How Toxic Shame & Getting Along With Others Can Lead to Slavery If You're a Child Abuse Survivor
Let's pretend you have 2 choices on how to live the rest of your life.
Option #1: Imagine you're a slave living around the 1830's on a southern plantation in the United States of America. Every morning it is your job to cater to your master's needs - be it preparing the meals or working out in the fields. You can look forward to doing this for the rest of your life.
Option #2: You're living in the present where slavery has been outlawed. You are free to live the life you want. You can drive any car and live wherever you choose. You can be a billionaire with your own swimming pool if you so choose. Your opportunities in any area of life are limitless. You don't have to answer to anyone.
You don't have to tell me which one you'd choose, because I already know.
You'd choose option 2. Because everyone I've ever talked to always chooses option 2. And that's because deep down, we all cherish freedom. The freedom to be who we want and live our lives in our own way.
Now the above is a purely theoretical exercise. So what if I told you that you may actually be choosing to be a "slave" in real life. Would you believe me?
It starts with a concept called toxic shame.
Toxic shame (or shame) is a psychological concept that means you have a painful feeling about yourself as a person. It comes from not being unconditionally loved as a child. It's the product of being raised in an abusive and dysfunctional family. It manifests itself in many ways including: low self-esteem, a feeling of emptiness, comparing yourself to others constantly, as well as the need to be "perfect" all the time.
But getting along well with others can also be a sign of toxic shame.
Huh? You're probably thinking "but isn't that what we're supposed to do?" Yes. But I'm not talking about normal, healthy social interaction. I'm talking about people-pleasing behavior which is driven by feelings of inadequacy. For example, if you find yourself doing something for someone else to be thought of as a "nice guy (or girl)" but you don't actually want to do it, it's a good indicator of people-pleasing behavior.
To further illustrate this, let's say a neighbor asks you over to help with something but you had already promised yourself you would take some time off to relax because you had a stressful week. Instead, because of your desire to constantly please others, you find yourself helping your neighbor at the expense of yourself, and you resent this the whole time.
Now there's nothing wrong with helping your neighbor and getting along with him.
It's perfectly fine to help your neighbor. It's even fine to help him out if it means you have to give up the luxurious bath you had planned for yourself as a treat for your stressful week because he's helped you out in a pinch before. The problem is when you can't say "no" to others at all. It's when you find yourself saying "yes" all the time, and that "yes" is motivated by a need for acceptance from others because you feel inadequate about yourself. That's how people-pleasing behavior can be a sign of toxic shame. It's how you end up becoming a "slave."
But there's a way out of this slavery.
- First, become aware of when you're doing it. Is there a person you have a tendency to say "yes" to all the time? Why?
- Second, practice setting healthy boundaries. It's ok to politely decline something. Give yourself permission to do so.
- Third, get a therapist. A therapist will work with you to solve unresolved emotional issues. By doing so, you'll begin achieving emotional healing and closure, enabling you to feel better and emerge more confident. This will help you give up people-pleasing behavior.
You'll find when you stop trying to get along with others at all costs and set some healthy boundaries, you'll start to feel better about yourself. It's like you're giving yourself permission to be free and live the life you want. That's what healing from child abuse is all about.
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