental, feminist, and womanist causes, as well as working for racial and economic justice.

Monday, July 28, 2008


The river was so clear.

I saw it and at once felt my madness fall away.

You were the river.

The river Troy,

the long, clear, quiet river.

Long and clear,

quietly flowing,

you were a river I had to dive into.

My feet were burning, and sure, my heart was a raging fire as well.

It would make sense,

since I was indeed on fire,

to jump,
fearlessly into water.
And yet, many rivers did not put those fires out.

Those fires were fully propagated,

those fires were not even reasonable.

I passed through many rivers,

walking through,

then running,

bare feet slipping and clinging and bleeding on broken stones.
But you,

you-I jumped into, slipped quietly inside of.

I threw off my burning clothes,

I jumped into your clear blue water.
You cooled the hell of my child feet,

my heart was singed but the fire no longer burned.
I spent my life, a whole life running from demons,
Falling on thorns,
Skin tearing,
Dying to escape the shadows I had been born into.
And then you,
A clear blue river with mosaic sun warmed golden stones,
You stopped me.
My heart was shattered into ruby ashes, black dust.
But you, you took my heart,

what was left,
You held it in your hands.
All pieces held by you.
Each piece an emotional truth.
You showed me all of me,

even her.
She was hiding within the flames,
Living in terror.
The little girl diamond that no fire could destroy.
It glimmered amongst the ruin,

and as your poetic fingers touched it,

my heart seized back to life.
I felt myself, as a little girl,
Rise from the agony.
Growing, mending, vines of love wrapping this heart.
You polished that diamond and put the little girl back in my hand,
And I put her back inside of me, into my heart where she deserves to live.
You showed me these things,

your gentle blue river eyes,

staring into my green ones,

you showed me.
At your touch, I began to glow.
You are the clear blue river,

I am heart stones, green and golden and clear,

flowing with the water of you.

I Am Looking

I am looking at myself.
In the dog.
How he wanders, dallies, cleans his nails.
I am looking at a blanket, velvety yellow on the floor

where bad things can happen, the floor.
A feathery shiver traces my spine, then goes away.
Red chairs like twins,
sitting before a window full of trees.
A bookcase, dark brown espresso like I love.
I am looking at myself.
A house in my head, a longing for Mother,
not the one I have,

but the one I want, one who wanted me.
A page, from a tree.
I am looking at a tv, not blaring,

but here.
I am looking at books,

lives within them, the news.
Flowers on my pajama pants,

purple buds clinging to green vines.
A large pewter Buddha that blesses this home,

I am looking at.
My mind, the way she swirls with self persecution.
The way she loves fierce and primal.
I am looking at straws sticking up from the counter,

peeking over,
all colorful and funny.
A waxy candles waiting to be lit.
I am looking at 3 yoga mats, health, vitality.
I am looking at carpet stains,

vomit and spaghetti sauce,
reminds me of those bad things that happen to little girls on floors.
When I was little,

I pronounced spaghetti, “pas-getti”.

I knew how to say it, you see,

but I was looking to get my father to see me as cute,
and as I am looking now,
I wanted him to see me as a child,
a little girl who says “pas-getti”.
I am looking.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What Does It Feel Like

What did it feel like
As you walked away
From me
Your daughter?
What does that feel like,
Walking away from your child?
How does the air move around your body?
What shoes does one wear to do this?
Did you tread gingerly,
The dusty ground making crunching sounds?
Did perhaps the ground slip out from under you,
Quaking under your feet with the knowledge
of what you were about to do?
Or did you run,
Fast and hard and away
so as not to feel My heart
Two years from my birth,
Break apart.
Did you tilt your head as you walked?
Did you look back and see me?
Did you then drive to your mother’s for comfort,
Or to forget,
Did you walk hastily through to her backyard,
Falling to your knees,
Praying to the bluebirds you found there?
Did their wings tell of my loss?
Each flap my execution.
In those moments after your exit,
Did my scent remain with you?
At the sight of the stars,
did it smash into you,
Smearing you into the oily Earth,
The realization that,
God help you,
I was probably looking at the same stars,
Lips quivering,
Without you?
And later, when you sniffed the piano key white powder deep into your nose,
Did you think your heart,
And therefore mine,
Could forget
Through numbness?
Did you think, at all?
And when it stormed, late into the night,
Did you ever awaken with a start, panicking that I too,
May be somewhere in my tiny girl body,
Wracked with thunderous grief,
With the total annihilation of your leaving?

And when my father took me, at three years old,
For himself in his bed,
Could you feel it?
When you shopped at the market every Saturday,
Bumping into that sweet ole Creole lady,
As you Mumbled, ‘Excuse me, Maa’m…”
and the sun colored oranges caught your darting eye.
Did you wonder, then,
Does Sarah, my daughter,
Like oranges?
Or were oranges oranges and storms storms and mother’s hearts just numb.
And what of your father, your mother,
What did they teach you that you believed I was better off with anyone but the woman who birthed me,
My Mother?

Darfur Mother

Mother swings Child
Up up Whoosh
Lands on Mama's hip
Me and her,
The same.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Healing Shame

According to John Bradshaw, "Toxic shame results from the unexpected exposure of vulnerable aspects of a child's self. This exposure takes place before the child has any ego boundaries to protect himself. The early shaming events happen in a context where the child has no ability to choose. The felt experience of shame is the feeling of being exposed and seen when one is not ready to be seen." Toxic shame often manifests itself in the form of dreams in which a person appears naked or in their underwear in inappropriate places. These dreams can also involve being unprepared, as in being in front of a large group and being unable to deliver a speech, being in a classroom and not having studied for an exam, etc.

In addition to dreams, toxic shame takes shelter in our primary ego defenses. Sigmund Freud was the first to define "an automatic process used for self-preservation which is activated in the face of severe threat." Freud called this process the primary ego defense.

Defense Mechanisms

Primary Ego Defenses:

Denial and Fantasy Bonding
Denial is the primary ego defense. It is common for anyone faced with any form of threat or shock (rape, death of a loved one, abuse, assault, etc.) to at first deny their true feelings about what’s going on or the real impact it has on their life.

Robert Firestone has researched further and elaborated on Freud's original ego defense of denial and calls this fundamental defense the "fantasy bond." The fantasy bond is an illusion of closeness the victim creates with their shaming abuser. Bradshaw and Firestone believe that "the more a child is violated, the more she creates the fantasy bond." In a world of unpredictable abuse, a child's sense of worth is diminished and shame is induced. Finally, an abused person feels they have no choices and they cling to their abuser. Once this denying fantasy bond is set up, "it
functions automatically and unconsciously. Years later when reality is no longer life-threatening, the fantasy bond remains."

John Bradshaw says that "any intolerable event is signaled by strong emotions. Emotions are a form of energy-in-motion. They signal us of a loss, a threat or a situation. Sadness is about losing something we cherish. Anger and fear signal us of actual or impending threats to our well-being. Joy signals that we are fulfilled and satisfied. Whenever a child is shamed through some form of abandonment, (Remember, abuse = abandonment because when a child is abused, there is no one there for them.) feelings of anger, hurt, sadness arise. Since shame-based parents are shame-bound in all their emotions, they cannot tolerate their children's emotions. Therefore, they shame their children's emotions. Repression is the way children numb out so they don't feel their emotions."

Bradshaw believes that dissociation is the ego defense "that accompanies the most violent forms of shaming--sexual and physical violence. The trauma is so great and the fear so terrifying that one needs instant relief. Dissociation is a form of instant numbing." There is more than one ego defense involved in dissociation. The mechanics of dissociation involve denial of what's happening or what happened in the past and may also involve a form of regression. It most certainly involves a distracting form of imagination.

"An incest victim simply goes away during the experience of violation..." I know that I did this, because there are large blocks of time that I cannot remember to this day. The pain of my abuse and torture was too horrific for me to bear, so I went away. The conscious memories are often irretrievable. Abuse survivors often report a sense of leaving their body during the unbearable pain and subsequent humiliating shame.

I want to reassure everyone here: Dissociation is one of the reasons we get so frustrated during our recovery process. Our memories were numbed/blocked during some of our abuse, but our feelings about it remained...buried deep inside us. Sometimes years, decades later, these feelings can come out and we might not know least not at first. We often feel like we are "crazy," because we don't understand the intense feelings that appear to have no cause. But, trust me, the cause is real! What's happened is that the connection between the abuse, the trauma, the violence and the normal response to that violence has been severed. We think that the shame is about us, instead of what happened to us. THIS SHAME IS NOT OURS! THE REAL, JUSTIFIED SHAME BELONGS TO OUR ABUSER/PERPETRATOR! LET'S LEARN HOW TO GIVE IT BACK!!!

Displacement is associated and closely related to dissociation. It usually occurs while we are asleep, dreaming or having lucid dreams. Before I retrieved detailed memories of incest, torture and other types of abuse at the hands of my father, I would often have recurring nightmares of dark, shadowy "monsters" standing in the doorway of my bedroom or hovering over my bed. This is called displacement. Until I progressed in therapy and could admit to myself what had truly happened, my father appeared as a shadowy, faceless monster in my dreams.

Depersonalization is closely related to displacement. Bradshaw describes it as a "behavioral manifestation of being violated." It most often happens when this violation is perpetrated by a significant other...a parent, spouse or other close relative. The victim sees herself as an object rather than a human being. As an object, we no longer believe we are worthy of love, warmth, positive attention or appropriate affection.

"When victimization takes place...the victim often identifies with the persecutor." I personally believe this is one of the main reasons for the continued, generational cycle of abuse in families. This is a defense mechanism to avoid feeling one's own shame. Instead of giving the shame back to the perpetrator by healing the shame, the victim identifies with their abuser and often becomes one themselves. I firmly believe that both of my parents were previous victims who identified with their own offenders.

Conversion is a complicated ego defense. For a more in-depth description of the types of conversion, I recommend reading John Bradshaw's book, "Healing the Shame that Binds You." He details the different types of conversion on pages 77 & 78. For our purposes here, I can best describe it as a way of converting real, legitimate feelings associated with abandonment, abuse and neglect into other often inappropriate feelings, thoughts or behaviors.

For example, if you were shamed as a child for crying when you felt sad, alone or afraid, you may have converted this legitimate emotion into a more acceptable feeling of anger. My husband was physically abused as a child by his father who shamed him mercilessly if he ever cried. He was praised and inappropriately rewarded when ever he got into a physical fight with any of the neighborhood boys or even his brother! Their father rewarded black eyes and the like with verbal praise for being "manly" or "gutsy." So, every time my husband felt like crying, he converted his original, legitimate emotion of sadness, grief or fear into anger.

Bradshaw says that projection is one of our most primitive defense mechanisms. "Once we are shame-based, projection is inevitable." Even if we disown our true, legitimate feelings, wishes, needs and desires, they still clamor for expression. These are parts of our true self and cannot totally be ignored. "One way to handle them is to attribute them to others." Projection is most often used when, for whatever reason, repression fails to numb our feelings of shame.

You may have heard that people often complain about "faults" they themselves are most guilty of. This is a form of projection. If a man is "cheating" on his wife, he will often suspect her of committing adultery herself, when this is the farthest thing from the truth. If I have disowned my legitimate feelings of anger, I might ask you what you're so pissed off about.

Projection can also happen with less "negative" emotions. For example, when a child is shamed by abusing parents they may begin to deny their positive aspects...their power, worth and lovability are projected onto the abusing can't be my parents fault, so it must be mine. They are good, I'm bad and deserve to be punished.

Secondary Ego Defenses:
Freud described secondary ego defenses that he believed take over when the primary ego defenses fail for any reason.

By inhibiting our physical mechanisms, we can safeguard ourself against further experiences of shame. In the example of my husband who was shamed as a young boy for crying...he became inhibited against crying. Prior to therapy, he would never let himself cry for any reason in order to avoid further experiences of shame.
Reactive Formation
Bradshaw describes this as insuring "that a repressed disturbing feeling which would trigger shame is kept out of conscious awareness." I believe that my mother is an expert at using this secondary defense mechanism. I often felt that my mother was fake, but this explains much of her behavior. Often an undesired trait is replaced with its opposite. When my mother felt the impulse to be cruel, but was afraid to be shamed by acting cruelly (like in public, in church, etc.) she replaced this impulse with the exact opposite trait of kindness. Mother's voice would change to this sing-songy falsetto tone when she replaced her impulse to be cruel with an attitude of kindness.
Bradshaw calls undoing "magical behavior" which cancels out feelings, thoughts or behavior we fear will cause shame or has caused shame in the past. Some obsessive/compulsive rituals are believed to be an ego defense of undoing. Some "religious" shaming for natural sexual urges can result in this type of undoing. When a child is dramatically shamed for masturbating, for example, he can later try to "undo" his wish to touch himself with elaborate "untouching" rituals. Not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk or making sure different foods don't touch on the dinner plate, could be examples of magical undoing.
Isolation of Affect
This is a way of converting a shame-based feeling or impulse NOT into another, non-shame-based feeling, but to a non-shame-based thought. By doing this, the shamed person disowns any responsibility for the original feeling or impulse. These converted thoughts can be seemingly bizarre and can be very confusing to the abuse survivor who feels like these thoughts just pop into her head for no reason. These thoughts are usually described as being devoid of any feelings and act as a distraction from the true feelings associated with the painful shame. These distracting thoughts can be in the form of counting or repeating thoughts. I think it's another form of dissociating. When I have tried to block or numb painful feelings about my past, I often find myself counting random, insignificant things or "typing" the spellings of random words on an imaginary type writer. Before therapy and learning about this ego defense, I just thought I was crazy or had OCD.
Turning Against Self
This is a form of self harm or can manifest itself in self-injury. It is a way of deflecting hostile aggression from another person and directing it onto ourselves. Bradshaw says that this defense is very common among people who have been severely abused. Since "a child so desperately needs his parents for survival, he will turn his aggressive rage about his abuse into abuse of himself." The ultimate extreme of this defense is suicide. Common examples include: cutting, nail biting, scratching, head banging (this is my "preferred" method of self harm), being prone to accidents and other forms of self-harm and self-mutilation. In any case, the rage one feels at their offender is so terrifying that it is turned against the self instead.

Once shame is internalized, we do not feel shame, we feel we are it.
Bradshaw says, "Once internalized, we no longer have the feeling of shame -- we are it. Because we experience ourselves as flawed and defective, we cannot look at ourselves without pain. Therefore, we must create a false self." For more detailed information, I highly recommend getting a copy of John Bradshaw's book, "Healing the Shame that Binds You" and reading pages 82-86.

Family System Roles
All families have roles that each family member fills. In healthy families, the father and mother model what it is to be male and female, a father and mother, a husband and wife. Parents should model in healthy ways what it is to be intimate, how to maintain healthy boundaries, solve problems and discipline in appropriate, loving ways. The role of children is to be curious and learn.

Healthy families have flexible roles that any one member may take on at any given time. For example, Mom might be the hero one day because she changed a flat tire. Daughter might be the hero another day because she volunteers to cook dinner. Brother might be the hero on another day because he voluntarily does the laundry. Dad's the hero when he takes the family on vacation. These types of flexible roles are healthy when they are taken on voluntarily and spontaneously.

However, dysfunctional families require unhealthy roles that may be inappropriate for the age of the family member, particularly children. You might want to think about your own family of origin and consider what role you played in order to keep the family together. I was Daddy's Little Princess for awhile and then my sister took on that role. Both my sister and I were the Family Sacrifice. My mother was the Martyr and Chief Enabler. My brother was often the Scapegoat. Many therapists feel that it is beneficial to explore the role you played and to put a name on it.

It's important to realize that when we take on these dysfunctional roles, we give up our true, authentic self and take on a false self. These roles help to create a shame-based family system. As survivors, we often carry on in these false, dysfunctional roles into adulthood, because they give us a sense of identity, but they also keep us stuck in our toxic shame.

A third layer of protection against feeling our toxic shame is acting "shameless." Acting shameless can take the form of several behaviors that alter our sense of shame:
Perfectionism is learned when a person is valued only for doing. I once heard this referred to as becoming a humandoing instead of a humanbeing. A perfectionist has no sense of healthy shame or internal limits...they never know how much is good enough.

In my family, perfectionism was a multi-generational means for passing the "hot potato" of toxic shame. My maternal grandmother was a perfectionist in the strictest sense of the word. Her house would have passed anyone's "white glove test" at any given time of the day, week, month or year! She had her fireplace sealed off from the chimney and it was never used. It was not good enough that there be no smoke or ashes from the fire, she was determined to keep every speck of environmental "dirt" outside her house. Having the fireplace flue closed was not good enough. She had the chimney cemented shut. The windows in her house were painted shut as well. Before my grandparents were able to afford central air conditioning, they sweltered in the summer heat with nary a window open! Grandma was afraid that dust and grime from the street would soil her curtains. While my mother was not much of a housekeeper, she used this perfectionistic measure against my sister and me as we performed our weekly household chores. No matter how hard we tried, we never quite measured up!
Power & Control
You've heard the expressions: "control freak" and "power junkie." These are direct references to this defense mechanism that is a part of shamelessness. Striving for power is a way to control other people. As Bradshaw says, "Those who must control everything, fear being vulnerable...because to be vulnerable opens one up to being shamed."
Bradshaw believes that rage is the "most naturally occurring cover-up for shame." It protects us in two ways: keeping others away or transferring our shame to others. NOTE: This is not the same a justified rage. However, even justified rage at being abused, abandoned, neglected or violated can be internalized when not expressed. What was originally meant to protect us against further experiences of shame, can become a state of being. This kind of rage can turn into hatred and result in violence and criminal behavior.
Webster's defines arrogance as being overbearing and acting self-important. It is a defense mechanism for covering up shame.
Criticism and Blame
Bradshaw believes that criticism and blame "are perhaps the most common ways that shame is interpersonally transferred." It is a way of reducing the feeling of humiliation and shame a person feels by criticizing and blaming someone else. "Children subject to criticism and blame are shamed to the core. Children have no way to decode their parents' defensive behavior." Children interpret criticizing and blaming in this way as "I'm bad." They come to believe that all the fighting and arguing is their fault.
Judgmentalism and Moralizing
These are the offspring of perfectionism. Condemning others as "bad" or "sinful" is a way to feel morally correct and righteous. Bradshaw believes that children who are the victims of perfectionism, judgment and moralizing are not only victims of emotional abuse, but also spiritual abuse. He reasons that since God alone is perfect; "God alone is act shameless is to play God" and therefore, "Children of shameless parents are given a distorted foundation for experiencing God."
Contempt involves complete rejection of someone else who is viewed as utterly disgusting. This is another defense mechanism that is often passed down from one generation to the next. "The child condemns others as he has been condemned."
To patronize is to support, protect, champion or help someone who does not have the same knowledge, benefits, power or prestige as you. That sounds like a good thing, right? The difference is that we patronize when we do these things WITHOUT the other person's request, desire or permission. It is a way of feeling as if you've one-uped another person.
This is a form of co-dependence. It is NOT the same as a spirit of helpfulness and giving. Instead the caretaker helps others as a way of helping themselves. The goal of the caretaker is to feel good about themselves, NOT to take care of someone else
People Pleasing
The goal of the people pleaser or nice person is to look good. Her image is what's important. They hide their shame-based true nature behind a facade of being friendly and well-liked.
The most common definition of envy is "discomfort at the excellence or good fortune of another." Envy is usually thought of as "bad" and even referred to as one of the seven "deadly sins." As such, it is usually kept hidden from others as well as the envious person himself. Sometimes envious people will reveal their hidden feelings with a "back handed" compliment. First, they'll say something nice about the person they are envious of and then they'll take all the positive things back with some disparaging or belittling words or a question. Teenagers are famous for this kind of thing. One girl might say to a rival, "I love your outfit, but didn't you wear that yesterday?"

Compulsive/Addictive Behaviors:
Another layer used for covering up toxic shame are compulsive and addictive behaviors. John Bradshaw thinks that society in general over focuses on addiction to alcohol and drugs, overlooking other serious, life-damaging addictions used to numb, block out and cover up toxic shame. Pia Mellody defines addiction as, "any process used to avoid or take away intolerable reality." Bradshaw divides addictions into five groups:
1. Ingestive Addictions
a) Alcohol and Drugs - Some chemicals are inherently addictive. This group includes nicotine (the
addictive chemical in cigarettes); legal prescription and over-the-counter drugs; illegal, "recreational"
drugs; and caffeine.
b) Eating Disorders
1) Food Addiction - Obesity - The statistics on this addiction are staggering! Back in 1988, when
Bradshaw published his book, "Healing the Shame that Binds You," there were over 34 million
obese people. Some current estimates show that this figure has doubled!
2) Fat/Thin Disorder - Unlike obesity, this eating disorder is not visible. The mood alteration is the
same in that you obsess...first about eating, then about NOT eating. Some people refer to this as "yo yo" dieting. It's a cycle. First you obsess about eating (for me its sweets!) binge. Then
you feel guilty about binging and obsess about what you've done. You feel like you've blown it, so
you might as well eat some more and this continues until you can't fit into your clothes any more.
What follows is a cycle of dieting, exercising and depriving yourself of your craved for food. The
difference between this and healthy dieting is that there is no balance. It's all or nothing, fat or thin.3) Anorexia Nervosa - Anorexia is the most immediately (other eating disorders cause health
problems over a longer period of time) life-threatening of all eating disorders. Anorexics are most
commonly girls who come from affluent families dominated by perfectionism. It involves fasting and
starvation. It is a very complicated addiction that can include the use of laxatives, forced vomiting
(purging) and/or excessive exercise. At the core of it is the desire to be more than human. Trying
to live without nourishment is the ultimate rejection of a person's humanity.
4) Bulimia - Anorexics can also suffer bulimia, but it can also develop without any preceding anorexic condition. Bulimia is not as limited to females as anorexia. Many male athletes and "fitness addicts" will resort to binging and purging to maintain a desired weight.
2. Feeling Addictions
a) Rage Addiction - When we are raging, we feel powerful. If you felt powerless during your abuse,
violation or trauma (which you most likely and understandably would), feeling rage can lead you
to believe you are getting your power back. We no longer feel inadequate and defective when we are raging. If people around us let us get away with it, rage can become our preferred method for altering our mood. After repeated use, we can become rage addicts. If we limit our raging to limited, constructive release sessions, this can actually be healthy. (Please click here for healthy ways to release rage.) However, most people addicted to rage are not able to do this. Like any other addiction, the rage addict is usually out of control, utilizing no boundaries. Most likely, eventually,a rage addict will lash out at those around him...usually those closest to him, with whom he feels safe.
Raging, screaming, yelling and more obviously, hitting, pushing, etc. are abusive. Without help, the
rage addict will most likely become the type of abuser he himself feared when his own abuse was
going on.
b) Other Emotional Addictions: fear, excitement, religious righteousness - Any emotion can be addictive. People addicted to excitement are always looking for their next emotional high. In my
opinion, addiction to religious righteousness can be the most heinous of these feeling addictions,
second only to rage. While rage addiction can lead to violent physical abuse, religious addiction can emotionally scar others, especially children to the core! It can be particularly confusing and destructive if you have one parent who is sexually and/or physically abusing a child and the other is a religious addict. "They hide their shame with patronizing self-righteousness and transfer it to their children..." In my case, Father forced sex on me and Mother condemned me for being "bad", "dirty" and "evil." She hid her shame from not protecting me and my sister by blaming us for the incest! In her self-righteous eyes, we were doomed, beyond salvation because we "liked" what our father did to us. c) Shame Addiction - Believe it or not, we can become addicts to our own toxic shame. John Bradshaw goes so far as to say that "shame-based people are always addicted to their toxic shame...Everything is organized around preventing exposure." Without healing, we "cannot let our guard down for one second." This is no way to live!
d) Guilt Addiction - Toxic guilt is even more pernicious than toxic shame. Toxic guilt says we have no right to be who we are. We spend every waking hour analyzing everything we do and trying to solve our internal problems. There is no time for rest.
3. Thought Addictions - Thoughts and mental processes can also be addictive. "Thought processes are a part of every addiction. Mental obsession, going over and over something, is a part of the addictive cycle," but it can also be addictive in and of itself. Some of this can be closely related to dissociation.
By obsessing on our thoughts, we can avoid painful feelings and hide our shame.
a) Detailing - One way of using thought processes to alter our mood is by detailing. Many people who have been diagnosed with OCD use this type of mental obsession. People who are addicted to detail usually give you more information than you need or desire during a conversation. If you are involved in conversation with a detail addict, you will most likely start to tune them out or become bored half way through their minutely detailed recollection of something. These people are addicted to detail.
Although listening to a detail addict can be annoying, it's important to remember that these people are hurting inside. Detail addicts stay in their head to avoid excruciating feelings.
b) Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - There has been a lot of media attention to this disorder, so I won't go into a lot of information here, but people with OCD are similar to detail addicts. They stay in their heads to avoid painful feelings. For more information, please click here.
4. Activity Addictions - Another way of altering mood is through behavior/activity. The compulsion part of OCD has to do with activity. Instead of just staying immersed in thought and verbally detailing, activity addicts must actively behave in certain ways as a means of distraction. While OCD is not that prevalent, the more common forms of activities that alter mood and cover up shame are the following:
a) Gambling
b) Sexual Addiction
c) Buying ("Shopaholic")
d) Hoarding
e) Working ("Workaholic")
f) Exercising
g) Watching TV
h) Video Game Playing
i) Internet Addiction
None of these activities are necessarily inherently addictive, however, all of these can become life- damaging addictions if used to alter one's mood by participating in the activity. Toxic shame is the culprit when any of these activities become an addiction.
5. Will Addictions - Bradshaw says that, "The human will loses its cooperative relationship with the intellect because of the contaminations resulting from the shame-bound emotions." This means that our "intellectual operations of perception, judgment and reasoning are crucial to the will in its choicemaking duties." These intellectual "operations" allow us to see alternatives available to us when we make choices. When our "emotional energy is frozen and shame-bound, the intellect is seriously biased and impaired." Our will loses its ability to see those alternatives. We begin to act willful...which can have serious, life-damaging consequences. "Such willfulness is the core of all addictions. All addicts are ultimately addicted to their own wills." Without reason, perception and judgment, we make choices based solely on what we want.
As they say in AA, "I want what I want when I want it." As John Bradshaw explains, "Addiction to one's own will is the way that toxic shame causes spiritual bankruptcy. This is why spiritual healing is necessary when it comes to healing the syndromes of toxic shame."

This book has done so much for me, even though I don't have chemical addictions. I have any anxiety one though!

Toxic Shame

Toxic Shame




Abraham Maslow, the pioneering Third Force Psychologist, once wrote,

"The spiritual life is...part of the human essence. It is a defining characteristic of human nature....without which human nature is not full human nature"

From--"The Farther Reaches of Human Nature"

"What is spirituality? I believe it has to do with our lifestyle. I believe that life is ever unfolding and growing. So spirituality is about expansion and growth. It is about love, truth, goodness, beauty, giving and caring. Spirituality is about wholeness and completion. Spirituality is our ultimate human need. It pushes us to transcend ourselves, and to become grounded in the ultimate source of reality. Most call that source God.

Our healthy shame is essential as the ground of our spirituality. By signaling us of our essential limitations, our healthy shame lets us know that we are not God. Our healthy shame points us in the direction of some larger meaning. It lets us know that there is something or someone greater than ourselves. Our healthy shame is the psychological ground of our humility."

Coming Soon A.J. Mahari's Ebooks Shame and Borderline Personality Disorder


Scott Peck describes both neuroses and character disorders as disorders of responsibility, Peck writes;

"The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough. When neurotics are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume that they are at fault. When those with character disorders are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume the world is at fault."

From his book--"The Road Less Traveled"

"All of us have a smattering of neurotic and character disordered personality traits. THe major problem in all of our lives is to decide and clarify our reponsibilities. To truly be committed to a life of honesty, love and discipline, we must be willing to commit ourselves to reality. This committment, according to Peck, 'requires the willingness and the capacity to suffer continual self-examination.' Such an ability requires a good relationship with oneself. This is precisely what no shame-based person has. In fact a toxically shamed person has an adversarial relationship with him/herself. Toxic shame--the shame that binds us--is the basis for both neurotic and character disordered syndromes of behaviour."

Ebooks by A.J. Mahari on various aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder


"What is the shame that binds you? How did it get set up in your life? What happens to healthy shame in the process?

Toxic shame, the shame that binds you, is experienced as teh all pervasive sense that I am flawed adn defective as a human being. Toxic shame is no longer an emotion that signals our limits, it is a state of being, a core identity. Toxic shame gives you a sense of worthlessness, a sense of failing and falling short as a human being. Toxic shame is a rupture of the self with the self.

It is like internal bleeding. Exposure to oneself lies at the heart of toxic shame. A shame based person will guard against exposing his inner self to others, but more significantly, he will guard against exposing himself to himself.

Toxic shame is so excruciating because it is the painful exposure of the believed failure of self to the self. [selves to selves too we believe] In toxic shame the self becomes an object that can't be trusted, one exeriences oneself [selves] as untrustworthy. Toxic shame is experienced as inner torment, a sickness of the soul. If I'm an object that can't be trusted, then I'm not in me. Toxic shame is paradoxical and self-generating. There is shame about shame. People will readily admit guilt, hurt or fear before they will admit shame. Toxic shame is ghe feeling of being isolated and alone in a complete sense. A shame-based person is haunted by a sense of absence and emptiness..."

Audio Programs by A.J. Mahari on various aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder


"Any human emotion can become internalized. When internalized, an emotions stops functioning in the manner of an emotion and becomes a characterological style. You probably know of someone who could be labeled 'an angry person', or someone you'd call a 'sad sack'. In both cases the emotion has become the core of the person's character, her identity. The person doesn't have anger or melancholy, she is angry and melancholy.

In the case of shame, internalization involves at least three processes:

  • 1)Identification with unreliable and shame based models
  • 2)The trauma of abandonment, and the binding of feelings, needs and drives with shame
  • 3)The interconnection of memory imprints which forms collages of shame

Internalization is a gradual process and happens over a period of time. Every human being has to contend with certain aspects of this process. Internalization takes place when all three processes are consistently reinforced."

Ebooks by A.J. Mahari on various aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder and Shame


"Identification is one of our normal human processes. We always have the need to identify. Identification gives one a sense of security. By belonging to something larger than ourselves, we feel security and protection of the larger reality.

The need to identify with someone, to feel a part of something, to belong somewhere, is one of our most basic needs. With the exception of self-preservation, no other striving is as compelling as this need, which begins with our caregivers or significant others and extends to family, peer group, culture, nation and world. It is seen in lesser forms in our allegiance to a political party or our rooting for a sports team.

This need to belong explains the loyal and often fanatic adherence people display to a group...their group.

When children have shame based parents, they identify with them. This is the first step in the child's internalizing shame."

Audio Programs by A.J. Mahari on various aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder


"Shame is internalized when one is abandoned. Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one's authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically. Children cannot know who they are without reflective mirrors. Mirroring is done by one's primary caretakers and is crucial in the first years of life. Abandonment includes the loss of mirroring. Parent who are shut down emotionally (all shame based parents) cannot mirror and affirm their child's emotions.

Since the earliest period of our life was preverbal, everything depended on emotional interaction. Without someone to reflect our emotions, we had no way of knowing who we were. Mirroring remains important all our lives. Think of the frustrating experience which most of us have had, of talking to someone who is not looking at us. While you are speaking, they are fidgeting around or reading something. Our identity demands a significant other whose eyes se us pretty much as we see ourselves.

In fact, Erik Erikson defines identity as interpersonal. He writes:

'The sense of ego identity is the accrued confidence that the inner sameness and continuity...are matched by the sameness and continuity of one's meaning for others.' From --"Childhood and Society"

Besides lack of mirroring, abandonment includes the following:

  • Neglect of developmental dependency needs
  • Abuse of any kind
  • Enmeshment into the covert or overt needs of the parents or
  • the family system needs"

Ebooks by A.J. Mahari on various aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder and Shame


"The shame binding of feelings, needs and natural instinctual drives, is a key factor in changing healthy shame into toxic shame. To be *shame-bound* means that whenever you feel any feeling, and need or any drive, you immediately feel ashamed. The dynamic core of your human life is grounded in your feelings, your needs and your drives. When these are bound by shame, your are shamed to the core."


"As shaming experiences accrue and are defended against, the images created by those experiences are recorded in a person's memory bank. Because the victim has no time or support to grieve the pain of the broken mutuality, his emotions are repressed and the grief is unresolved. The verbal (auditory) imprints remain in the memory as do the visual images of the shaming scenes. As each new shaming experience takes place, a new verbal imprint and visual image attach to the already existing ones forming collages of shaming memories.

Children also record their parent's actions at their worst. When Mom and Dad, stepparent or whoever the caretaker, are most out of control, they are the most threatening to the child's survival. The child's survival alarm registers these behaviors the most deeply. Any subsequent shame experience which even vaguely resembles that past trauma can easily trigger the words and scenes of said trauma. What are then recorded are the new experience and the old. Over time an accumulation of shame scenes are attached together. Each new scene potentiates the old, sort of like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting larger and larger as it picks up snow. As the years go on, very little is needed to trigger these collages of shame memories. A word, a similar facial expression or scene, can set it off. Sometimes an external stimulus is not even necessary. Just going back to an old memory can trigger an enormously painful experience. Shame as an emotion has now become frozen and embedded into the core of the person's identity. Shame is deeply internalized."


"When one suffers from alienation, it means that one experiences parts of one's self as alien to one's self.

For example, if you were never allowed to express anger in your family, your anger becomes an alienated part of yourself. You experience toxic shame when you feel angry. This part of you must be disowned or severed. There is no way to get rid of your emotional power of anger. Anger is the self- preserving and self-protecting energy. Without this energy you become a doormat and a people-pleaser. As your feelings, needs and drives are bound by toxic shame, more and more of you is alienated.

Finally, when shame has been completely internalized, nothing about you is okay. You feel flawed and inferior; you have a sense of being a failure. There is no way you can share your inner self because you are an object of contempt to yourself. When you are contemptible to yourself, you are no longer in you. To feel shame is to feel seen in an exposed and diminished way. When you're an object to yourself, you turn your eyes inward, watching and scrutinizing every minute detail of behavior. This internal critical observation is excruciating. It generates a tormenting self-consciousness which Kaufman describes as, 'creating a binding and paralyzing effect upon the self.' This paralyzing internal monitoring causes withdrawl, passivity and inaction.

The severed parts of self are projected in relationships. They are often the basis of hatred and prejudice. The severed parts of the self may be experienced as a split personality or even multiple personalities. This happens often with victims who have been through physical and sexual violation.

To be severed and alienated within oneself also creates a sense of unreality. One may have an all-pervasive sense of never quite belonging, of being on the outside looking in. The condition of inner alienation and isolation is also pervaded by a low grade chronic depression. This has to do with the sadness of losing one's authentic self. Perhaps the deepest and most devastating aspect of neurotic shame is the rejection of the self by the self."


"Because the exposure of self to self lies at the heart of neurotic shame, escape from the self is necessary. The escape from self is accomplished by creating a false self. The false self is always more or less than human. The false self may be a perfectionist or a slob, a family hero or a family scapegoat. As the false self is formed, the authentic self goes into hiding. Years later the layers of defense and pretense are so intense that one loses all awareness of who one really is.

It is crucial to see that the false self may be as polar opposite as a superachieving perfectionist or an addict in an alley. Both are driven to cover up their deep sense of self- rupture, the hole in their soul. They may cover up in ways that look polar opposite, but each is still driven by neurotic shame. In fact, the most paradoxical aspect of neurotic shame is that it is the core motivator of the superachieved and the underachieved, the Star and the Scapegoat, the 'Righteous' and the wretched, the powerful and the pathetic."


"Much has been written about co-dependency. All agree that it is about the loss of selfhood. Co-dependency is an condition wherein one has no inner life. Happiness is on the outside. Good feelings and self-validation lie on the outside. They can never be generated from within. [until one begins to recover] Pia Mellody's definition of co-dependency is a 'state of dis-ease whereby the authentic self is unknown or kept hidden, so that a sense of self...of mattering... of esteem and connectedness to others is distorted, creating pain and distorted relationships.' There is no significant difference in that definition and the way I have described internalized shame. It is my belief that internalized shame is the essence of co-dependency."

Ebooks by A.J. Mahari on various aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder


"Kaufman sees many of the categories of emotional illness which are defined as DSM III as rooted in neurotic shame. It seems obvious that some of these types of disorders are related to symptoms of shame. These include: dependent personality, clinical depression, schizoid phenomena and borderline personality. My own belief is that toxic shame is a unfying concept for what is often a maze of psychological definitions and distinctions. While I realize that there is clinical and psychotheraputic value in the kinds of detailed etiological distinctions offered by accurate and precise conceptualizing. I also think some of it is counterproductive.

My own study of James Masterson's work on borderline personalities, as well as my experience with watching his working films, convinces me that there is minimal difference in the treatment of some toxically shame-based people and his treatment of the Borderline Personality. I'm convinced that Masterson's Borderline Personality is a syndrome of neurotic shame. It is described as follows:

  • 1)Self-Image disturbance
  • 2)Difficulty identifying and expressing one's own individuated thoughts, wishes and feelings and autonomously regulating self-esteem
  • 3)Difficulty with self-assertion Borderline Adolescent to Functioning Adult: The Test of Time

Ebooks by A.J. Mahari on various aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder and Shame


"Toxic shame has the quality of being irremedial. If I am flawed, defective and a mistake, then there is nothing that can be done about me. Such a belief leads to impotence. How can I change who I am? Toxic shame also has the quality of circularity. Shame begets shame."


"Once internalized, toxic shame is functionally autonomous, which means that it can be triggered internally without any attending stimulus. One can imagine a situation and feel deep shame. One can be alone and trigger a shaming spiral through internal self- talk. The more one experiences shame, the more one is ashamed and the beat goes on.

It is this dead-end quality of shame that makes it so hopeless. The possibility for repair seems foreclosed if one is essentially flawed as a human being. Add to that the self-generating quality of shame, and one can see the devastating, soul-murdering power of neurotic shame.

The reader can begin to see how dramatic it was for me to discover the dynamics of shame. By being aware of the dynamics of shame, by naming it, we gain some power over it."

"The excruciating loneliness fostered by toxic shame is dehumanizing. As a person isolates more and more, he loses the benefit of human feedback. He loses the mirroring eyes of others. Erik Erikson has demonstrated clearly that identity formation is always a social process. He defines identity as 'an inner sense of sameness and continuity which is matched by the mirroring eyes of at least one significant other'. Remember, it was the contaminated mirroring by our significant relationships that fostered our toxic shame.

In order to be healed we must come out of isolation and hiding. This means finding a group of significant others that we are willing to trust. This is tough for shame-based people.

Shame becomes toxic shame because of premature exposure. We are exposed either unexpectedly or before we are ready to be exposed. We feel helpless and powerless. No wonder then that we fear the scrutinizing eyes of others. However the only way out of toxic shame is to embrace the shame...we must come out of hiding."

In any emotionally revealing way Bradshaw shows us
how toxic shame is the core problem in our compulsions,
co-dependencies, addictions and the drive to
super-achieve. The result is a breakdown in the family
system and our inability to go forward with our lives. We
are bound by our shame. Drawing from his 22 years of
experience as a counselor, Bradshaw offers us the
techniques to heal this shame. Using affirmations,
visualizations, "inner voice" and "feeling" work plus
guided meditations and other useful healing techniques,
he realeases the shame that binds us to the past.

This important book breaks new ground in the core
issues of societal and personal breakdown, offering techniques of recovery vital to all of us.

This classic book, written 17 years ago but still selling more than 13,000 copies every year, has been completely updated and expanded by the author.

"I used to drink," writes John Bradshaw,"to solve the problems caused by drinking. The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt, the more I felt ashamed."

Shame is the motivator behind our toxic behaviors: the compulsion, co-dependency, addiction and drive to superachieve that breaks down the family and destroys personal lives. This book has helped millions identify their personal shame, understand the underlying reasons for it, address these root causes and release themselves from the shame that binds them to their past failures.