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According to John Bradshaw, one of the foremost experts on shame, “…because of its preverbial origins, shame is difficult to define. It is a healthy human power which can become a true sickness of the soul. There are two forms of shame:
As toxic shame, it is an excruciatingly internal experience of unexpected exposure. It is a deep cut felt primarily from the inside. It divides us from ourselves and from others. In toxic shame, we disown ourselves. And this disowning demands a cover-up. Toxic shame parades in many garbs and get-ups. It loves darkness and secretiveness. It is the dark secret aspect of shame which has evaded our study.
Because toxic shame stays in hiding and covers itself up, we have to track it down by learning to recognize its many faces and its many distracting behavioral cover-ups.”
John Bradshaw goes on to explain that healthy “nourishing” shame makes us human. Healthy shame is honest. Healthy shame is a way of realizing our limitations.
According to psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson 1902-1994), “a sense of shame is part of the second stage of psychosocial development. In the first stage a child needs to establish a sense of basic trust. This basic trust must be greater than his sense of mistrust. We can understand healthy shame best by understanding this trust stage of psychosocial development…Once basic trust has been established, the child is in a position to develop shame. The shame may be healthy or toxic.” Erikson said that between the ages of 15 months and three years, “the psychosocial task for this stage of development is to strike a balance between autonomy and shame and doubt.”
John Bradshaw explains at length the different processes for developing both healthy shame and toxic shame in his book.
At Therapia, we use the work of John Bradshaw to address the issues of shame for the person struggling with addiction as well as for the family to help in recovery.
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